Q&A with Adam Shaw

Horizons covers a wide range of innovations and technologies from the world of medicine, space science, agriculture, manufacturing and renewable energy. What are your highlights from this series?

A stand out one for me personally was 3D printing of food. In this series we look at how printed three dimensional goods are moving out of laboratories and into kitchens, kitchens and regular consumption. We visited a restaurant in the US where we experienced 3D gnocchi pasta and I also had the opportunity to try a 3D biscuit in the shape of the Horizons logo! It was very tasty but the idea that this technology could revolutionize the way we consume food is astonishing.

In series four you uncover some extraordinary innovations and technologies. What are the most extraordinary ones that you came across?

In this series we travelled to South Korea and we visited a Women’s University. Here we discovered a factory full of stinky old fish skin. But this fish skin is boiled and synthesized into cling film remarkably creating biodegradable food packaging. Similarly, another smelly situation was when we visited a laboratory testing urine powered robots! In the toilets there was a sign that read “If you’d like to pee in this bucket, you would be really helping us out!”.

Which of the innovations and technologies from this series do you think could potentially be life-changing for millions of people?

In this series we discover a number of innovations that could revolutionize people’s lives but I think the one that stands out for me, especially for the developing worlds is the plants that can grow human vaccines. We look at lettuce leaves that could help fight polio, HIV and cholera. This could be revolutionary in developing countries, like some of those in Africa, where people live in remote communities with little or no access to the right medical care. Simply by eating a leaf that can be easily transported to them there is the potential to protect them against life-threatening diseases.

Who is the most inspiring figure you’ve met whilst filming Horizons and what impact will their innovation have on society?

I had the opportunity to interview Bill and Melinda Gates in this series. They are inspiring people who are using their privileged position to show how science and technology can be employed to reduce the global burden of disease and poverty and promote education.

Also, for the episode Bionic Bodies I met the engineer at MIT University, Hugh Herr. When he was a young boy he tragically lost his legs in a climbing accident and was fitted with adult prosthetic legs that didn’t feel right. He felt that technology had let him down so he vowed that when he grew up he would design prosthetic legs that would actually improve his quality of life. True to his word Hugh has designed prosthetic legs that are powered by batteries which have actually given him better legs. Actually, in the episode we did a race up a flight of stairs and Hugh won! He told me, there’s no such thing as disability, there’s just bad technology.

Our planet is running out of its traditional energy sources and we need to find alternatives, fast. What do you think is the future for renewable energy?

Innovation in renewable energy is moving at a pace and I think we will see more and more solutions in the coming years. However, the most important thing with renewable energy in my opinion is not about generating energy but storing energy. Take the Soccket ball for instance that we feature in episode one. This simple design actually has the power to generate and store energy by itself. I think that these are the most interesting solutions in renewable energy and we should pay the most attention to them. In addition, we have to look at economical ways of generating energy and we look at how seaweed could be turned into biofuel.