Science and its offspring, technology and medicine, are so imbedded in today's society that most people fail to even register them. We are increasingly reliant on gadgets whose workings we don't understand; we pop pills whose biochemical mechanisms are obscure to us; we communicate via fibre-optic networks and a platoon of orbiting satellites. In some ways, science is a bit like oxygen. We breathe in and out, while, behind the scenes, our endeavours are quietly sustained at the molecular level, making it possible to live our lives. It is only when our air supply is under threat – when climbing a mountain, say, or getting caught out on a scuba dive – that we suddenly realize the extent to which we are underpinned by this invisible helper, and how much we normally take it for granted. From the parents whose child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness to the seaside village threatened with rising sea levels, science and its possibilities for salvation – and in many cases, its inevitable limitations – can become abruptly personal.

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