Identifying hurricane-resistant trees. Exploring bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Testing techniques for growing vines in a hot, parched future. Using ropeless fishing gear to avoid harming North Atlantic right whales.
All these breakthroughs in the saving the world’s biodiversity would not have been possible without the study of natural sciences.
But this is no time for practitioners in this field to rest on their laurels.
In 2020, there are 15 emerging issues of potential relevance that societies may wish or need to respond to in the future on the basis of improved knowledge. As highlighted in a recent report led by Cambridge University conservation biologist William Sutherland and published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, these 15 emerging trends were foreseen to have a strong potential to benefit or cause damage to living things.
According to the panel – which comprised of 23 scientists, conservation practitioners, and experts in foresight research and horizon scanning – one positive trend to look out is the popular use of cellulose.
A strong, stiff polymer produced by plants (particularly trees), animals, and bacteria, cellulose turns to nanocellulose when broken into nano-sized parts. This creates novel opportunities for manufacturing that may increase demand for wood. In response, tree planting may increase, temporarily boosting carbon stocks and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
Another way that Sutherland and his team of researchers believe that the demand for wood could rise is through the EU pledge to double the 2015 renewable energy levels in Europe by 2030 to meet commitments in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the European Union (EU) Renewable Energy Directive of 2018, which Sutherland notes, “treats wood, even from biologically diverse forests, as a renewable energy source.”
Just one of 15 trends that could hinder or help global biological conservation, the rising demand for wood may be something that aspiring natural sciences students should watch out for in their upcoming studies.
And by basing at a university that knows about these trends, eco-conscious students have the chance to build on these positive discoveries or find solutions to the issues with substantive negative effects.
It’s no secret that the planet is grappling with a climate crisis of unprecedented scale and force. Any hope of preserving the natural ecosystems of this world lies with the next generation of natural science practitioners to step us as creative problem-solvers to produce future-proof solutions.
The university you choose will determine how much difference you can make with a degree in the natural sciences. For ones that could advance global conservation efforts, here are four UK universities for an innovative and impactful study of the natural sciences:
Situated between the Snowdonia Mountains and the Menai Strait in North Wales is a university that is leading the fight to save the world’s biodiversity.
The School of Natural Sciences at Bangor University conducts world-leading research and teaching across a diverse range of disciplines, such as zoology, biology, forestry, geography, environmental science and conservation.
Drawn by this, there is no shortage of aspiring changemakers who are ready to make a real-world impact enrolling in the School’s undergraduate and postgraduate programmes every year. Professionally accredited and taught by passionate staff/researchers, these courses provide the skills and training for the next generation of natural sciences practitioners to make a difference in the world.
The School of Natural Sciences also boasts cutting-edge laboratories and analysis equipment, a botanic garden, a research farm, animal care facilities, aquariums, growth rooms and greenhouses, and even a fully stocked natural history museum; all of which are used by their students and research teams.
With all these, it’s only natural for renowned natural historian, Sir David Attenborough to heap praises on the university: “Bangor University has a superb reputation in the study of environmental science. The world needs people skilled in the expertise needed to play a crucial part in solving the world’s problems.”
Having established a friendly, supportive and diverse community of students and researchers who come from all over the world, the school strengthens learners’ interests in natural sciences by providing an open platform for everyone to share their common goals and concerns about environmental threats.
This transparency of ideas and interdisciplinary teaching allows students to pursue their niche in the natural sciences and to create a career that could save the planet’s cherished ecosystems.
Enjoying the interdisciplinary nature of her Natural Sciences MNatSc course, undergraduate student Kim Spijkers-Shaw explains that most of the important topics of research in modern science branch over more than one of the classic sciences. Therefore, researchers require a good knowledge of more than one.
“The course at Leeds ensures that in our first year we are able to study all of the core modules we need to have almost complete freedom of choice in our second year, so the course feels simultaneously very open and guided enough that we cover everything we need to,” she says.
At the University of York, their School of Natural Sciences is helping students think independently and apply their skills across numerous study disciplines.
For instance, their interdisciplinary courses have been designed to focus on areas of research and teaching strengths at the university. These courses each involve studying in multiple departments and focusing on areas such as biophysical science or nanoscience.
The School’s specialisation courses, however, have been designed to enable students to focus on the area which they are most passionate about in their final year.
In addition, the School has given specialisation students a chance to embark on a Year in Industry or a Year Abroad programme.
So, if students intend to continue to further study or they intend to find employment at the end of heirt programme, a year spent in industry or abroad can be rewarding, enabling them to develop many skills and gain valuable experience.
Taking natural science studies to a new level, you’ll enjoy many new study ventures at the University of York.
Offering a unique standalone interdisciplinary MSci Natural Sciences degree, the Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences at the University of Southampton is perfect for future-focused scientists.
Supplying modules that span across a diverse selection of scientific disciplines, this degree will let you apply real-world contexts to global problems, such as air pollution, climate change, plastic waste, neurodegenerative diseases and the loss of biodiversity.
While the Faculty helps students to develop the skills and knowledge that they’ll need to address some of our biggest challenges, they’ll also get the opportunity to apply their learning across the sciences, to better understand the laws and phenomena of the physical world.
The Faculty is strategically based at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton (NOCS) which is a world-leading research centre for Earth and marine research.
So, if you want to surge forward in the field of natural sciences with a multi-faceted degree, the University of Southampton is one institution you should consider.
*Some of the institutions featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International