Scientists must make ever more sophisticated measurements as technology shrinks to the nanoscale and we face global challenges from the effects of climate change.
As industry works more and more on the nanometre scale (a nanometre is a billionth of a metre), there is a need to measure more reliably and accurately things we can barely see. This requires metrology, the science of measurement.
Nano-scale metrology is useful in everyday life, for example to measure doses of medication or in the development of computer chips for our digital devices.
‘Metrology is needed everywhere that you make measurements or if you want to compare measurements,’ said Virpi Korpelainen, senior scientist at the Technical Research Centre of Finland and National Metrology Institute in Espoo, Finland.
Since the earliest civilisations, standardised and consistent measurements have always been crucial to the smooth functioning of society. In ancient times, physical quantities such as a body measurement were used.
One of the earliest known units was the cubit, which was approximately the length of a forearm. The Romans used fingers and feet in their measurement systems while the story goes that Henry I of England (c 1068 – 1135) tried to standardise a yard as the distance from his nose to his thumb.
Standardisation demands precise definitions and consistent measurements. In the interest of greater accuracy, in the 1790s, the French government commission standardised the metre as the basic unit of distance. This set Europe on a path to the standardised international system of base units (SI) which has been evolving since.
Since 2018, some key definitions of measurement units have been redefined. The kilo, the ampere, the kelvin and the mole are now based on fundamental constants in nature instead of physical models. This is because over time, the physical models change as happened with the model of the kilo, which lost a tiny amount of mass over 100 years after it was created. With this new approach, which was adopted after years of careful science, the definitions will not change.
This evolution is often driven by incredibly sophisticated science, familiar only to metrologists, such as the speed of light in a vacuum (metre), the rate of radioactive decay (time) or the Planck constant (kilogram), all of which are used to calibrate key units of measurement under the SI.
‘When you buy a measuring instrument, people typically don’t think of where the scale comes from,’ said Korpelainen. This goes for scientists and engineers too.
Once the realm of research scientists, nanoscales are increasingly important in industry. Nanotechnology, computer chips and medications typically rely on very accurate measurements at very small scales.
Even the most advanced microscopes need to be calibrated, meaning that steps must be taken to standardise its measurements of the very small. Korpelainen and colleagues around Europe are developing improved atomic force microscopes (AFMs) in an ongoing project called MetExSPM.
AFM is a type of microscope that gets so close to a sample, it can almost reveal its individual atoms. ‘In industry, people need traceable measurements for quality control and for buying components from subcontractors,’ said Korpelainen.
The project will allow the AFM microscopes to take reliable measurements at nanoscale resolution by using high-speed scanning, even on relatively large samples.
‘Industry needs AFM resolution if they want to measure distances between really small structures,’ Korpelainen said. Research on AFMs has revealed that measurement errors are easily introduced at this scale and can be as high as 30%.
The demand for small, sophisticated, high-performing devices means the nanoscale is growing in importance. She used an AFM microscope and lasers to calibrate precision scales for other microscopes.
She also coordinated another project, 3DNano, in order to measure nanoscale 3D objects that are not always perfectly symmetrical. Precise measurements of such objects support the development of new technology in medicine, energy storage and space exploration.
Dr Annette Röttger, a nuclear physicist at PTB, the national metrology institute in Germany is interested in measuring radon, a radioactive gas with no colour, smell or taste.
Radon is naturally occurring. It originates from decaying uranium below ground. Generally, the gas leaks into the atmosphere and is harmless, but it can reach dangerous levels when it builds up in dwellings, potentially causing illness to residents.
But there is another reason Röttger is interested in measuring radon. She believes it can improve the measurement of important greenhouse gases (GHG).
‘For methane and carbon dioxide, you can measure the amounts in the atmosphere very precisely, but you cannot measure the flux of these gases coming out of the ground, representatively,’ said Röttger.
‘Flux’ is the rate of seepage of a gas. It is a helpful measurement to trace the quantities of other GHG such as methane that also seep out of the ground. Measurements of methane coming out of the ground are variable, so that one spot will differ from another a few steps away. The flow of radon gas out of the ground closely tracks the flow of methane, a damaging GHG with both natural and human origins.
When radon gas emissions from the ground increase, so do carbon dioxide and methane levels. ‘Radon is more homogenous,’ said Röttger, ‘and there is a close correlation between radon and these greenhouse gases.’ The research project to study it is called traceRadon.
Radon is measured via its radioactivity but because of its low concentrations it is very challenging to measure. ‘Several devices will not work at all, so you will get a zero-reading value because you are below the detection limit,’ said Röttger.
Measuring the escape of radon enables scientists to model the rate of emissions over a landscape. This can be useful to measure the effects of climate mitigation measures. For example, research indicates that the rapid rewetting of drained peatland stores greenhouse gas and mitigates climate change.
