Our general population in the United Kingdom became much too familiar with the nation’s dire need for R&D into medical research after the rise in COVID-19 – and we, despite our stripping of all lockdown measures, still maintain some knowledge and awareness in the field. And yet, physics and engineering, alone, tremble in the cold!
So what about the more applied, physical sciences? Why do we, the wider general populace, have such apathy and complete disregard for what’s happening in the worlds of physics and engineering, stay completely unaware of how such fields are actually affecting our daily lives in substantially more ways than we think, and have no desire to improve our understanding of the world around us in this sense?
Sure, it’s not like we’ll face a per se ‘techidemic’ where millions suffer anytime soon – but as an experimental physicist this is a frustration I simply cannot satiate. The world, and our nation, does not understand that our work as engineers and physicists is what brings us forward as a society, scientific community, and planet. Physics, engineering, and mathematics are the ultimate driving force that stirs progress in everything else – the GPS systems; our smartphones; internet/Wi-Fi; computers… all are luxuries we enjoy in our day-to-day lives and yet maintain an apathy towards the very fields that brought about such luxuries!
And as such, the industries suffer, especially in comparison to the biomedical/chemical sciences. Most of the major ventures striving for progress in these fields that will eventually heavily change how we live and bring even more luxuries per se, mostly remain as small startups dotted around the globe – with little public, and by extension government interest to pump funding and interest!
It is very difficult to fathom as to why we societally maintain such indifference to progress in these fields. I myself was recently on the hunt for research groups and startups to join within aerospace/electrical/quantum/AI/etc engineering and experimental physics – and almost all of them had one major thing in common, despite often having no specific similarities scientifically. They were absolutely tiny and very few, if any, knew about them!
One would think it’s a matter of a lack of marketing – after all, who wouldn’t want to see commercialised, mainstream flying cars (like with eVTOL) across the skies? Or Augmented Reality contact lenses (coincidentally one of my previous fields of research!)? Or intelligent household/commercial robots that could make life far more comfortable and efficient? I could go on – but the fact of the matter is that these aforementioned are all but long existent, created by those mini start-ups across the planet. We, as a society, just simply have little proactive demand, drive and excitement to encourage the scaling and advancement of such tech into mainstream consumer technologies. Such tech thus remains niche and expensive, and remains in the shadows until Big Tech or some major investor gains an interest in it.
So now you may be thinking – how is it that those earlier luxuries we enjoy now are so cheap and readily available? To give a few examples – Personal Computers were once only used by professionals and academics; GPS was only really used by the military and some professional industries; but public interest brought about demand for both and now we enjoy these luxuries to a much grander scale to what we had several decades ago. It’s public, and by extension government interest that drove the advancements. You’d be sent to an asylum a century ago for suggesting we’d one day have mini-screens which could call our friends across the planet, or that one day we’d have a man on the moon. But lo and behold, JFK succeeded in spurring public support to eventually bring about the Apollo 11 mission! And we can all read about how such technology was developed through our mini-screens.
And so, I put it to you – the next Labour government needs to pump funding in physics and engineering. Not just in the biological/medical/life sciences! We’d all like to see the sci-fi tech we see in film commercialised. And only a Labour government can realistically bring such a goal into fruition and reap the benefits of the high-tech future we all dream of!