Falling Walls Circle Tables 2020 were lending the spotlight to world-leading scientists, science strategists and policy-makers from academia, business and politics discuss how we can apply science, research and innovation to get the world moving again.

Falling Walls Circle Tables

1. Can cell-based interceptive medicine revolutionise healthcare?

Numerous diseases, ranging from cancer to heart disease, are in urgent need of innovative medical interventions. The Falling Walls Circle Table hosts a discussion on the potential of revolutionary cell medicine techniques.

Cell-based interceptive medicine involves examining small cell samples, enabling a deeper understanding of diseases for diagnostic and monitoring purposes. These tools offer personalized medicine by selecting appropriate drugs for individual patients and even developing new therapies. Additionally, even minuscule tissue samples can provide invaluable insights into otherwise inaccessible organs such as the brain or heart.

Realizing the potential of cell-based interceptive medicine necessitates extensive collaboration. Data sharing is essential to gain comparative insights while safeguarding patients’ privacy. Advancing the field of medicine requires diverse expertise, with clinicians and biologists collaborating with mathematicians and data scientists to decipher vast amounts of information contained within limited cell numbers.

With following speakers:

  • Alexia-Ileana Zaromytidou, Nature Cancer
  • Stefanie Dimmeler, Institute of Cardiovascular Regeneration
  • Angelika Eggert, Charité Berlin
  • Nikolaus Rajewsky, Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine
  • Bart de Strooper, KU Leuven

2. Shaping future cities: RISE (Resilient, Intelligent, Sustainable, Equitable) cities through new allies

During this Falling Walls Circle Table, the focus was on how we can shape the cities of the future. Instead of imposing a specific vision, the panel discussed the importance of involving citizens in shaping tomorrow’s society, with digital innovation playing a central role.

Technology wields significant influence over our lives, and utilizing its power can be instrumental in creating a positive future. Innovations like autonomous vehicles, smart grids, innovative architecture, and personalized healthcare could all be pivotal in shaping future cities. However, their meaningful implementation requires collaboration between technology, government, and citizens.

Present-day citizens have complex relationships with trust, often feeling skeptical of the government while freely sharing data with tech giants. Projects that actively involve and collaborate with citizens in the creation of new technological tools can, in turn, foster trust.

While much attention is given to the potential technological advancements for future cities, having a clear vision is also crucial. Collaborations between technology and humanities can empower citizens to envision and actively contribute to building a brighter future.

With following speakers:

  • Charles Landry, Robert Bosch Academy Fellow
  • Gabriella Gomez-Mont, Laboratorio Para La Ciudad
  • Vanessa Evers, NTU Institute for Science and Technology for Humanity
  • Jutta Juliane Meier, IDENTITY Valley

3. Powering Climate Neutrality – The Future of Hydrogen

It is evident that a significant transformation in the world’s energy system is imperative to address climate change. The Falling Walls Circle Table delves into the potential role of hydrogen energy in this transition and examines the obstacles it currently encounters.

Hydrogen boasts a remarkable energy capacity and emits no greenhouse gases or pollutants when burned. Moreover, it can be produced using environmentally friendly methods, either from renewable sources or fossil fuels. This opens up possibilities for energy storage and the transportation of renewable energy to areas of demand, with broad applications in various sectors such as industry and transport. For the aviation industry, in particular, adopting hydrogen energy represents a monumental shift, as stated by Glenn Llewellyn.

However, the journey for hydrogen energy is riddled with challenges. Technical hurdles exist at every stage, spanning from production and storage to transport and efficient utilization. Beyond technical concerns, there are significant social challenges as well. These encompass the necessity for supportive policies to facilitate the growth of hydrogen energy and the need for public understanding and acceptance of a technology that remains relatively unfamiliar. Nevertheless, the panel is in agreement that if these challenges can be effectively overcome, hydrogen has the potential to play a central role in shaping our energy future.

