Washington, DC – The COVID-19 pandemic came as a bolt. It brought forth the urgency of ensuring rapid advancements in science. The race to create a preventive vaccine also threw light on the need for more health based STEM researchers. In fact, it is clear now that STEM as a field is bound to be of utmost relevance for the survival and prosperity of humans in the years to come.
Chief scientist of Cytoveris Inc. and Affiliate Assistant Professor at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Connecticut, Dr. Rishikesh Pandey said, “physicists are needed in almost every field but I believe that physicists are most needed (to improve the quality) in the fields of precision health and energy. While improving health conditions and rapid disease diagnosis is a combined effort between physicists, (medical) doctors, chemists and biologists; physicists are especially needed in the field of biotechnology.”
Pandey stressed the need of physicists to help develop/optimize renewable energy systems and reduce production cost. Highlighting the need of STEM researchers (especially physicists) to work in the critical areas of biotechnology, and developing clean and renewable sources of energy,
Pandey said that this may well prove to be the key to prevent our future generations from facing such crises as pandemics, resource depletion, and climate change.
The United States is the second most polluting country in the world. Its industries use the highest amount of oil and other polluting fuels on any given day. Thus, it stands to benefit greatly from clean and renewable energy sources. Backed by research, such sources as solar energy and hydrogen energy have potential to be the future of energy, as these are, by far the most accessible sources of renewable energy available.
Solar energy can harness the power of the sun by converting sun energy to electrical energy through photovoltaic cells; and hydrogen energy utilizes another abundant resource (hydrogen gas) as fuel for combustion, with zero emissions. This would significantly cut down pollution. All this, however, hinges on finding solutions to some of the issues their mass deployment face, including the lag time, costing and energy storage efficiency.
“I believe STEM research should be focused in particular on making renewable energy storage more efficient, reducing the lag time and making these sources of energy cost effective,” stated Lauren Diekman, Head of US-India Business Council’s energy committee. Diekman further added that the next 15 years could see a massive shift toward renewable sources of energy such as solar energy, hydrogen energy, hydrokinetic energy and biofuels, in particular.
“These energy sources could become game changers, but only if (some) issues are solved. Otherwise, the world will continue to be reliant on fossil fuels as significant sources of energy,” said Diekman. We have seen how COVID-19 led to the capitulation of health care systems and economies globally. Many specialists have deliberated on the remedial measures.
“We need STEM research efforts to primarily focus on finding more effective medicines to treat those who have been afflicted, and to develop therapies that offer protection to those who are naïve to this virus,” said Dr. Akshar Patel, Radiation Oncologist at Chesapeake Oncology Hematology Associates and Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, when asked about the role of STEM in combating the pandemic.
“Additionally, studying the epidemiology of this disease using STEM-based approaches can provide us with a better understanding of this disease and offer insight into developing global health strategies for future threats,” Patel contends.
Agreeing with the need to research and develop better ways to prevent the spread of pandemics, Chief Innovation Officer of Focused e-Health Innovation (FEI) systems, Chirag Bhatt commented, “revolutionary changes in health research are bound to happen, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed many of the weak areas within our health system. It has revealed the need for improving ways to receive medical advice or treatment remotely with telehealth and contactless diagnosis of a patient using monitoring devices.”
Bhatt spoke of the need for an integrated health system with advanced interoperability, where data from one field of health such as the field of behavioral health is easily available to a medical professional in another field of health such as primary care.
“This is why I believe STEM research is needed to help enhance the delivery of non-contact healthcare services while also developing AI/Machine learning models to integrate data between overlapping domains of health,” said Bhatt. This reinforces that studying the epidemiology of the virus, creating treatments, improving ways to receive medical help remotely, and developing AI/ML algorithms are all areas where research is needed in order to be prepared for the next pandemic.
However, there is also another view that health research is more than just developing solutions to combat pandemics. It should also be focused on accomplishing one of its primary goals i.e. to increase human longevity. “The field of health has been greatly improved due the advances in medical technology. Infant mortality has come down and life expectancy has increased, but due to these advances, people have started taking their health for granted. They are paying less attention to maintain their health and wellness,” said Chairman of Sahajanand Medical Technologies, Dhirajlal Kotadia.
He further explained that “STEM research should be focused on creating and improving technologies and medicines that improve the wellness of a person as a whole, rather than concentrating just on the curing of sickness. This will benefit humanity greatly, increasing its longevity and also, reducing the rate of the other diseases.” Kotadia stressed that the focus of STEM research should be on developing treatments to help improve the wellness of a person as a whole. Yet another challenging area of health research continues to be combating cancer, which is listed as the second highest leading cause of death in the United States; according to the CDC. Patel stated, “technology continues to revolutionize the field of health, but there are always opportunities to further our understanding of diseases and their therapies.
Specific to the field of oncology, STEM research is needed to improve upon current cancer therapies. By discovering better ways to focus our treatments to target cancer cells while avoiding normal tissue in the body, we can maximize efficacy while minimizing toxicity.” In conclusion, we can safely say that new and cutting edge research in science remains the only way to solve the existential issues that humanity will increasingly face.
This is aptly explained by the Science teacher at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, Jonathan Lee, “the world—no, the entire universe—as we know it is bound by physics’ fundamental laws of thermodynamics. In order to better understand ourselves and everything around us, we must first understand and appreciate physics.”
The rules of science apply everywhere- from the tiniest atom to the entire universe, and in order to unlock the key of its progress, wellness and perhaps survival, humankind needs to research and understand these even better.