10 STEM research careers worth knowing about

We’ve heard about it all before – the importance of STEM, the urgent need for engineers and scientists, better paid job packages and secure jobs. But a choice of career is dictated by more than pay packages and economic policies. There has to be an element of passion, thrill, and exhilaration. After all, isn’t that what will ultimately propel you out of bed and get you to work?

 

And what about creativity? Is that only the domain of the arty types, while the sciences get tagged “brilliant”? Everyone wants a brilliant career or be brilliant at what they do but a career in STEM also requires commitment and passion.

 

Most kids grow up wanting to know how things worked or dreaming of astronauts; which is why a STEM-related field is just the ticket to make those dreams come true. Contrary to popular belief, a career in STEM isn’t all number chewing. There is plenty to be passionate about, and enough excitement to make you bolt out of bed and straight into work for a few hundred decades. There is even scope to show off your creativity.

 

Here’s a list of STEM-related careers and innovations that are changing the world right now:

 

Immune Engineering:

The story of Layla, a 12-month-old little girl in the UK, was made famous by most tabloids and newspapers. Layla suffered from Leukaemia and went into complete remission after receiving a trial treatment developed using immune engineering. The treatment called TALENs – a way of making cuts and fixes to DNA in living cells – consists of T cells that are stripped down and programmed to attack a certain type of blood cell that goes awry in Leukaemia. Layla’s recovery points to how advances in controlling and manipulating the immune system are leading to unexpected breakthroughs in cancer treatment. Further research into genetic and immune engineering could lead to new treatments for HIV and autoimmune diseases like arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

 

The time is not so far away when robots will become a part of our daily life, just like mobile phones and tablets. Tellex’s “Million Object Challenge” aims for research robots around the world to learn how to spot and handle simple items (from bowls to bananas), upload their data to the cloud, and allow other robots to analyse and use the information. This idea is just a step forward from an earlier project undertaken by the company called Robobrain, which demonstrated how one robot could learn from another’s experience.

 

Ultimately, this project will help robot manufacturers to develop better, more intelligent robots.

 

Hello, Universe!

LIGO, or the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, developed by MIT and Caltech, first ran a decade ago to detect gravitational waves – ripples in space time, some of which date back to the Big Bang. In 2016, an upgraded system called Advanced LIGO, which is much more sensitive, confirmed Einstein’s theory of relativity on its first run. Observing these waves lets scientists plot the history of the universe and spot events like supernovas.

 

DNA App Store

DNA plays a powerful role in treating several diseases from Cancer and Alzheimer’s to rarer and potentially more dangerous diseases. Our genomes hold information about our health risks, our physical traits and our family tree. Yet, aside from ancestry tests that provide a limited genetic snapshot, there’s not a mass market for DNA data. Enter Helix. The idea is simple: collect a spit sample from anyone who buys a DNA app, sequence and analyse the customers’ genes, and then digitise the findings so they can be accessed by software developers who want to sell other apps.

 

Helix calls the idea “sequence once, query often”. (The company says customers will find these apps on websites and possibly in the Android and Apple app stores.)

 

The app will generate and store this type of data for all customers, even if they initially make only one specific genetic query, such as whether they have the sweet tooth gene or a risk for a certain disease.

 

Carb Fix

Imagine capturing carbon from the atmosphere – wouldn’t that be an ideal solution to global warming? CarbFix– a system developed by Columbia and University of Iceland – currently being used at a power plant in Iceland – dissolves greenhouse gases in water, and then pumps them into nearby basalt-laden volcanic rock, where both convert into limestone within a few years. The ocean floor is rich in basalt, so the method could scale worldwide.

 

A Bio-Hybrid Stingray Robot Powered by Rat Muscle

Scientists at Harvard created the first truly hybrid robot animal. The nickel-size stingray has a gold skeleton covered in a stretchy polymer, to which rat muscle cells are attached. Pulsing light makes the ray swim. This tiny bio-bot, created by researchers at Harvard University’s Department of Bioengineering and Applied Sciences, has pushed the field forward with a complex propulsion mechanism triggered by light, which allows the bio-bot to be steered around obstacles. The idea behind it is to understand the heart muscles and how they respond to each other. This project aims to revolutionise organ transplant by learning how to build a heart that’s half-muscle, half-machine.

 

Brain Modems:

The US’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently successfully implanted its cortical modem in animals.

 

The cortical modem is a brain-computer interface that connects the visual cortices of people via direct neural interface (DNI) chip. The sensor, called a “stentrode”, a combination of the words “stent” and “electrode”, is the first step in the military’s desire to allow soldiers to control machinery with their minds. But the technology has other potential benefits. For example, it can be used to help people who have lost sensory function. It is also likely that the technology will eventually replace virtual reality and augmented reality devices, allowing quick and easy exchange of information between individuals.

 

World’s Fastest Computer:

Sequoia, developed by IBM for the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), set a world record in computing speed by breaking the 16 petaflop barrier. That represents an astounding 16,000 trillion calculations per second.

 

The supercomputer is capable of performing roughly the same number of operations per second as 10 million mobile phones put together.

 

Sequoia is set to be used to carry out simulations to help extend the life of aging nuclear weapons, avoiding the need for real-world underground tests. Scientists will be able to run a simulation of how the human heart reacts to new medicine in two days instead of two years.

 

Bli-TAB:

BLITAB is the first-ever Braille tablet, using an innovative liquid-based technology to create tactile relief, which outputs braille, graphics and maps for blind and partially sighted users. BLITAB converts any document into Braille text. The tablet surface raises little smart tactile dots called “tixels” (“tactile pixels”). Users can use this to read a full page of text at a time, but also listen to the text-to-speech voice.

 

Star Apartments for the Homeless:

Housing for the homeless is perhaps the foremost urban problem we are facing today. In most cities, this translates to transient shelters or warehouse­like abodes.

 

Star Apartments,a collaborative housing project in Los Angeles, designed by Michael Maltzan along with Skid Row Housing Trust, changed that by transforming an existing one-story commercial building into 102 prefabricated studios, which are staggered into four terraced stories. Star Apartments also offers a ground-floor medical clinic and, above that, a garden, outdoor running track and space for classrooms. The goal, according to Maltzan, is to make the residents of its 300-sq.-ft. units feel “like they’re part of a dynamic and intimate community”. This is a strategy that can help people, especially those struggling with homelessness and substance-abuse issues, re-establish stability in their lives.

 

This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course. The possibilities are infinite. What’s important is that, as a STEM professional, there is scope to create more opportunities. How’s that for creativity?

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