With following speakers:

  • Daniel Oberhaus, Wired
  • Peter Wasserscheid, Helmholtz-Institute Erlangen-Nürnberg for Renewable Energy
  • Phil de Luna, National Research Council of Canada
  • Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus

4. Impact of Covid-19: How has the pandemic affected how we do science?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread disruption across all aspects of society, including the field of science. The Falling Walls Circle Table explores the pandemic’s impact on research and how it has changed the lives of researchers themselves.

The events of 2020 naturally led to a surge in research focused on understanding the impact of COVID-19. To disseminate findings quickly, scientists increasingly turned to preprint servers, which allow them to share their studies before undergoing peer review. This approach challenges the traditional model of scientific publishing.

One noteworthy observation, as pointed out by Kyle Myers, is that no two scientists experienced the pandemic in the same way. Disciplines heavily reliant on laboratories and fieldwork saw a significant reduction in output. Researchers with households and children faced considerable challenges, and female scientists, in particular, experienced the most significant declines in productivity. A broad recovery plan for research by governments may not adequately address these diverse experiences.

Despite the challenges, the pandemic also presented some opportunities for research and researchers. For instance, young scientists found it easier to attend conferences as travel barriers were removed due to virtual events. Moreover, the pandemic has increased public engagement in science, and the panel hopes this renewed interest will advocate for continued investment in research. The adaptability and speed with which research on the impact of COVID-19 has been conducted serve as a compelling case for the inherent value of ‘blue skies research’—research driven by curiosity and exploration.

With following speakers:

  • Adrian Carter, Boehringer Ingelheim
  • Julie Maxton, The Royal Society
  • Veronika von Messling, German Federal Ministry for Education and Research
  • Kyle R. Myers, Harvard Business School
  • Daniel Hook, Digital Science

5. Biotech Innovation in Europe and Germany

Creating a global ‘hotspot’ of biotech innovation in Europe requires a strategic approach and overcoming specific challenges. In this Falling Walls Circle Table, panelists discuss Europe’s unique offerings and the hurdles it must address to compete with biotech powerhouses like the United States and China.

Among European cities, Berlin stands out as a promising option for a biotech hotspot, sharing essential characteristics with the leading hub of Boston. The German capital offers a well-balanced mix of researchers, policymakers, regulators, and financial resources. Moreover, the lines between these sectors are becoming increasingly fluid, fostering collaboration and innovation.

However, one key advantage that Boston possesses is not only its innovative biotech companies but also the presence of pharmaceutical giants. This combination provides a sense of employment security and encourages a culture of entrepreneurial risk-taking, attracting talented biotech professionals. For Berlin, or any European city aspiring to become a biotech hotspot, it is crucial to create a supportive framework for translating research into commercial products. This requires strengthening the network between industry, academia, and regulatory bodies, as demonstrated by the unprecedented results achieved in biotech during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To compete on a global scale, Europe must continue to foster an environment that encourages risk-taking, attracts talent, and supports the translation of research into viable commercial products. By bolstering collaboration between various stakeholders and capitalizing on its strengths, Europe can establish itself as a significant player in the biotech innovation landscape.

With following speakers:

  • Lisa Melton, Nature Biotechnology
  • Stefan Oelrich, Bayer AG
  • Gottfried Ludewig, German Federal Ministry of Health
  • Amit Nashat, Dewpoint Therapeutics

6. Future Computing – Magic wand for innovation or threat to humanity?

The rapid advancement of technology, from artificial intelligence to quantum computing, promises to reshape our future significantly. However, in this Falling Walls Circle Table, the panel raises important questions about ensuring that these new tools are harnessed for addressing the world’s problems without posing threats to societies and democracies.

As technology plays an increasingly prominent role in our lives, its environmental impact also grows, necessitating a focus on improved efficiency and adopting a circular design approach to minimize waste. The emergence of advanced computing capabilities also brings the potential for a concentration of power, whether in the hands of companies, countries, or governments. This concentration could lead to misuse for political gains or personal profit, posing serious risks to society.

