Monday, December 31, 2012

The 50 Greatest Science Achievements of 2012

In 2012 we saw some amazing science. To celebrate the new year I've compiled my favorite science news items from the year. These aren't in any particular order, so don't try to argue with me that #42 is more important than #17 or something like that. If this list doesn't quench your thirst for science there's an entire Wikipedia page that is much longer. These are just some of my favorite things that have happened in science this year.

#50January 3rd - Researchers at the University of Wyoming created genetically modified silkworms that spin silk with a strength similar to that of a spider's. That may not sound impressive, but spider webs are stronger than steel (by weight). This is just one step closer to a real life Spider-Man web.

#49 - July 15th - A nasty little worm, Dracunculiasis, is reported to be nearly eradicated. Including small pox, this will make only 2 human diseases to be successfully eradicated.

#48 - January 11th - Research suggests that there may be as many as 160 billion planets in the Milky Way.

#47 - December 17th - Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh develop a bionic arm. The patient is able to gain full mental control of a robotic arm.

#46 - July 28th - Possible life on one of Saturn's moons? This year we've seen a lot of sensationalized "Possible life on _____" headlines. Saturn's moon, Mars, and Mercury have all had their 15 minutes this year.

#45 - November 29th - Scientists discover a super-massive blackhole in a relatively small galaxy.

#44 - January 24th - A 190 million year old dinosaur nest is discovered.

#43 - November 3rd - Mouse stem cells yield viable eggs.

#42 October 14th - 43 year old Felix Baumgartner becomes the first skydiver to break the sound barrier.

#41 September 5th - Researchers unlock disease information hidden in DNA.

#40 - January 6th - The first of the GMO controversies. This year we saw plenty. We also had this guest post on the subject.

#39 - March 20th - Astronomers discover a rectangular galaxy.

#38 - November 29th - NASA's MESSENGER probe finds evidence of ice and possible organic compounds on Mercury.

#37 - April 19th - Scientists develop a synthetic DNA. Even cooler, it shows signs of evolution when presented with selective pressures.

#36 - February 23rd - Using a simple enzyme (SIRT6), scientists are able to increase the average lifespan of mice by 15% (A similar increase in humans would boost our life expectancy from 78 to 89).

#35 - November 19th - A "white" smell - a smell that can be created using many different combinations - is described.

#34 - September 1st - Scientists observe a species of bird that appear to have a "funeral" for their dead.

#33 - October 14th - Being surrounded by books and educational toys early on impacts the brain long after childhood. 

#32 - May 20th - The annular solar eclipse - annular refers to the outer ring shape seen in the picture. It has nothing to do with the word annual (meaning every year). Although the eclipse itself isn't a scientific achievement by itself, the interest it gained was an achievement.

#31 - September 23rd - Researchers show that many species of fruit flies won't survive even a small increase in temperature.

#30 - July 9th - Scientists discover a molecule that could one day make your teeth cavity-proof.

#29 - May 5th - Silicene - a sheet of silicon one atom thick (similar to graphene) is created.

Google glasses warn the subway service is suspended
#28 - April 5th - Google unveils a project to develop "Augmented reality glasses".

#27 - December 21st - The world did not end. Sorry to disappoint.

#26 - April 12th - German physicists develop the first quantum computing network. The prototype network works by linking two nodes that can send, receive  and store quantum information. Information is sent by a single photon.

#25 - October 15th - Discovery of a Neptune size planet that orbits within a 4 star system.

#24 - March 14th - After 57 years in the dark (1,400 generations) flies begin to show changes in their genome related to natural selection. 

Month in space: 2012 Venus Transit
#23 - June 5th - Venus transits the sun. This is more than just a cool thing to see. Information recorded during the transit will help us better understand Venus as well as planets outside our solar system.

#22 - January 5th - The world's first chimera monkeys are born.

#21 - January 22nd - Nanoparticles can mimic the body's immune system and boost our response to vaccines.

#20 - April 13th - German scientists develop an earthquake proof wallpaper. This wall paper is designed to hold  up the bricks in a building to give more people a chance to survive before it collapses. 

#19 - March 25th - James Cameron, director of AvatarRambo, The Terminator, and Titanic becomes the first human being to reach the Marina Trench.

#18 - November 29th - A paper I co-authored is published. It makes my list of greatest science that happened for 2012.

#17 - March 24th - Scientists determine that our stone age ancestors hunted large vertebrates in Australia to extinction about 42,000 years ago.

#16 - June 21st - Researchers in the Netherlands identify five mutations of the H5N1 virus that could spread easily through mammals. This controversial research was hotly debated, and there is currently a moratorium on related research. 

#15 - June 6th - The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization warn that gonorrhea may become an incurable disease.

The first British clinical trial of an electronic eye implant has restored limited vision to two blind patients and brought hope to thousands with incurable sight loss.
#14 - May 3rd - The first successful ocular implant. Partial sight is restored to two blind patients. 

#13 - May 31st - The first privately owned space ship docks on the international space station.

#12 - October 11th - A "diamond planet" is found. The carbon planet, named 55 Cancri e, is 8 times more massive than the earth.

#11 - January 13th - A nano sized microphone that's able to detect sounds a million times more quiet than human ears can hear.

#10 - March 15th - The first ever neutrino message is sent. By sending packets of neutrinos (which pass very easily thorough even the densest of materials) scientists were able to send an encoded message through 780 feet of bedrock. This could one day be used to send messages through any material.

#9 - February 15th - Nevada passes a law allowing the testing of self-driving cars. This year Nevada, California, and Florida all passed laws allowing self-driving cars on the road.

# 8 - February 29th - A T-Rex's bite probably measured around 57,000 Newtons - 3 times more than a shark's. 

#7 August 6th - The Curiosity rover successfully lands on Mars.

#6 - March 2nd - A new study shows that the ocean is becoming more acidic at an increasing rate. The implications of this to marine life are pretty serious, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is most likely to blame.

#5 - February 6th - After drilling for nearly 20 years Russian scientists reach Lake Vostok, an underground lake in Antarctica that has been sealed for 15 million years.

#4 - September 14th - Scientists make monkeys smarter with a brain implant.

#3 - June 1st - IUPAC officially names elements 114 and 116. The elements are now named Felrovium and Livermorium. I mentioned this in a post earlier this year as well.

Higgs boson: What happened inside the Large Hadron Collider
#2 - November 19th - The planet Kappa Andromedae b is discovered. This massive planet is 13 times the size of Jupiter.

#1 - July 4th - Since I'm a physical chemist who likes to pretend he's a particle physicist there is no other science news item that can take the spot of number one on this list. The announcement of the Higgs Boson. Staying up late to watch the press conference just may be the highlight of my entire nerdy year.