I hope that my work is changing people’s lives, but – like most scientists and engineers – those changes are quite small and rather invisible. When I worked in industry I helped to design and build a number of radio systems that are helping to make some transport systems and emergency services safer. To give you an example about 20 years ago I was part of a small team that designed part of one of the radio communication systems in the Channel Tunnel. So, although I can’t say that this has changed peoples lives, I think it’s fair to say it has made a small contribution to making the world a little safer.
I gave an answer to a similar question already, and talked there about how it’s very difficult for scientists and engineers to make big – world changing – breakthroughs on their own. Here I talk about how I think my current research in robotics might help to change people’s lives (again, in a small way): http://ias.im/35.313
Developmental psychology (aka baby science) can change lives by changing how people view the world. It challenges ourt assumptions about how our minds work by studying how we learned to see the world the way we do.
For example, at the moment my colleagues and I are making a new theory about how people understand Time. How do you perceive the passage of time? It seems so obvious that no one really thinks about it. And in the past the answers that people have come up with haven’t been very convincing. Lots of scientists think that you tell how time passes because of little clock circuits in your head but then you’d need one of each an everything that you could keep track of the time of. That’s simply not true. You can tell approximately how long ago you clicked onto this page but i’ll bet your brain didn’t start a little stopwatch
Instead (thanks to our work with babies) we’ve come up with a theory that your brain tells the time by how blurry your memories become over time. The longer ago something was the more blurry your memory of it. And so you could potentially use that as a measure of time.
So this research won’t cure cancer but can change our understanding of how our brains work.
Think about a world without technology. No computers, no cars. No vaccines or cures for diseases. Life would be unhappy and extremely hard. It was not long ago that this was the case. This is why science is so important and has a big effect on people’s lives without them even realising it.
As far as it goes for me, the work that I do is all to do with Cancer Research. I’m developing a tool that can be used as a blood test to help doctors diagnose cancer in patients. I’m hoping that this will change peoples lives because it will help catch cancer early, if you catch it early it is so much easier to treat and survival rates are much higher!