To address these challenges, it is vital that future computing technologies are democratized and made widely available and accessible to all. Embracing diversity in tech companies will ensure that solutions are tailored to address the full range of humanity’s problems and needs. To safeguard the future of humanity, effective regulation and laws must be put in place as safeguards against potential misuse of technology.

Collaboration and cooperation are at the heart of innovation. As the world’s problems are increasingly global in nature, global solutions are required. Working together across borders and disciplines will be crucial in effectively addressing the challenges and harnessing the potential benefits that technology brings.

Ultimately, the responsible and ethical development and utilization of new technologies are essential in shaping a positive future for humanity. By promoting accessibility, diversity, and collaboration, we can ensure that these transformative tools work for the collective betterment of society without compromising our values, freedoms, and democracies.

With following speakers:

  • Jan-Martin Wiarda, Independent Journalist
  • Agnes Boudot, ATOS
  • Allison Kennedy, Science and Technology Facilities Council UK
  • Wolfgang Marquardt, Forschungszentrum Jülich
  • Alessandro Curioni, IBM

7. Circular Economy – running in circles or closing the loop?

Transitioning from a linear economy to a circular economy necessitates a complete reimagining of global systems. The Falling Walls Circle Table discussed the unprecedented momentum and motivation worldwide to achieve this transformation.

Establishing a circular economy is a daunting task, especially considering the success of the linear economy in many aspects. The current linear system allows for the low-cost production of products, leading to the widespread use of plastics in various aspects of our lives. However, this convenience comes at a significant cost, with depleted resources and plastic pollution reaching even remote areas.

Building a circular economy that prioritizes product reuse and protects the natural world requires substantial technological innovation, ranging from new materials to inventive ways of reusing existing materials. While implementing these ideas often takes time, urgent solutions are needed tomorrow. Business and political leaders can drive the necessary changes, but public attitudes also play a crucial role in propelling the transition. As highlighted by Jacob Duer, the challenge at hand cannot be solved by any single entity alone – citizens, communities, countries, and companies must work together in concert.

To achieve the ambitious goal of a circular economy, collaboration, innovation, and a collective commitment from all stakeholders are essential. By embracing this approach, we can address the pressing issues of resource depletion and pollution while working towards a more sustainable and regenerative economic model.

With following speakers:

  • AC Coopens, THE CATALYST
  • Martin Brudermüller, BASF SE
  • Jacob Duer, Alliance to End Plastic Waste
  • Rozalina Petrova, European Commission

8. COVID-19 – Current trends in vaccine research

Vaccinations have emerged as a crucial pathway to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, but they also bring about significant challenges. During the Falling Walls Circle Table, the panel explored the race by companies to develop vaccines and produce them at a vast scale, even before phase 3 trial data from any COVID-19 vaccine research had been published.

Traditionally, the development of medications for new pathogens took a minimum of two years. Accelerating the development of COVID-19 vaccines presented great challenges to supply chains, which had to rapidly increase production while continuing to manufacture their regular products and ensuring employee safety. However, 2020 defied expectations, as some vaccine candidates were developed within a matter of weeks. This accelerated pace of research and development prompts the question of how to apply the lessons learned and implement them in other contexts, as raised by Uwe Gottschalk.

Once vaccines are successfully developed, the focus shifts to the production of hundreds of millions of doses. To accelerate this process, companies are leveraging innovations like virtual reality training for specialists and using artificial intelligence to enhance manufacturing processes. Expanding manufacturing capacity through multiple facilities also plays a vital role in meeting the demand.

Moreover, innovation is not solely limited to development and production. Thoughtful consideration of vaccination strategies, such as determining which vaccine to administer to whom, can have profound impacts on the course of the pandemic. Making informed decisions about vaccination prioritization is crucial in achieving the most effective and equitable response.

The discussion highlights the remarkable achievements in vaccine development, but it also emphasizes the importance of learning from these experiences and applying the knowledge gained to tackle other global challenges. By leveraging technology and strategic decision-making, we can not only improve vaccine distribution but also drive progress in addressing future public health crises.

