Scientists ponder travelling to the stars at launch of EU conference

Two astronauts were on hand to help launch the biggest EU science conference in the European Parliament involving more than 100 countries over five days.

Scientists aim to connect up research as never before, thanks to new technologies that are creating a giant database of knowledge.

The second man to walk on the moon, former Nasa astronaut Buzz Aldrin, summed up the approach — “the only limit to what we can achieve lies in the limits of our imagination”.

The first black woman to travel in space, Mae Jemison, told of the need to breach other frontiers that are blocking the limits of imagination — the gender gap in science. She heads up a project called Starship whose aim is to allow people to move to another galaxy within the next 100 years.

The project will require new energy systems, improved recycling and ensuring people learn how to get along with one another. “We are not talking about launching a ship to a star in 100 years — but we could if we want to,” she said.

She also warned that women and people of colour often get sidelined when they get to university as they don’t fit the model of what a scientist looks like.

“We need to make a conscious effort to reflect the makeup of the planet... it should take no more than 20 years, less than that if we wanted to, as there are a lot of women and people of colour — we just have to plan, we just have to do it”, she said.

Professor Lizbeth Goodman, director of SMARTlab and chair of creative technology innovation at UCD, took up a similar thread saying if learning is to be accessible to all, the question of why some are still excluded from the knowledge society has to be addressed first. “All our minds will be expanded by the knowledge we will share only once we level the playing fields of all our learning spaces.”

Head of the EU’s patent office, Oswald Schroeder, said they are joining up with patent offices around the world to harmonise the patent system globally.

Professor John Wood, head of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, said the saying that the “future is not what it used to be is as true as it ever was”. With the global population close to 9bn, the world can just about cope but there is not enough energy, copper, raw materials for everyone to expect an adequate quality of life.

Innovation and research commissioner Máire Geoghegan- Quinn told the conference that while the EU accounted for just 7% of the world’s population, it was responsible for close to a quarter of the spending on research and almost a third of high-impact publications and patent applications.

Summing up the aim of the conference MEP Seán Kelly said: “We are on the cusp of some of humankind’s most innovative creations but we need to plan ahead and continuously search for the latest technology and resource to spur on further developments.”


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