Which are the next walls to fall in science and society? Is it the wall of space exploration, the wall of waste, the wall to memory or the wall of illiberal politics? At Falling Walls Conference 2018, all of these walls were, if not taken down yet, at least poked at. 15 leading scientist and researchers from all over the world, as well as the winners of the preceding Falling Walls Venture, Lab and Circle events and 700 international guests, gathered in Berlin for another day of brain-picking, discussions and networking.
Looking back at this year’s conference, it is safe to say that engagement seems to be more important than ever. Connecting experts from different disciplines is just as indispensable as building bridges between science and politics, between the public and the laboratory, in order to face some of the tremendous challenges of our society. That is why Falling Walls is not just a conference with high-level talks. It is also a place to get in touch with the experts in personal Q&A sessions on the Forum Stage – a concept that has proven successful once again this year.
One of the central questions and thus underlying themes of Falling Walls 2018 was: How can we make it better? Not only for us, but for future generations as well. For Steve Evans from the University of Cambridge, who gave one of the first 15-minute-talks, industrial inefficiency is at the core of many environmental problems these days. From wasteful packaging to inefficient workflows, there’s a plethora of things that can be improved with just a little bit of effort. It is a sentiment Veena Sahajwalla from UNSW Australia knows all too well: A materials scientist and engineer, she is working towards a revolution in recycling science to unlock the valuable resources in complex and toxic waste found in landfills. Both scientists ended their talk with a call for action, as every single one of us must not continue to waste our earth’s precious resources.
After all, we can already see the consequences of our actions: Mexican researcher Gerardo Ceballos showed the audience how many species we are losing each day on earth. They will never return, never been seen again after millions of years of evolution. Terry Hughes, an expert on coral reefs, presented haunting pictures of dead coral reefs on stage, who have fallen victim to climate change and the rising temperature of the ocean. But even if we manage to reduce carbon emissions, the fate of our planet is already decided, according to Avi Loeb from the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University: “We have about a billion years left before earth’s oceans are starting to boil”, Loeb began his presentation. That’s why he is already looking at a world beyond Planet Earth, in a quest to find – and ultimately settle on – another habitable planet.