With following speakers:

  • René Fáber, Sartorius
  • Uwe Gottschalk, Lonza
  • Carlos Gúzman, Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research

9. The next european particle accelerator – does CERN need another supercollider?

Building a new, larger particle collider in Europe, surpassing the existing Large Hadron Collider (LHC), would mark an unparalleled scientific endeavor and require extensive global collaboration over several decades. The primary outcome of such a project would be the ability for physicists to delve into the conditions of the Universe moments after the Big Bang, advancing our comprehension of the fundamental laws of nature.

However, the impact of this immense scientific pursuit extends far beyond particle physics. Historically, particle physics research has led to numerous unexpected breakthroughs and indirect benefits. From the birth of the internet to advancements in imaging biological molecules—vital in combating the coronavirus pandemic—diverse fields have benefited from the insights gained in particle physics.

Furthermore, the profound impacts of this project extend beyond quantifiable measures. The research and collaborative efforts involved in establishing the next European particle accelerator foster global unity and serve as an inspiration for future generations of scientists across all disciplines. As Jeremy Farrar eloquently expresses, the quest to understand the laws of nature is akin to a modern Enlightenment, enriching our understanding of the universe and pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

In essence, the new European particle accelerator would not only advance our scientific understanding but also stimulate innovation and progress across various fields and serve as a beacon of inspiration for generations to come.

With following speakers:

  • Zulfikar Abbany, Deutsche Welle
  • Ursula Bassler, CERN Council
  • Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome Trust
  • Beate Heinemann, DESY
  • Nigel Lockyer, Fermilab

10. Quantum computing in the NISQ era – competition or cooperation?

Quantum Computers have been in the spotlight, particularly since Google achieved a milestone called ‘quantum supremacy,’ surpassing the capabilities of conventional computation. In this Falling Walls Circle Table, the focus is on exploring the potential achievements of quantum computers in the future and identifying the obstacles that need to be overcome to realize these goals.

The functioning of Quantum Computers differs fundamentally from that of traditional computers, granting them the ability to tackle tasks that would be otherwise unattainable. They can efficiently simulate molecular processes and optimize intricate logistics, among other possibilities.

Despite these promising capabilities, the current state of Quantum Computers is still relatively rudimentary compared to the advanced machines required to unlock practical applications fully. It appears that it will be quite a few years before they can effectively solve useful problems, and developing algorithms that can run on these quantum systems remains a challenging task.

Moving toward the ultimate objective of practical quantum computing will necessitate collaboration, as no single country or company possesses all the resources needed to develop every component. Nevertheless, the potential rewards for everyone involved could be significant. As expressed by Ina Schiefer-Decker, the true essence lies not in merely having a quantum computer but in having one that addresses problems with a positive impact on all of society.

With following speakers:

  • Iulia Georgescu, Nature Physics Review
  • Tommaso Calarco, Quantum Community Network
  • Hartmut Neven, Google
  • Ina Schieferdecker, German Federal Ministry for Education and Research

11. Industrial AI or the Challenge to scale AI in the physical world

As technology evolves, artificial intelligence is permeating all aspects of our lives. The Falling Walls Circle Table examines how we can optimize AI’s role in the physical realm while safeguarding against potential risks.

Machine learning empowers AI to function with minimal programming, but its adaptability in complex physical scenarios is limited. To ensure AI’s future effectiveness, it’s vital to develop tools that infer causation, not just correlation. Additionally, transparency is crucial—we should be able to delve into AI’s decision-making process.

Presently, AI is a versatile tool spanning diverse applications, yet its inherent neutrality means it can be used for both positive and negative purposes. This requires vigilance from governments, companies, and the public.

With following speakers:

  • Zulfikar Abbany, Deutsche Welle
  • Michael Bolle, Robert Bosch GmbH
  • Sami Haddadin, Munich School of Robotics and Machine Intelligence
  • Andrew Ng Landing AI

12. Vaccine Distribution in Geopolitical Context

Vaccines are crucial in combating the coronavirus pandemic, but their distribution raises significant practical and ethical questions. In a panel discussion on November 4th, 2020, experts tackled the challenges of what could be the most ambitious vaccine rollout in history, even before clinical trial data was publicly available for vaccine candidates.

