Top 10 Science & Technology News of 2007
Published on 12-10-2007 17:49 here: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/biz/2007/12/133_15291.html
Environment, Energy, Mobile Internet Are This Year’s Most Debated Issues
By Cho Jin-seo
The science and technology section of a newspaper is often its most cheerful page, since its stories tell about new inventions, innovations, evolution and natural wonders. But this year, the primary tone of the science sections was rather grim. The global warming issue and its threat was selected by science journalists in South Korea as the most critical scientific issue of 2007. New trends in the Internet and the mobile communications technologies such as Mobile WiMax, video telephony and Web 2.0 were other popular issues discussed in the science and technology circle over the past 12 months. Searching for new energy sources such as solar, wind and nuclear fusion also received big attention.
Another noticeable trend is the return of the space exploration hype, which this time is coming from Asia. Korea is also setting foot in the international race toward space by preparing its first astronaut ready for next year’s historic trip.
Here are top the 10 science and technology news selected by 249 science reporters in a vote complied by the Citizens’ Coalition for Scientific Society, announced on Dec. 4.
1. Red Alert on Global Warming
In February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body, published a report that warned that mankind is already in serious trouble because of the increased emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. It said an inevitable sea level increase is threatening lives of people living in coastal areas, while other inland regions will suffer from water shortages due to decreased rainfall.
The warning was supported by a series of natural disasters all over the globe ― melting glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland; a years-long drought in central Australia; flooding in Southeast Asia and extinction of rare species in Europe. The urgency of the matter was symbolized by the Nobel Peace Prize which was shared by the IPCC and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore for their contribution to promoting awareness of the danger of global warming.
Korea was no exception in the phenomenon. The fishing industry on the eastern coast has been severely damaged as cold-water fish such as Alaskan pollack have left the East Sea, which is being rapidly warmed up year by year.
2. Mobile WiMax Selected as Global Standard
The government and many electronics and communications companies jubilantly celebrated when the International Telecommunication Union selected the Mobile WiMax technology as one of the global standards for third-generation mobile communications in October.
Mobile WiMax, known as WiBro in South Korea, is a high-speed wireless Internet platform for people on the move. The South Korean government and firms such as KT, Samsung Electronics and Posdata have been the major supporters of this technology for years. They expect exports of network equipment and handsets will soar from next month.
However, Mobile WiMax still has a long way to go. There are only about 100,000 registered users in South Korea after a year in service. U.S. mobile operator Sprint is also looking to divest its WiMax business, disappointing its Korean partners.
3. Green Energy on Rise
While the oil price is hovering near $100 per barrel, nations and international investors are spending more money on alternative energy sources. Solar and wind power generation are becoming a massive market in Korea, with conglomerates such as LG, Samsung, SK and STX making serious investment. The nuclear generation industry has also been reborn as countries started building new reactors and extending the life of existing ones.
The high oil price is affecting even unlikely sectors of the market. Crop prices have jumped as more farmers in North and South America are turning wheat fields into corn farms to sell the corns to bio fuel factories. Eventually, Korea’s snack makers are raising their cookie prices because of rising imported flour prices.
4. Science Education in Crisis
Earlier this month, an international report on the world’s 30 rich countries revealed that South Korean high-school students are ranked 11th in their scientific knowledge, down from the first place in 2000. Teachers at universities are blaming the liberal government’s liberal education policies over the past 10 years, which gave more freedom to students to choose their own school subjects.
In a separate movement, many grass-roots scientists, teachers and non-governmental organizations formed a coalition to demand the government increase its budget on basic science education.
5. Astronaut Ready to Go
The government selected a 31-year-old computer scientist Ko San as the nation’s first astronaut. Ko will work on the International Space Station next April where he will perform various scientific experiments for about a week. Along with back-up astronaut Lee So-youn, Ko is now being trained at Russia’s state space center near Moscow. The Korean government reportedly paid some 20 billion won for the trip.
Worldwide, the space exploration race has intensified since Japan and China both launched unmanned lunar probes in the second half of this year. Google, the Internet giant, also fueled the competition by setting up a $20-million award for the first private team to put a rover on the moon surface by 2014.
6. Stem Cell Breakthrough
While Korean citizens were still debating whether they should give another chance to disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk who had beguiled the world with fabricated research results, research teams in Japan and the United States respectively announced that they have found basic ways to clone human organs using adult stem cells.
The Kyoto University and University of Wisconsin-Madison teams have succeeded in developing stem cells from human adult skin tissues. The stem cell can then be developed into various human organs and tissues. The method is free from ethical concerns since it does not need human eggs.
Though the commercialization of this technique is far from reality, scientists are enthusiastic about it. One of the ardent supporters is Ian Wilmut who helped create the first cloned animal, Dolly, a Sheep, and also wanted to work with Hwang before the scam broke out.
7. Nuclear Fusion Test Reactor Completed
An experimental nuclear fusion reactor began operation in Daejeon in September, which will lay the foundation for Korea’s dream of developing an unlimited source of clean and safe energy.
Built on a 300-billion won budget over 12 years, K-STAR reactor is expected to make South Korea one of the leading nations in the fusion technology field along with Japan, the United States, China and the European Union.
Nuclear fusion is the most promising but very challenging method of producing clean energy that can meet the ever growing demands without worrying about fuel. Scientist have yet to succeed in harnessing the power in an affordable way, but by using the KSTAR furnace, the government wants to start commercial fusion power generation in 30 years.
8. Web 2.0 and User Created Contents
No one can define what exactly Web 2.0 means. The development in the broadband Internet network has brought the second generation of Web services, such as social-networking sites and user-built encyclopedias, where everyone can create their own services and relationships which cannot be defined in a fixed term.
The Web 2.0 era is represented by the popularity of the blog (personal Web log), Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube. In South Korea, the home-made video sharing services called UCC (user created contents) have become a fad among big Internet firms such as Daum, Yahoo and Cyworld.
9. Face-to-Face on Mobile
SK Telecom and KTF launched video telephony services using their third-generation telecom network respectively. The two firms have drawn more than one million subscribers for the fancy 3G phones.
The telecom firms are planning to further exploit their high-speed network next year by launching various mobile Internet services. Handsets with full-browsing Internet will debut within the first few months by LG Telecom.
10. Debate on Technology Leaks
After the National Assembly passed a law on “technology leaks” prevention late last year, engineers and scientists at firms and schools have protested that the government is siding with employers. They argued that the government and the court have often exaggerated the damage of the technology leaks and are giving too harsh punishments to employees who moved to other companies with the knowledge they acquired from their previous positions.