But if you go to the trouble of rewetting a large marshland, ‘You will want to know if this worked,’ said Röttger. ‘If it works for these GHG, then we should see less radon coming out too. If we don’t, then it didn’t work.’
With more precise calibration, the project will improve radon measurements over large geographical areas. This may also be used to improve radiological early warning systems in a European monitoring network called the European Radiological Data Exchange Platform (EURDEP).
‘We have lots of false alarms (due to radon) and we might even miss an alarm because of this,’ said Röttger. ‘We can make this network better which is increasingly important for radiological emergency management support by metrology.’
Given the intensity of the climate crisis, it is crucial to present reliable data for policy makers, added Röttger. This will assist greatly in addressing climate change, arguably the biggest threat mankind has faced since the cubit was first employed as a measure in ancient Egypt over 3,000 years ago.
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Easing job jitters in the digital revolution
As new technologies reshape workplaces, EU research has come up with new ways to help companies and workers stay in control.
By ANDREW DUNNE
Professor Steven Dhondt has a reassurance of sorts for people in the EU worried about losing their jobs to automation: relax.
Dhondt, an expert in work and organisational change at the Catholic University Leuven in Belgium, has studied the impact of technology on jobs for the past four decades. Fresh from leading an EU research project on the issue, he stresses opportunities rather than threats.
‘We need to develop new business practices and welfare support but, with the right vision, we shouldn’t see technology as a threat,’ Dhondt said. ‘Rather, we should use it to shape the future and create new jobs.’
The rapid and accelerating advance in digital technologies across the board is regarded as the world’s fourth industrial revolution, ushering in fundamental shifts in how people live and work.
If the first industrial revolution was powered by steam, the second by electricity and the third by electronics, the latest will be remembered for automation, robotics and artificial intelligence, or AI. It’s known as “Industry 4.0”.
‘Whether it was the Luddite movement in the 1800s through the introduction of automatic spinning machines in the wool industry or concerns about AI today, questions about technology’s impact on jobs really reflect wider ones about employment practices and the labour market,’ said Dhondt.
The EU project that he led explored how businesses and welfare systems could better adapt to support workers in the face of technological changes. The initiative, called Beyond4.0, began in January 2019 and wrapped up in June 2023.
While the emergence of self-driving cars and AI-assisted robots holds big potential for economic growth and social progress, they also sound alarm bells.
More than 70% of EU citizens fear that new technologies will “steal” people’s jobs, according to a 2019 analysis by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training.
The Beyond4.0 researchers studied businesses across Europe that have taken proactive and practical steps to empower employees.
One example is a family-run Dutch glass company called Metaglas, which decided that staying competitive in the face of technological changes required investing more in its own workforce.
Metaglas offered workers greater openness with management and a louder voice on the company’s direction and product development.
The move, which the company named “MetaWay”, has helped it retain workers while turning a profit that is being reinvested in the workforce, according to Dhondt.
He said the example shows the importance in the business world of managers’ approach to the whole issue.
‘The technology can be an enabler, not a threat, but the decision about that lies with management in organisations,’ Dhondt said. ‘If management uses technology to downgrade the quality of jobs, then jobs are at risk. If management uses technology to enhance jobs, then you can see workers and organisations learn and improve.’
The Metaglas case has fed into a “knowledge bank” meant to inform business practices more broadly.
Dhondt also highlighted the importance of regions in Europe where businesses and job trainers join forces to support people.
BEYOND4.0 studied the case of the Finnish city of Oulu – once a leading outpost of mobile-phone giant Nokia. In the 2010s, the demise of Nokia’s handset business threatened Oulu with a “brain drain” as the company’s engineers were laid-off.
But collaboration among Nokia, local universities and policymakers helped grow new businesses including digital spin-offs and kept hundreds of engineers in the central Finnish region, once a trading centre for wood tar, timber and salmon.
Some Nokia engineers went to the local hospital to work on electronic healthcare services – “e-health” – while others moved to papermaker Stora Enso, according to Dhondt.
Nowadays there are more high-tech jobs in Oulu than during Nokia’s heyday. The BEYOND4.0 team held the area up as a successful “entrepreneurial ecosystem” that could help inform policies and practices elsewhere in Europe.
In cases where people were out of work, the project also looked to new forms of welfare support.
Dhondt’s Finnish colleagues examined the impact of a two-year trial in Finland of a “universal basic income” – or UBI – and used this to assess the feasibility of a different model called “participation income.”
In the UBI experiment, participants each received a monthly €560 sum, which was paid unconditionally. Although UBI is often touted as an answer to automation, BEYOND4.0’s evaluation of the Finnish trial was that it could weaken the principle of solidarity in society.
