A look at chemistry, 10 years from now

    We tend to think of science as a quickly changing field with new discoveries being made every day. With the help of technology, progress in scientific fields has been made easier. So what does the future hold? Stephanie Knezz, assistant professor of instruction and co-director of general chemistry laboratory at Northwestern, shared her thoughts on how chemistry will change in the next ten years.

    Knezz studied at Butler University before going to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for graduate school, where she studied organic chemistry. While in school, Knezz’s research was focused on the fundamentals, or “understanding systems for the sake of knowing them better.” In the future, however, she believes research will be based on application and what can be done with research to improve our lives.

    As a result, Knezz predicts that chemistry research will become more interdisciplinary. Researchers now need to have a “broader scope of understanding,” rather than simply a deep understanding in one specific field of chemistry.

    What are some of the issues researchers and scientists are hoping to solve? Researchers are hoping to find ways to combat our energy crisis. One way to do this is by finding more efficient fuel sources, like hydrogen fuel or solar cells.

    In the medical field, researchers are also dealing with drug-resistant bacteria, since bacteria have adapted so that antibiotics are no longer killing them. To ask how this problem could be fixed, Knezz proposed, “What sorts of chemical technology can we develop to sidestep this process?”

    She went on to describe the biological functions bacteria use to communicate, so this is a topic where biology and chemistry might interact to find a solution.

    Knezz also expects to see an increase in bioinformatics, which is defined by the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics as “the application of computer technology to the understanding and effective use of biological data”. Data will eventually drive more research and more experiments, especially with the increasing amount of data that scientists are gaining in fields like genomics and proteomics, the study of proteins “produced in an organism, system or biological context.”

    Despite the many issues researchers are tackling, Knezz can’t say for certain what will change in the next 10 years. As for major breakthroughs, Knezz said, “If someone’s on the verge of something really, really extraordinary, they’re not going to talk about it because they want to get credit for it.”

    But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any change at all. In the case of environmental improvements, Knezz believes that energy can become more and more efficient, but these changes will be made in increments. Technology will also play a major role in future discoveries.

    Some things will not change instantaneously or even in the next ten years. Continuing about the need for environmental changes, Knezz said, “If we can make cleaner energy or be more efficient in our energy use, then we can slow down some of the impacts that are happening to the environment.” Knezz recognizes that advances in chemistry will not resolve every issue, but she hopes that research can lead to “less impactful problems.”

    One issue Knezz hopes is addressed in the next few years is antibiotic resistance. She fears that if we don’t confront this problem, we could regress to a time where infections were much more likely to be deadly.

    Overall, scientific research in chemistry and other fields continues to progress slowly. Although there might not be immediate change, there’s still hope for improvements little by little.


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