This blog is a collaborative effort between the Foundation for Student Science and Technology (formerly the Canadian Young Scientist Journal) and Science.gc.ca. Our aim is to offer an interactive platform where Canadian students can talk about their passions, challenges and ideas on how to further pursue scientific interests and education. We welcome new contributors -- if you are interested please contact us at information@science.gc.ca.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Science and its Overall Effect on our Lives

Originally Published: September 6, 2013
By William Nguyen

For a large part of recorded history, science had little bearing on people’s everyday lives. However, with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, this rapidly changed. Today, science has a profound effect on the way we live, largely through technology and innovation.

Some forms of technology have become so well established that it is easy to forget the great scientific achievements that they represent. The refrigerator, for example, owes its existence to the discovery that liquids take in energy when they evaporate, a phenomenon known as latent heat. The principle of latent heat was first exploited in a practical way in 1876, and the refrigerator has played a major role in maintaining public health ever since. The first automobile, dating from the 1880s, made use of many advances in physics and engineering, including reliable ways of generating high-voltage sparks, while the first computers emerged in the 1940s from the simultaneous advances in electronics and mathematics.

Other fields of science also play an important role in the products we utilize or consume every day. Research in food technology has created new ways of preserving and flavoring what we eat. Research in industrial chemistry has created a vast range of plastics and other synthetic materials, which have thousands of residential, commercial, industrial uses. Synthetic materials are easily formed into complex shapes used to make machine, electrical, and automotive parts, scientific and industrial instruments, and countless other items. At the same time improvements regarding new applications and efficiency are continuously being made.

Alongside these achievements, science has also brought about technology that help save human lives. The kidney dialysis machine enables many people to survive kidney diseases that would once have proved fatal, and artificial valves allow sufferers of coronary heart disease to return to active living. Biochemical research is responsible for the antibiotics and vaccinations that protect us from infectious diseases, and for a wide range of other drugs used to combat specific health problems. As a result, the majority of people on the planet now live longer and healthier lives than ever before.

However, scientific discoveries can also have a negative impact in human affairs. Over the last hundred years, some of the technological advances that make life easier or more enjoyable have proved to have unwanted and often unexpected long-term effects. Industrial and agricultural chemicals pollute the global environment, even in places as remote as Antarctica, and city air is contaminated by toxic gases from vehicle exhausts. The increasing pace of innovation means that products become rapidly obsolete, adding to a rising tide of waste. Most significantly of all, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas releases into the atmosphere carbon dioxide and other substances known as greenhouse gases. These gases have altered the composition of the entire atmosphere, inducing global warming and the prospect of major climate change in years to come.

Additionally, science raises complex ethical questions. This is particularly true in the fields of biology and medicine. Research involving genetic engineering, cloning, and in vitro fertilization gives scientists the unprecedented power to bring about new life, or to devise new forms of living things. At the other extreme, science can also generate technology that is deliberately designed to harm or to kill. The fruits of this research include chemical and biological warfare, and also nuclear weapons, by far the most destructive weapons that the world has ever known.

As our world continues to develop and science research continues its steady climb, further technological advances will inevitably be made. Even as we look back upon our society it is unbelievable how far we have come as a people. Today, youth of all ages have become increasingly interested in the sciences and with the creation of organizations such as the Google Science Fair and CYSJ itself, youth now have numerous mediums in which they can express their ideas and gratitude to the world. We have seen amazing innovations created by these young minds as well as their outcomes. There is no doubt that children today are brighter than ever and science will continue to improve and affect our lives.

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