The project’s participation income approach requires recipients of financial support to undertake an activity deemed useful to society. This might include, for example, care for the elderly or for children.
While detailed aspects are still being worked out, the BEYOND4.0 team discussed participation with the government of Finland and the Finnish parliament has put the idea on the agenda for debate.
Dhondt hopes the project’s findings, including on welfare support, will help other organisations better navigate the changing tech landscape.
Another researcher keen to help people adapt to technological changes is Dr Aisling Tuite, a labour-market expert at the South East Technical University in Ireland.
Tuite has looked at how digital technologies can help job seekers find suitable work.
She coordinated an EU-funded project to help out-of-work people find jobs or develop new skills through a more open online system.
Called HECAT, the project ran from February 2020 through July 2023 and brought together researchers from Denmark, France, Ireland, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland.
In recent years, many countries have brought in active labour-market policies that deploy computer-based systems to profile workers and help career counsellors target people most in need of help.
While this sounds highly targeted, Tuite said that in reality it often pushes people into employment that might be unsuitable for them and is creating job-retention troubles.
‘Our current employment systems often fail to get people to the right place – they just move people on,’ she said. ‘What people often need is individualised support or new training. We wanted to develop a product that could be as useful for people looking for work as for those supporting them.’
Ready to run
HECAT’s online system combines new vacancies with career counselling and current labour-market data.
The system was tested during the project and a beta version is now available via My Labour Market and can be used in all EU countries where data is available.
It can help people figure out where there are jobs and how to be best positioned to secure them, according to Tuite.
In addition to displaying openings by location and quality, the system offers detailed information about career opportunities and labour-market trends including the kinds of jobs on the rise in particular areas and the average time it takes to find a position in a specific sector.
Tuite said feedback from participants in the test was positive.
She recalled one young female job seeker saying it had made her more confident in exploring new career paths and another who said knowing how long the average “jobs wait” would be eased the stress of hunting.
Looking ahead, Tuite hopes the HECAT researchers can demonstrate the system in governmental employment-services organisations in numerous EU countries over the coming months.
‘There is growing interest in this work from across public employment services in the EU and we’re excited,’ she said.
Research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
New WEF Immersive Technology Hub to Address Climate Tipping Points
The World Economic Forum introduced a new polar tipping points hub today in its Global Collaboration Village. The purpose-driven platform, which is powered by next-generation technology, will bring global leaders together in the metaverse to solve the deepening effects of the climate and nature crisis. The hub is an immersive virtual reality space and will help confront the pressing issue of climate tipping points, particularly those located in the polar regions.
The launch of the hub coincides with the annual summer sea ice extent minimum in the Arctic, which adds a timely emphasis on the pressing need to address polar warming and climate challenges, and accelerate progress toward reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The ability to simulate in real time the tipping points at different temperatures could help drive faster decision-making.
“Breaching the planetary tipping points will bring dire consequences for the interconnected ecosystems that support life on our planet,” said Gim Huay Neo, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for Nature and Climate at the World Economic Forum. “By understanding the drivers and impacts, the global community can respond more effectively to the climate and nature crisis. Through collective action, business and government can innovate, mitigate and adapt to the risks associated with global temperature rise and the resulting tipping points in the polar regions, and beyond.”
Highlighting the urgency of polar warming
Human-induced warming, as the world approaches and surpasses a 1.5°C increase, is edging dangerously close to triggering several critical polar tipping points. Among the 16 climate tipping points, six are in particularly precarious states, even with temperature rises below 2°C. Five of these tipping points are located in the polar regions, encompassing both the Arctic and Antarctic. This situation has far-reaching global implications.
The nexus of polar tipping points, with the potential to disrupt interconnected Earth systems, can lead to stability challenges across geographies. This includes the albedo effect, which relates to the reflectivity of surfaces. High albedo reflects more sunlight, while low absorbs, which has an impact on climate and temperature. In other words, the whiteness of the snow and ice layer reflects heat away from the Earth and prevents it from warming the oceans and land (including permafrost) even more. This albedo effect is declining due to polar ice and snow loss.
There is also a long-term linear relationship between carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity and Arctic sea ice decline, which means that, as emissions increase, sea ice will continue to decline. The decline is accelerating global vulnerabilities like extreme weather, heat stress, compromised food and water security, climate migration and disruptions in supply chains.
An evolving platform for visualization and collaboration
From within the Global Collaboration Village, a World Economic Forum initiative in partnership with Accenture and Microsoft, the Polar Tipping Points Hub offers an immersive experience that allows collaborators to visualize the ramifications of polar warming on Earth’s intricate systems. Through a monitoring station, visitors gain a deeper insight into three of the five pivotal polar tipping points that become precarious if temperatures rise by 1.5°C or beyond.
