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Top 10 Emerging Technologies for 2021

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Top 10 Emerging Technologies for 2021

Innovations to help tackle societal challenges – especially climate change

Scientific American,

5 min read
3 take-aways
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Innovation requires collaboration, at scale – and fast.

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  • Scientific
  • Overview
  • Background


Overlapping problems require interlocking solutions, and technology is stepping up to the challenge. The United Nations identified “partnerships” as a Sustainable Development Goal, and in this 10th edition of “Top 10 Emerging Technologies,” Scientific American examines how governments and industries cooperate to innovate. Self-fertilizing crops, breath sensors that detect COVID-19 and other diseases, and on-demand drugs are among the emerging technologies that will improve human health and environmental sustainability on mass scales. Can it happen fast enough, and will politics impede progress?


Collaboration begets innovation in climate change solutions.

To meet global targets to mitigate catastrophic climate change, solutions must “emerge” within the next five years and prove they can operate at scale. This will require a large capital investment and sustained political pressure and commitment.

Several emerging technologies in climate change mitigation include:

  • Self-fertilizing crops to reduce carbon emissions created by fertilizer production, while also reducing food insecurity in vulnerable populations.
  • “Green” hydrogen to replace the fossil-fuel hydrogen gas needed in ammonia production for fertilizer manufacture.
  • Massive...

About the Authors

Mariette DiChristina, Steering Group chair, is dean and professor of the practice in journalism at the Boston University College of Communication. She was formerly editor in chief of Scientific American and executive vice president, Magazines, for Springer Nature.Bernard S. Meyerson, Steering Group vice chair, is chief innovation officer emeritus at IBM. He holds awards for work spanning physics, engineering and business.Enass Abo-Hamed is CEO of H2GO Power and Enterprise Fellow at the Royal Academy of Engineering.Jeff Carbeck, who has built several companies, is vice president of Corporate Innovation at Eastman.Rona Chandrawati is an associate professor at the University of New South Wales School of Chemical Engineering in Sydney, Australia.Joseph Costantine is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the American University of Beirut and a Young Scientist at the World Economic Forum.P. Murali Doraiswamy is a professor of psychiatry and medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine and a researcher at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.Yabebal Tadesse Fantaye is co-founder of 10 Academy and head of data science at Adludio.Sarah E. Fawcett is a senior lecturer in oceanography and a principal investigator of the Marine Biogeochemistry Lab at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.Olga Fink is a professor of intelligent maintenance systems at ETH Zurich.Javier García Martínez is director of the Molecular Nanotechnology Lab in the department of inorganic chemistry at the University of Alicante in Spain.Daniel E. Hurtado is an associate professor in the School of Engineering at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, where he directs the Computational Medicine Group.Greta Keenan is the World Economic Forum’s Program Specialist for Science and Society. She also manages the Forum’s Young Scientists Community and Global Future Council on Scientific Collaboration.Corinna E. Lathan is co-founder and CEO of AnthroTronix and on the board of PTC. Lathan was founding co-chair of the Forum’s Global Future Council on Human Enhancement.Sang Yup Lee was formerly co-chair of the Forum’s Global Future Council on Biotechnology. He is Distinguished Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and vice president for research at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.Geoffrey Ling, a retired US Army colonel, is an expert in technology development and commercial transition. He is a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and CEO of On Demand Pharmaceuticals. Disclosure: Ling recused himself from discussions and voting about on-demand pharmaceuticals.Andrew Maynard is an associate dean in the College of Global Futures and director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University.Ruth Morgan is a professor of crime and forensic science and vice dean (interdisciplinarity entrepreneurship) at University College London. She is a member of the Forum’s Global Future Council on Scientific Collaboration.Rajalakshmi Nandakumar is an assistant professor at Cornell Tech and in the department of information science at Cornell University.Elizabeth O’Day is CEO and founder of Olaris in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Mine Orlu is an associate professor at the University College London School of Pharmacy.Carlo Ratti is professor of urban technologies and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directs the Senseable City Lab.Barry Shoop, who retired from the US Army as a brigadier general, is dean of the Albert Nerken School of Engineering at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.Sophia M. Velastegui is CTO of AI of Dynamics 365 at Microsoft, board director of BlackLine, and co-chair of the Forum’s Global Future Council on Production.Wilfried Weber is a professor of synthetic biology in the Center for Biological Signaling Studies at the University of Freiburg in Germany.Xun Xu is director of BGI-Research. He is a member of the Forum’s Global Future Council on Biotechnology.

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