By Alex Dadswell
21st January 2022
From developments in the fight against COVID-19 to lunar landers – let’s look ahead at some of the science events which are likely to dominate 2022…
Entering the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the attention of the scientific community will undoubtedly remain on the fight to overcome the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Research in 2022 will aim to further understand the transmissibility of emerging strains such as the Omicron variant, as well as assess their resistance to existing vaccines. Scientists will also continue to investigate the long-term impacts of infection, such as the widely recorded persistence of altered or lost smell (parosmia and anosmia) in recovering COVID-19 patients. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation will continue investigations into the origins of the virus and have recently appointed a team of 26 scientists to the task.
2022 is set to be another important year for space exploration, with a range of launches planned by different space agencies. Fifty lonely years after the last human set foot on its landscape, the Moon is about to get a lot busier, with a fleet of robotic missions setting their sights on the lunar surface. Three NASA-funded lunar landers will be joined by similar robotic landers from Russian, Indian, and Japanese space agencies as interest in missions to the Moon continues to rise.
In addition to missions to the lunar surface, NASA is set to launch CAPSTONE, a small satellite which will conduct studies to pave the way for the future Gateway space station which the agency hopes will be the first station to orbit the Moon. 2022 will also see the launch of the much-delayed Artemis I orbiter in a test of the launch system which is intended to take NASA astronauts back to the lunar surface in the second half of this decade. Additionally, South Korea will enter the world of lunar exploration with the launch of the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter.
2022 will see the rollout of the recently approved malaria vaccine in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, a region where the disease still kills over 260,000 children under the age of five each year. The ‘RTS,S’ vaccine, which has been in development for three decades, will be administered to at-risk children. Although the protection it offers is not complete, the vaccine has been shown to be particularly effective when used alongside antimalarial medication administered during the high-risk rainy season.
The Large Hadron Collider
Following three years of maintenance work, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is scheduled to recommence operations in March. The LHC is the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, used to test predictions of some of the most central theories in particle physics. The improvements include the installation of additional detector components which will allow the particle detectors ‘ATLAS’ and ‘CMS’ to collect additional data about the millions of proton collisions which are produced each second.
All eyes will be on Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in November as member states of the UN descend upon the city for COP27. One of the various commitments made by world leaders at COP26 was to reduce emissions of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) by 30% by 2030. To monitor progress of these pledges, satellites such as MethaneSAT (scheduled to launch in October) are destined for orbit -designed to assess levels of greenhouse gasses.
In related issues, 2022 will see the penning of a new set of targets in the battle to curb the loss of biological diversity. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets, established by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010, outlined a 10-year plan for protecting global ecosystems. However, most of these targets were not reached in 2020, increasing pressure for concrete action by member states. An estimated one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction due to anthropological factors. The next assembly of nations (originally scheduled for 2020) will begin on 25 April in Kunming, China.
Alex Dadswell is a contributing writer for I, Science and holds the position of news intern at the Imperial Communications Division while studying an MSc in Science Communication here at Imperial. His academic background is in Biology, and he has an interest in finding creative ways to communicate science stories.