This initiative serves the dual purpose of enhancing awareness and facilitating cross-sectoral collaboration among Village partners and existing Forum communities. The hub is a work in progress, continually incorporating new data to ensure it remains at the forefront of polar and climate research.
“At the World Economic Forum, our central mission is to convene stakeholders for collaborative problem-solving, to improve the state of the world,” said Rebecca Ivey, Head of the Global Collaboration Village at the World Economic Forum. “The Village democratizes this process by using immersive technologies that enable us to achieve more, together, even across distances. Our aim is to make these tools accessible to diverse audiences, amplifying their potential to contribute to the betterment of the world. “
Partnering for a resilient future
The Polar Tipping Points Hub launch aligns closely with the Forum’s commitment to addressing global challenges through concerted initiatives. Compelling virtual immersion into the polar regions will illustrate current warming trends and the consequent cascade of risks, offering a vital tool for comprehending the urgency of unified action.
“The ability to connect and collaborate in shared immersive spaces, spanning distances and devices, can inspire team creativity and outcomes that may otherwise not have been possible,” said Navjot Virk, Vice-President of Microsoft Mesh. “The Global Collaboration Village’s Polar Tipping Points Hub demonstrates how people can leverage immersive experiences built on Microsoft Mesh technology to see and better understand the complex and interconnected challenges of global issues, like climate change.”
“With the Global Collaboration Village’s Polar Tipping Points Hub, citizens, organizations and government representatives have the opportunity to experience and engage with the consequences of climate change, one of the world’s most pressing challenges,” added David Treat, co-lead of Accenture’s Metaverse Continuum business group. “We believe that, by simulating future scenarios, immersive technology can drive a change in perspective while convening stakeholders in new ways to collaborate and shape potential solutions, which is exactly what prompted us to partner with the World Economic Forum for the Global Collaboration Village initiative”.
Collaboration on new and combined data sets from Arctic Basecamp, NASA, the National Snow and Ice Data Center and other institutions has also been instrumental to the development of the hub.
Generative AI to Enhance Creativity, Automate Routine Tasks for Future Jobs
How will large language models (LLMs), deep-learning algorithms that can recognize, summarize, translate, predict and generate content using very large datasets, affect current and future jobs? That is the focus of the new World Economic Forum white paper Jobs of Tomorrow: Large Language Models and Jobs.
The white paper finds that LLMs could be a boon for jobs that require critical thinking, complex problem-solving skills and creativity, including those in engineering, mathematics and scientific analysis. These tools could benefit workers by increasing the productivity of routine tasks and making their roles more rewarding and focused on a higher added value. This paper takes a structured approach to understanding the direct impact of LLMs on specific jobs.
“Generative AI is poised to impact labour markets significantly, but this impact will be highly different across different roles,” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum. “Business leaders, policy-makers and employees must collaborate on harnessing the potential of new jobs while managing displacement and ensuring a future of work that empowers and elevates people.”
According to the analysis, which examined more than 19,000 distinct tasks across 867 different occupations likely to be impacted by LLMs, the industries with the highest estimates of overall potential exposure – both in automation and augmentation – are financial services and capital markets, along with insurance and pension management.
As LLMs advance, new roles will also be created, including AI developers, interface and interaction designers, AI content creators, data curators and specialists in AI ethics and governance.
The jobs most at risk of automation – with up to four-fifths of the tasks automated – are those that involve routine and repetitive language tasks, including roles such as credit authorizers, checkers and clerks. The occupations projected to remain relatively unaltered include education, guidance, career counsellors and advisers, with 84% of their tasks having a low exposure to change.
This new data on the impact of LLMs supplements and reinforces the findings from the Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023, which found that up to a quarter of jobs are expected to change in the next five years from the combined impact of technology, the green transition and the geoeconomic outlook.
The paper argues that businesses and governments must take proactive steps to prepare for the effects of LLMs in the workforce, including by improving foresight, creating an adaptable workforce, implementing systems that facilitate job transitions and encouraging lifelong learning.
Defense4 days ago
Three Sahelian Interim Military Leaders Sign Security Pact
Americas4 days ago
China and Venezuela Deepening Cooperation
Eastern Europe3 days ago
The agreement was reached to stop the Azerbaijan’s Anti-TerrorOperation in Karabakh: quo vadis?
World News4 days ago
Biden’s Hanoi trip was overshadowed by revelations of Vietnam’s secret Russian arms deal
Finance3 days ago
World Trade Report 2023: “re-globalization” amid early signs of fragmentation
World News4 days ago
Sharp deterioration of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh
Arts & Culture4 days ago
UNESCO supports removal of Ugandan tombs from endangered list
World News4 days ago
Shoigu: Moscow and Tehran are reaching a new level of interaction