Producing vaccines at a scale required to meet global demand poses technical obstacles. Factors such as the cold supply chain for certain vaccines and the availability of medical staff in specific regions add to the complexity. Moreover, addressing vaccine skepticism in many countries presents a challenging task.

The distribution challenge goes beyond national borders, raising concerns about fairness and access for those in need. Some countries focused on securing their own supply, even departing from international collaboration. While efforts for fair vaccine distribution exist, some argue that waiving intellectual property rights is necessary due to unprecedented challenges. Kate O’Brien emphasizes that equitable global vaccination is not just a moral imperative but a strategic one.

With following speakers:

  • Cliff Ransom, Nature Research
  • Kate O’Brien, WHO
  • Helga Barth, German Federal Foreign Office
  • Tobias Kahler, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Ilona Kickbusch, Global Health Centre, Graduate Institute Geneva

13. Mental Health: Do we need a new super science for mental health?

While there may be a decrease in the stigma surrounding mental health, a significant number of individuals in both affluent and impoverished nations continue to endure its impact. The following discussion at the Falling Walls Circle Table explores how scientific advancements can address this crisis and improve global mental health.

Presently, advancements in academia face a slow-paced journey towards implementation in interventions aimed at enhancing patients’ well-being. Mental health treatment often proves to be a blunt instrument, inadequately classifying both disorders and individuals, frequently contributing to the perpetuation of stigma.

The Covid-19 pandemic has heightened awareness regarding the effectiveness of technological tools. By fostering collaboration between experts and tech innovators, this newfound acceptance can be harnessed to extend healthcare services to those in dire need. It is imperative that individuals with firsthand experiences of mental health challenges play a pivotal role throughout this process, from its initiation to its conclusion.

Customization is key, tailoring interventions to suit the unique needs of individuals, whether that involves SMS-based services in less affluent nations or video game-based interventions for the younger demographic. In the words of Megan Jones Bell, “What is the point of an evidence based intervention that no one uses?”

With following speakers:

  • Miranda Wolpert, Wellcome Trust
  • Obi Felten, X, the moonshot factory
  • Megan Jones Bell, Headspace
  • Shuranjeet Takhar, Taraki

14. Understanding the scientific method in the 21st century

In the 21st century, an unprecedented volume of data has been generated, simultaneously posing challenges to the expertise essential for comprehending this information. Within the context of this Falling Walls Circle Table, the panel explores how we can effectively modify and modernize the scientific method to align with contemporary scientific practices.

Despite the availability of new automated tools for analyzing vast amounts of data, expertise remains crucial in modern science to convert correlations into meaningful insights. Algorithms need to be crafted to articulate not only their results but also their reasoning. Various laboratories should employ their distinct methods to assess the reliability and reproducibility of deductions. Edith Heard emphasizes that “the optimal approach to any dataset is to scrutinize it from every conceivable perspective.”

Contemporary science mandates interdisciplinary collaborations, urging researchers to glean insights from diverse fields, including the humanities and social sciences. Through efforts to make both data and methods more accessible, scientists can cultivate genuinely open attitudes toward research.

With following speakers:

  • Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, European Research Council
  • Fosca Giannotti, Information Science and Technology Institute
  • Edith Heard, EMBL
  • Sabina Leonelli, University of Exeter

15. Institutional discrimination in science

The global protests triggered by the killing of George Floyd have brought to the forefront the challenge against institutional discrimination and racism. In this Falling Walls Circle Table, the panelists debunked the notion that academia is inherently objective or impartial. Witness how this panel delved into the complicity of research in perpetuating racism and explored essential pathways for reforming our institutions.

The history of race is intricately woven into the fabric of scientific history. In contemporary science, people of color face obstacles both in terms of initial entry and subsequent progress. Racism not only hinders the participation of individuals but also influences the nature of research—shaping the questions posed, the answers provided, and the narratives constructed.

