Humanity at the Crossroads: An Overview of Contemporary Trends and Future Energy Sources

Plan Author

  • Andrew Shough, 2014

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Modern Physics
  • Course: Organic Chemistry
  • Course: Introduction to Programming with Python
  • Tutorial: Alternative Energy Systems

Project Description

Essays on future energy systems.

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

    • Brian Anderson, Keene State College


The 21st century is a profound period in human history. We live in a time where the collective prowess and curiosity of our species is bringing forth an era of rapidly compounding and accelerating technological development. Groundbreaking and aweinspiring developments in scientific knowledge are commonplace in today’s world and their associated products sustain and augment our daily lives in ever greater roles. These technologies also bring forth significant questions about the effects these technologies will have on society, in addition to any ethical implications. Humanity is more globalized than ever, both culturally and economically, which may serve to universally benefit or unevenly exploit members of our species. And as humanity expands its influence to ever greater heights, we hold the promise of colonizing the cosmos, but also run the risk of irreversibly devastating the fragile biodiversity of Earth.

This paper exists as a crossdisciplinary approach to assessing some of the future possibilities of civilization in a rapidly changing world. It will call upon both academic and commercial sources of information, as both are substantial sources of innovation in the modern day. The core study of the paper will investigate potential innovations in energy production as energy is largely the lifeblood of modern civilization. Electricity is necessary for the appropriate functioning of the vast majority of modern industries, technologies, and infrastructure. Without it, largescale industrial farming, modern scientific research, space travel, the global trade network, the global social infrastructure, and countless other critical elements to modern civilization would almost certainly collapse. Thus a discussion about the future of electricity generation is more than warranted.

However, in order to convey a comprehensive view of the state of the world in the 21st century, I will first discuss a number of modern trends and their potential to radically alter the state of civilization and the world. The topics herein will each be briefly discussed, as this paper is meant to increase awareness about these concepts to encourage further exploration and discussion pertaining to them. Technologically, I have limited the list to four great “converging” technologies of the modern era; information science, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and neuroscience.


“The process of fusion results in a very large release of energy, originating from what is known as the “mass defect”. This massdefect is the macroscale manifestation of the nuclear binding energy discussed earlier. The energy released by fusing nuclei is actually measurable in terms of lost mass, This mass defect is dependent on Einstein’s statement of massenergy equivalence, commonly appropriated as E=mc2, but also includes factors of particle momentum to properly account for the principles of Special Relativity. The energy density of nuclear fusion is unprecedented, easily outweighing other sources of energy by multiple orders of magnitude. A nuclear fusion reaction is four million times more energetic than the chemical burning reactions that occur in fossil fuel power plants. No other more effective method is known other than utilizing the intrinsic energy of matter itself.”

”Large scale solar plants based in geostationary orbit would also entirely avoid the issues discussed with light obliquity because the panels could always face directly towards the sun. As long as the orientation of the station made continuous adjustment throughout the year as the Earth went through its orbit, there would be minimal interruption of power production. Thus, the only times the object would be occluded is during the brief period in which the the Earth crosses in front of the sun for a few minutes everyday. As a result, an array of satellites in geostationary orbit would be able to produce abundant amounts of electricity, unfettered by the limitations of traditional solar cell systems.”


Plan is an opportunity for embracing and funneling your passions into a dedicated project. Doing any sort of research that reflects those passions and allows you to see realities that you had never considered previously is an incredibly rewarding experience. I’m truly interested in the use of knowledge to benefit the future of the human species while maintaining the incredible beauty and biodiversity of Earth. Almost all of my thinkin’ work manifests itself in some way to that end. The entirety of my senior 2 semester consisted of writing my Plan, exploring interesting topics, and reporting to Todd Smith on what I had found. It was a really intellectually liberating experience that allowed me to pursue things as I saw fit, something that Marlboro truly excels at.