How far can technology improve our health?


Sparks 2022
(Image: CERN)

Can living organisms become resistant to all viruses? How do we detect even the smallest, earliest stage cancer? What health-related data should we be sharing with one another? This year, CERN Sparks! dives headfirst into what future technology for health looks like, how we get there and what ethical questions we will need to answer along the way.

CERN has been involved in the health applications of particle physics research since the 1970s. Sparks! uses this as a starting point to open up the conversation to a wide range of health professionals from different fields. Bringing together fantastic minds is our speciality, and this year’s podcast, talk line-up and forum are no exception.

What is Sparks!?

Sparks! is a series of podcasts, talks and forum events organised around a particular theme of interest to CERN and society. The aim is to spark connections and diversity of thought by sharing perspectives from multidisciplinary experts, and to inspire our audiences.

Listen to the podcast

The CERN Sparks! podcast brings together leading figures in their fields to examine the potential of technology to change lives. We also ask important questions about medical ethics, equity and the benefits of open science, in discussion with Jennifer Doudna, recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry; Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust; George Church, the “founding father of genomics”; Pushmeet Kohli, head of research for DeepMind’s AlphaFold project, and many others. The six episodes span topics from the biological revolution to the power of collaboration.

Listen to the podcast on our website or on your favourite audio platform.

Watch the talks

How can we prevent deficiencies, injuries and diseases before they even have a chance to strike? What should we be working on together globally? How can we make sure treatments are shared around the world? How do we prevent the next pandemic?

The CERN Sparks! talks are organised in two sessions: Treating People, with an expert line-up who will explore the technologies that will make it possible to treat more people with more precision in the future and, shifting the mindset from treatment to prevention, Keeping People Healthy, where the speakers will focus on how research moves us towards never being ill.

Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist; Jane Metcalfe, founder of Neo Life and Wired magazines; and Rolf Apweiler, director of EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), are among this year’s prestigious guests.

The CERN Sparks! talks will take place on 17 November between 4.00 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. Stream the talks at home on CERN’s YouTube channel or partner with us to get a high-quality streaming service for larger groups – we want the talks to be enjoyed across the world! Reach out to us to organise a viewing for your organisation.

Connect through the Serendipity Forum

How do you foster serendipity?

This was the challenge we set ourselves: to create a space that allows serendipitous connections and ideas to emerge – to not only allow conversations around future technology for health, but bring diversity of thought into the mix.

In order to do so, after the inspiring podcast and talks, an innovative forum will take 50 participants on a journey through seven key topic areas. They will have the space and freedom to discuss the topics from multiple points of view to allow an expansion of thought and understanding – an exercise in blue-sky thinking.

There is also an academic side to this: last year’s forum discussions led to the drafting of a CERN Yellow Paper, which will be published shortly; a similar paper will be compiled this year. Additionally, Sparks! will be teaming up with Frontiers for Young Minds, an open access scientific journal for children, to write a summary of the event, which will be peer-reviewed by 12-year-olds!

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