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...Even if energy modernization is not fundamental from a scientific perspective, its consequences are profound.. The rich world has developed economically in direct proportion to a ready supply of cheap, dependable, and abundant energy, which spurs rising living standards wherever and whenever it comes. People who lack access to modern energy--a sizeable proportion of the world's citizens--lag behind.

Today, for the first time ever, the world's energy situation seems poised for dramatic and fundamental change. The United Nations and other world bodies have committed themselves to reducing global economic inequities, which means we'll need more energy. Meanwhile a scientific consensus has emerged that our favorite old-fashioned way of making energy has a serious downside: CO2, a byproduct of combustion, seems to be heating up the planet. Even if that consensus is incorrect, if we want to keep burning stuff for energy we'll soon need to find something new to burn, because accessible worldwide supplies of oil--the world's favorite fuel--are expected to peak in the next several years and decline steadily thereafter.

Concern about global warming and oil's imminent demise have caused scientists and policy-makers to look for solutions in both the future and the past: to new technologies such as nuclear fusion, multijunction photovoltaics, and fuel cells--and to traditional energy sources such as water power, wind power, and (sustainable) biomass cultivation (coupled with clean and energy-efficient combustion). There are many contending technologies and many promising concepts, but--as yet--no clear winners and few well-developed technologies.

Because of the variety of possibilities, Next Wave thinks it's a very good time to consider starting a career in energy science--hence the focus of this feature.

Jim Austin is the editor of Science Careers. @SciCareerEditor on Twitter