Robots and artificial intelligence as a solution to the global chemical pollution crisis - Karel De Schamphelaere

In 2050, chemicals that pose a risk to human health or ecosystems will no longer be used or produced, according to Professor Karel De Schamphelaere's vision of the world in 2050.

Prof. Karel De SchamphelaereThe few exceptions are controlled by sustainable and affordable environmental technology solutions. This will be the case for all segments of the chemical industry, from agricultural pesticides, to cosmetics and heavy metals, to medicines for humans and animals.

This is achieved through artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, which make toxicological experiments with living organisms superfluous.

Quantitative modelling

The genomes of most species on Earth have been mapped, as have the biological processes through which chemicals cause disease, toxicity and disruption of ecosystems.

Toxicological experiments are performed very quickly and in large numbers simultaneously with biotechnologically optimized cell systems or cultured mini-organs in test tubes (in vitro), controlled by AI and performed by robots. This is combined with genome databases and quantitative models of molecules, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, populations and ecosystems.

Several generations of ecotoxicologists at our faculty have helped pioneer these quantitative modelling approaches to assess environmental risks from chemicals since the 1980s, continuously improving and promoting them among policy makers.

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Chemical Pollution

The year 2050 will also mark the 20th anniversary of the first report of the high-profile United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Chemical Pollution (IPCP), which was established following sustained global public pressure led by the digital natives generation.

That report officially recognized the gigantic cocktail of tens of thousands of chemicals in the environment as a global health and environmental crisis.

The report strongly urged international policymakers to address and mitigate this crisis along with climate change, in order to avoid that chemical pollution would nullify the expected positive impact of the climate mitigation measures implemented globally at the end of the 2020s.

130th anniversary of our faculty

On the occasion of its own 130th anniversary (and the 20th anniversary of this influential report), our faculty will be internationally recognized for its more than half-century-long pioneering role in multidisciplinary engineering training and collaboration between ecotoxicologists, applied ecologists, microbiologists, environmental chemists and environmental technologists to solve these problems at the source as well as in some of the most critically impacted ecosystems.