An example of a scientific discovery that includes the role of a technology

Use this example to help you answer the question for your choice of scientific breakthrough and technology question.

The news article I chose, published in July 2022 by Billy Perrigo, discussed how Matt Higgins and his team of researchers at the University of Oxford created a malaria vaccine with the help of an intelligent agent known as AlphaFold. AlphaFold is a deep learning neural network developed by Google’s DeepMind to solve the 50-year-old protein folding problem.

The protein folding problem is an attempt to figure out the 3D structure of a protein using its amino acid sequence. The protein problem emerged in the 1960s when scientists used an atomic resolution to figure out a protein’s structure (Dill et al., 2008). Scientists broke down the protein folding problem into three parts (1) the folding code, (2) protein structure prediction, and (3) the folding process. On November 2020, “AlphaFold was recognized as a solution to the 50-year protein-folding problem”(DeepMind, n.d.).

Technology: How AlphaFold emerged

AlphaFold emerged when AlphaGo defeated professional Go player Lee Sedol in 2016, giving DeepMind the confidence to expand its artificial efforts to solve real-world problems. AlphaFold’s high success rate in predicting a protein’s 3D structure gave institutions a new tool for creating medicine, such as the malaria vaccine being tested at the University of Oxford.

Scientific breakthrough: Protein’s 3D structure for creating a malaria vaccine

Matt Higgins and his team studied the parasite that causes malaria for years and identified a protein on the parasite’s surface to create a potential vaccine. The team needed insight into the protein’s 3D structure to develop a vaccine, and AlphaFold was the right tool for the problem. 

This event illustrates the relationship between science and technology. The new knowledge DeepMind gained from AlphaGo’s success caused AlphaFold to emerge. Similarly, AlphaFold’s success helped researchers gain insight into a protein’s structure for developing new medicine.