As the UN warns of 3.2 degrees global warming after a decade of policy inactivity, what is the STEM careers and game changing technology to save the planet?
A massive 7.6% drop in global emissions year on year is needed asap. While you may be frustrated and angry after a decade of inaction, there’s transformational technology at work right now to limit the climate catastrophe, and careers in STEM as well as work experience opportunities across all of these in some surprising fields.
Game changing technology to save the planet
1. See-through solar cells
Amazing new technology called quantum dots can channel energy from the sun. Quantum dots are nanocrystals made of semiconducting material: a solid that is a less efficient conductor than metals, but more efficient than insulators. They’re so tiny they appear transparent – meaning they could be used on windows, pool fences, in paint, and perhaps even one day on your phone screen.
Dr Lena Woodis from Salisbury University says that one hour of sunlight could power the planet for a whole year – if you could harness that energy. She’s working with student Brandon Chang on quantum dot technology, which is theoretically able to harness 100% of solar energy. Today’s most efficient silicon solar cells harness ~24% of the sun’s available radiation, since silicon doesn’t absorb across every available wavelength, though they can become more efficient.
While Lena’s research is at an early stage, small businesses have begun to market new products based on this game changing technology to save the planet.
Watch Brandon talk about his work on quantum dots.
The stats: Electricity generation relying mainly on fossil fuels creates 27% of greenhouse gas GHG emissions.
Job tip: A uni degree in physics or engineering is your best path to transforming energy, but installers, marketers, data scientists and business developers will also be needed to create game changing technology to save the planet.
RELATED: Saving the planet jobs
2. Restocking the reef
“Corals don’t like it hot,” says Dr Line Bay, principal research scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). “With the increase in ocean temperatures we’ve already seen significant coral stress. Mass bleaching events are happening on a global scale – corals are already feeling the effects of climate change and this is only likely to get worse as temperatures rise.”
Not all corals are created equal, and some are more tolerant of heat stress than others. To understand why, AIMS scientists have successfully spawned over 20 species of coral in their National Sea Simulator, a large research aquarium called SeaSim (check out SeaSim in 3D).
Corals are very complex animals that are finely attuned to their environment, and know the season and time of month by the phase of the moon, releasing their eggs and sperm in sync in a mass annual event that happens over a few nights every year.
AIMS researchers collect these eggs and sperm from a diversity of coral species to understand reproduction and renewal in a large range of species. “Our focus is on understanding how the next generation of corals respond and adapt to a range of environmental stressors including pollution, sedimentation, warming and acidification,” says Line.
“We can also breed different corals to understand how traits like heat tolerance are inherited, and develop new tools that may be required to keep reefs healthy into the future.”
The stats: Oceans are carbon sinks, absorbing about 25% of the world’s CO2 emissions.
Job tip: AIMS employs not only biologists but engineers, technicians, aquaculturalists, plumbers, electricians, turners and fitters to keep the experimental facilities up to scratch, as well as hosting volunteers, work experience students, Masters and PhD students. “I wish we didn’t have to face this climate crisis, but it means we need lots of bright and enthusiastic people, and we need to think outside the box,” says Line.
3. Deleting cars
Could we live in a world without cars in the next decade?
“Typically, road and air transport are considered major contributors to climate change, making up 23 percent of CO2 emissions,” says University of Sydney transport engineering specialist Professor David Levinson.
Dr Sven Teske from the Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) did the maths, and found that 40% of our transport energy needs could be met by renewable energy by 2035.
“Our modelling shows that by mid century all of Australia’s energy can be completely decarbonised, including all transport, industry and heating,” says Sven.
The report was commissioned in 2016 by non-profits GetUp! And Solar Citizens, and assumes a push towards electric and hybrid vehicles plus a move towards biofuels and hydrogen.
There’s a big push for Australia to become a producer and exporter of clean hydrogen, a key game changing technology to save the planet, and many Australian university science solutions on the go. Queensland University of Technology Redlands facility exported the first solar-produced ‘green hydrogen’ fuel to Japan in early 2019, and the Australian National University chemistry department has developed ‘artificial leaf’ technology that helps reveal how plants split water to create oxygen and hydrogen using only sunlight.
Too tired to bike? Watch the UNSW engineering solution, a hydrogen fuel powered bike.
The stats: Transport is the biggest emitter in the US, causing 28.9% of 2017’s emissions.
Job tip: Urban planners, data scientists, engineers, water scientists, entrepreneurs and government careers are in demand for people wanting to transform the transport sector.
RELATED: What do transport planners do?
Keen to know more about climate change careers? Head here.
Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs