The world is infatuated with artificial intelligence (AI) right now but, as a physicist, what I find more compelling is synthetic intelligence. Unlike AI, which is based on computer software algorithms that make statistical predictions using data, synthetic intelligence is based on physical hardware designed to mimic the brain. I’m especially interested in the physics behind synthetic intelligence: the nanotechnology used to build synthetic synapses and the emergent functionality of synthetic synapses connected to form a complex architecture like the brain’s neural network. Such devices can already emulate memory and learning, which are essential requirements for intelligence. An intriguing question for me is: can these devices emulate ‘thinking’ and, if so, what’s the physics behind that?
Professor Zdenka Kuncic (BSc ’92 MSc ’93, GradCertEdStud ’14) often works where physics intersects with medicine. She is currently developing nanoscale atomic switch networks that will be able to emulate brain-like features, as well as nanoparticles that will allow the detection of tumour cells with unprecedented sensitivity.
One of the greatest challenges facing humanity is nourishing a growing human population in a warming world with increasingly scarce natural resources. Anaemia affects more than half a billion women of reproductive age worldwide, impairing their health and increasing the risk of adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes. In 2011, 496 million (29% of) non‑pregnant women and 32.4 million (38% of) pregnant women aged 15–49 years were anaemic, and it’s estimated around half of these cases are due to iron deficiency. One food-based solution is to supplement cereal-based diets with bioavailable micronutrients, such as haem iron and protein that has an optimal balance of amino acids. In many parts of the world, these are best sourced from animal-based foods including meat, chicken and fish, which is a key reason why I work to maintain healthy, sustainable animal populations in regions where anaemia is a threat.
Robyn Alders AO (BSc (Vet) ’83 BVSc ’84 DipVetClinStud ’86) has worked for more than twenty years with small-landholder farmers across Africa and Asia to control avian Newcastle disease, in order to maintain the health of their small poultry flocks and help women to provide nutritional and financial support for their families.
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