We are pleased to introduce a new judge to the QEPrize judging panel: Jinghai Li. Professor Li established the Energy-Minimization Multi-Scale (EMMS) model for gas-solid systems. Currently, he works to promote the concept of mesoscience based on the EMMS principle of compromise in competition as an interdisciplinary science. We spoke to Professor Li to find out more about him.
What do you consider to be the most important innovation of the last 100 years?
I think the most important innovation has been information technology, which has lead significant changes in social life and human behaviours, such as in communication and computation.
Why is it so important that we attract young people into the field of engineering? What motivates you to be an advocate for young engineers?
At the moment, research paradigm in science and engineering is changing very quickly, calling for new knowledge and new conceptual input. We need young engineers because they are more open to be involved in this change.
The evolution of music creation has always been rife with controversy and resistance. Take the words of early 20th century classical guitar virtuoso Andres Segovia.
“Electric guitars are an abomination, whoever heard of an electric violin? An electric cello? Or for that matter an electric singer?”
But as Segovia probably knew; breaking barriers and ruffling feathers is the backbone of art and music. As with evolution of technology in any industry, the sea of change pays no respect to protests from the old guard. These days, electric violins, cellos and even singers are commonplace. As for electric guitars? Last year over one million electric guitars were sold in the US.
Electronically displayed information is everywhere; smartphones, laptops, TV, advertising billboards, wearables… the list of devices we use goes on and on. These displays are mostly based on either liquid crystal (LCD) or organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology. These are great technologies, but they are not without limitations. We have all experienced the poor readability of a phone screen in sunlight and short battery life, largely due to the high power consumption of the display. Recent research has also shown that evening use of these light-emitting devices can negatively affect sleep and next-morning alertness.
So how can we design the next generation of displays to address these issues? A promising approach is to develop displays which can reflect natural ambient light or room lights to illuminate the screen, rather than using the powerful backlighting used in LCDs. Deployed in eReader devices, reflective displays provide vastly improved power consumption and outdoor readability. But this current form of reflective display technology cannot render good colour, nor deliver video rate refresh rates – a major limiting factor to wider application.
Immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality are currently taking the world by storm. Over the past three years, we’ve seen a huge interest in immersive technologies from the likes of advertising agencies, games developers, construction companies and more…
Immersive technology is not a new concept. Experimentation with virtual and augmented reality has been taking place since the 1960s, hidden inside research facilities across the world. The Sword of Damocles is considered by most to be one of the first virtual reality headsets. Built by Ivan Southerland and Bob Sproull in a laboratory at MIT, it was a large and somewhat dystopian looking device. The device was so heavy that it had to mounted to a mechanical arm attached to the ceiling when in use.
Dr Vinton Cerf was one of the recipients of the inaugural QEPrize, taking the accolade in 2013 for his part in creating the Internet. He was awarded the prize alongside Dr Robert Kahn, Louis Pouzin, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen, whose work gave rise to the fundamental architecture of the internet, the World Wide Web and the browser. We caught up with Cerf, who is now vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, to find out what his team has been working on since he received the prize.
The QEPrize has often put a spotlight on technological innovations, with the creators of the Internet and the World Wide Web receiving the award in 2013, and the inventors of the digital imaging sensor taking the prize last year. These two pivotal developments in technology have truly changed the way people communicate all over the world. The impacts of the technologies have also transformed many industries, from entertainment, to education, science and medicine.
Last year’s Create the Future report revealed the vast scale of the impact of technological innovations on society. Respondents from 10 countries picked computers and the internet as the most important innovations in the last 100 years, with artificial intelligence and robotics following closely behind. However, although people recognised AI and robotics as important, they did not necessarily see them as relevant to their daily lives.