Initiating improvements in science’s relationship with race prompts consideration of the efforts made by South Africa to comprehensively reform academia by actively addressing barriers to representation. This encompasses recognizing the significance of symbolic gestures, such as renaming buildings, along with community provisions and adequate financial support.

However, addressing “Institutional Discrimination” and “Racism in Science” extends beyond the scientific community alone. Discrimination and racism are interconnected with other forms of inequality, such as gender and poverty. In essence, tackling institutional discrimination in science requires a holistic approach. As Adam Habib articulates, “you can’t think of… deracialising science without deracialising society.”

With following speakers:

  • Nuala Hafner, Global Science TV
  • Anthony Bogues, Brown University
  • Adam Habib, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Tolu Oni, University of Cambridge
  • Mary Robinson, The Elders

16. Science communication in crisis – could we do better?

Amidst the global struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic, science communication has been actively countering an ‘infodemic.’ Fueled by social media and political divisions, false information has impeded progress at every juncture. As Melissa Fleming elucidates, “we had at the beginning misinformation that was travelling faster than the virus.”

Addressing misinformation necessitates transparent and compelling science communication. This entails a heightened level of openness in reporting, clearly specifying sources, and elucidating the scientific process. When the scientific landscape remains uncertain, journalism must accurately convey this ambiguity.

However, merely providing information to audiences is just the starting point. Communicators must also leverage social media by creating content that is both accessible and shareable. Social media companies, in turn, have a responsibility to ensure that factual information is more likely to reach users than fiction. These insights will remain pertinent well beyond the Covid era, especially as we persist in combating misinformation across various fronts, notably including the challenge of climate change.

With following speakers:

  • Angela Saini, Independent Journalist
  • Melissa Fleming, United Nations
  • Laura Helmuth, Scientific American
  • Alan Rusbridger, University of Oxford
  • Jan Zielonka, University of Oxford

17. Foresight planning – how to avoid another 2020

COVID sent shockwaves across the globe, but was its occurrence genuinely unforeseen? At this Falling Walls Circle Table, the panel explores the adequacy of our preparation for the pandemic and deliberates on improving our readiness through proactive planning for future changes and crises.

While researchers had long forewarned about the potential threat of a global pandemic, it is evident that this knowledge did not translate effectively into action. The events of 2020 underscored the inadequacy of warnings in preparing us for threats that do not present an immediate and imminent danger. While COVID has undoubtedly had a profound impact on the world, other persistent dangers loom on the horizon, spanning from climate change to shifts in global power structures.

To prevent a recurrence of the challenges faced in 2020, it is imperative to integrate foresight planning into both public and private sector processes. This entails enhancing communication channels with those in positions of influence. However, those in power must also cultivate the ability to listen and take action, transcending partisan divides.

With following speakers:

  • Chris Luebkeman, ETH Zurich
  • Cornelia Daheim, German ministry for education and research
  • Kristel van der Elst, Policy Horizon Canada
  • Peter Ho, Centre for Strategic Futures

18. Forging a more inclusive research ecosystem with key stakeholders

Building on the discourse about Combatting Systematic Discrimination in Science, this Falling Walls Circle Table reflected on the actions that research institutions can and should take to address inequality. In the past year, organizations have intensified their efforts to promote diversity and equity. During this panel, we heard about various measures already in progress and identified areas where substantial progress is still required.

Numerous academic institutions have issued statements in response to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, acknowledging the deep-seated fragmentation within the scientific community. The realization that not everyone can engage in or access research underscores significant disparities both between and within nations. To foster inclusive research, the scientific community must scrutinize its practices at every level, from individual scientists to systemic structures. Utilizing data is essential to establish explicit institutional targets and identify best practices for interventions.

While there is a fundamental imperative to champion diversity and inclusive research across all domains, combating racism within research presents unique challenges. In 2020, there were indications that institutions were starting to confront racism with a much-needed sense of urgency. The panel contends that addressing this issue will not only benefit marginalized individuals but will also enable science to fully realize its potential.

