Have you ever thought about how often we experience STEM in our daily lives? We engage with STEM in almost everything we do, ranging from the technology used in our smartphones and laptops to our healthcare, agricultural practices, and the buildings, bridges, and transportation services upon which we rely. The importance of STEM is undeniable, not only because it fills every aspect of our lives, but because in today’s dynamic world, life without STEM is meaningless.
Inventions will provide the answers and solutions to the varied challenges that lie ahead. In line with this, STEM researchers around the world have made a series of technical advances in the pursuit of a brighter future. Two interesting and differing examples of this are explored below.
The sun provides both light and heat to our planet. We try to take advantage of this constant stream of power by using solar panels to convert light into electrical energy. However, questions remain over whether we could we be harnessing more of the sun.
Researchers at MIT have developed a new solar thermophotovoltaic device, or STPV, that converts the sun’s heat into usable energy. The STPV solar cell has a layer that absorbs heat and light from sunlight, and then reflects this back out as light. This is then captured by a nearby solar cell and turned into power. Normally, a solar cell or photovoltaic device only converts light into electricity without going through the intermediate step with heat. Heat is an energy that is constantly wasted and left to diffuse out into the world. The MIT STEM scientists added an intermediate component that functions like a funnel, collecting energy from the sun and concentrating it into a narrow band of light. This material traps the wasted energy across the entire colour spectrum, ranging from the invisible ultraviolet to infrared wavelengths, converting it all into heat energy.
Another example is the key to building smart cities. The search for the most efficient ways to build cities that smartly manage the needs of millions of inhabitants is global. Barcelona is amongst the world’s leading smart cities.
The Internet of Things (IoT) companies are leading the way in smart city development, by developing smart and communicative technological solutions for revolutionising the services and infrastructure of cities all over the world. For Barcelona, IoT provides a body of communicating devices that offer smart and innovative solutions to everyday problems.
One application of this technology is the use of the IoT to measure pollution. Barcelona pursued the implementation of its Lighting Masterplan, which uses smart lighting systems technologies with embedded air quality sensors to enhance the efficiency and utility of city lampposts. This has driven down the excess cost and pollution levels related to lighting the city. Many further spaces have since followed suit, owing to the seen benefits of IoT solutions to operational practices and urban development.
Scientific and technological development enables multi-dimensional and disciplinary growth and should address the many worldwide issues we are facing today. Skilled STEM people are needed to tackle emergent problems like climate change, overpopulation, social transformation and much more as exemplified with the challenges Barcelona is currently facing. Changing mentalities and educating the public on STEM subjects is crucial as we evolve into a more tech and innovation dependent world.
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