The Next Big Thing in 2008, and Beyond: The 3rd Annual Poll of UBC Experts

Researchers at the University of British Columbia are shedding their lights on developments in health care, computers, clean energy and other areas that may soon change our world. Their projections include:

  • saying goodbye to HIV in Canada
  • using vast B.C. geothermal sources to meet our power needs
  • moving beyond computer passwords to virtual identities
  • new non-polluting, floating speed trains
  • computers that process 1000X faster
  • conducting business through mass online collaboration

For the third year, UBC Reports, the university’s monthly news publication, has conducted an informal poll of campus experts to identify major advances that are on the horizon. Their answers will be published in January 2008, but are available now for editors and reporters at

To interview these experts, many of whom have some availability throughout the holidays, contact Randy Schmidt at 604.828.0787.

Saying Goodbye to HIV in Canada: Dr. Michael Rekart, Clinical Professor, Director, STI/HIV Prevention and Control, BC Centre for Disease Control

New initiatives to use recently approved tests that detect infection within days—versus weeks—and aggressively target the early and late phases of HIV infection, now hold the real possibility of making HIV a thing of the past.

Tapping into the Heat Beneath Our Feet: John A. Meech, Mory Ghomshei, UBC Centre for Environmental Research in Minerals, Metals, & Materials

Virtually all of Canada’s high-temperature geothermal resources are under British Columbia. They could supply 30 per cent of B.C.’s power. Combined with the adoption of low-temperature geothermal for heating Canadian homes, this could meet 50 per cent of our Kyoto Accord obligations.

Going Beyond Passwords, to Virtual Identities: Jens Haeusser, Director, Strategy, UBC Information Technology

UBC has helped create a new identity management architecture that will enable the creation of virtual ID cards for eliminating the frustrating need for multiple passwords and usernames in current online secure interactions.

Floating Speed Trains: Tae Oum, Professor and UPS Foundation Chair in Transport and Logistics, Sauder School of Business

People have until now not had a clean alternative to pollution-creating jet travel. There is a much cleaner alternative now on the horizon: floating speed trains that can travel 500 km per hour and will help spur a great shift from air to rail travel.

Computing at light-speed: Jonathan Holzman, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering, UBC Okanagan

The optical benefits that revolutionized information transmission over the past decade through fibre-optic cable distribution are now being shown to have great potential in ultrahigh-speed optical information processing. The processing rates are thousands of times faster than their electronic counterparts.

Doing Business2.0: Paul Cubbon, Instructor, Marketing Division, Sauder School of Business

Business is being revolutionized by a new form of mass collaboration facilitated by social networking tools. For example, Procter and Gamble has thousands of non-employee scientists signed up with the aim of generating at least half of future new business ideas. Others are using expert “evangelical” customers to help other customers in online expert forums and knowledge bases, reducing customer service and call centre costs.

A New Way to Assess Ecosystems Sustainability: Kai Chan, Canada Research Chair, Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability

Until now researchers have not been able to effectively show the impacts of natural resource extraction industries on local ecosystems. A new concept, ecosystem services, helps community decision-making by putting an economic value on benefits such as the mitigation of floods, the provision of recreational opportunities and the pollination of crops.

The New Field of Neuroethics: Judy Illes,  Professor of Neurology and Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics

Tremendous advances in neuroscience have raised complex new ethical challenges. Experts in neuroethics are now looking at questions raised by predicting devastating dementias, identifying signs of consciousness in patients with severe brain injury, “peering” into the brain of individuals to assess guilt, and commercializing drugs prematurely.

Reducing Global Child Mortality:  Dr. Robert Armstrong,Associate Professor and Head, Department of Pediatrics

The United Nations has made a commitment to reduce the under-five mortality by two thirds of the 1990 death rate by 2015.  We are now seeing the building of a collaborative commitment to action, globally and locally. At UBC, a new centre is building sustained partnerships with influential “change agents” within key regions of the world where this partnership in education, research, and service learning can have a multiplier effect.

A New Focus on  Lifestyle Changes: Elizabeth Dean, Professor, Department of Physical Therapy

The next ‘big thing’ in the profession of physical therapy is findig new ways to address the lifestyle conditions that are leading causes of chronic illness and disability in high-income countries. These conditions include ischemic heart disease, smoking-related conditions, high pressure and stroke, and diabetes and obesity.

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