With following speakers:

  • Nick Perkins, CABI
  • Kumsal Bayazit, Elsevier
  • Daya Reddy, International Science Council
  • Shirley M. Malcom, AAAS
  • Karen Salt, UK Research and Innovation

19. Future computing – magic wand for innovation or threat to humanity?

From the ascent of artificial intelligence to the advent of quantum computing, technology is poised to reshape our future. In this Falling Walls Circle Table, the panel explores how we can ensure that these emerging tools address global challenges without posing a fundamental threat to our societies and democracies.

As technology plays an increasingly integral role in our lives, its environmental impact expands, necessitating enhanced efficiency and an approach rooted in circular design. The evolution of computing also raises concerns about the potential concentration of power, whether wielded by companies, countries, or governments. There is a growing risk that such power could be misused for political motives or personal gain.

Ensuring the democratization of future computing technologies is paramount to making them widely available and accessible. Tech companies must actively embrace diversity to develop solutions that encompass the full spectrum of humanity’s challenges. Given the stakes for the future of humanity, regulatory frameworks and laws must be established as safeguards.

At the core of innovation, collaboration must thrive. As today’s challenges are genuinely global, solutions must be equally global, emphasizing the need for collaborative efforts.

With following speakers:

  • Jan-Martin Wiarda, Independent Journalist
  • Agnes Boudot, ATOS
  • Allison Kennedy, Hartree Centre
  • Wolfgang Marquardt, Forschungszentrum Jülich
  • Alessandro Curioni, IBM

20. Forests – dramatic impacts of climate change

In this Falling Walls Circle Table, the panel delves into the numerous threats confronting the future of forests and explores measures to safeguard them from the impacts of our changing climate. As Marcus Lindner points out, “we can’t plan for certainty for the future. We always have to expect surprises.”

Forests play a vital role in offering various essential services, from supporting ecosystems to serving as carbon sinks. However, these services are now at risk due to escalating threats, including drought, wildfires, and the proliferation of pests. What were once considered unforeseen events are increasingly viewed as inevitable challenges for the future of forests.

Given the incredible diversity of forests, there is no universally applicable solution. Broadly, strategies must focus on aiding forests in recovery after challenges while simultaneously fostering resilience. This involves actions like thinning trees for better short-term resistance and carefully introducing new species for long-term adaptability. Implementing such strategies may necessitate a shift in the forestry mindset, placing equal importance on the myriad services forests provide and their future, alongside traditional wood production considerations.

With following speakers:

  • Andrew Curry, Independent Journalist
  • Jürgen Bauhus, University of Freiburg
  • Marcus Lindner, European Forest Institute
  • Andreas Huth, Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research – UFZ

21. Breakthroughs in water research

Water is a vital component for life on Earth, yet the safety of water is jeopardized worldwide. In this Falling Walls Circle Table, the panel explores advancements in water research aimed at addressing global water crises. According to Joan Rose, “we all know the saying ‘water is life,’ and we emphasize that water quality is health.”

Across the globe, groundwater is diminishing as we drill wells to increasingly greater depths. These water sources are also susceptible to contamination, posing health risks for both current and future generations. Monitoring and modeling the complex flows of water, especially beneath the ground, present significant challenges. Additionally, the continuous shifts in the world’s hydrological cycle due to climate change further complicate these dynamics.

Hydrology is undergoing a transformation through the power of data, with researchers collecting and sharing an expanding wealth of information globally. Innovative techniques, such as tracking isotopes or employing PCR methods similar to those used in Covid testing, allow hydrologists to trace water flows in novel ways. The ultimate imperative for water research is to furnish policymakers with detailed information, empowering them to safeguard our access to safe water well into the future.

With following speakers:

  • Andrew Curry, Independent Journalist
  • Jeffrey Mcdonnell, University of Saskatchewan
  • Joan Rose, Michigan State University
  • Luis Samaniego, Helmholtz-zentrum For Environmental Research – Ufz

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