In the fast-moving modern world, change is constant. New trends and new advances abound. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of science.

Here, we provide a glimpse of the major trends in modern research and development (R&D). Of course, the science field is huge and diverse, so to look at individual areas would be impractical. Instead, we’ve selected three macro trends shaping science in 2011.

GETTING MORE FROM LESS

We live in the age of austerity. The fallout from the global recession and increasing competition for resources contribute to an environment of economic fragility, in which scientists are increasingly directed by financial feasibility and funding priorities. So the trend in today’s R&D is commercial evolution rather than revolution.
Smaller and cheaper: these words describe innovation today, whether in consumer technology, such as smartphone developers ‘leapfrogging’ each other with smaller devices, or pharmaceutical companies creating more efficient processes through which to launch more commercially competitive products. With an eye on reducing costs, science is increasingly about getting more from less.

A FOCUS ON SUSTAINABILITY

The environment has never been a more vital or pressing subject. Sustainability and ‘green’ technology are at the top of the scientific agenda – from hybrid and electric vehicles to eco-friendly industrial technology built to meet new legislation and public expectations.

Even beyond the products of R&D, the process of science itself is under increasing pressure to find more ecologically viable ways of achieving its goals. To this end, more efficient, greener science is fast becoming a priority.

THE RISE OF THE SCIENCE PARK

Increasing demands for cost-effective, sustainable innovation underpin the rise of the science park as a destination for R&D companies. With the above trends in mind, it’s easy to understand the appeal of science parks – scientifically and financially.

An increasingly common sight around the major cities of the UK, science parks such as Harwell Oxford are centrally managed hubs of research buildings, either operated by an academic institution or property management company. Surveys by the UK Science Park Association (UKSPA) show that they are primarily occupied by R&D and product development companies, but those involved in other spheres of science often join them.

For those concerned purely with research, science parks offer a unique opportunity for cost-effective knowledge sharing. In an era in which finding an advantage efficiently is vital, like-minded parties with complementary goals can benefit from close proximity to each other in the science park.

 

Furthermore, science parks enable researchers to focus on science, not business. Their managed nature reduces the hassle associated with operational overheads, whilst features such as an uninterruptible power supply and energy-efficient maintenance are invaluable for sustainable research. In this context, it’s easy to see why more science parks appear every year – and this trend is certainly set to continue.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Today’s trends could very well change tomorrow. After all, the sheer rate of scientific progress is breathtaking, from evolutionary innovations to revolutionary breakthroughs. The future is an exciting prospect – and we’ll be seeing new trends appear sooner than we think.

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