Scientific Developments of the year
What’s been the biggest breakthrough of the last 12 months?
Proxima B. Gravitational waves. Machimosaurus Rex. It’s fair to say the last year has thrown up some astounding scientific discoveries. With your help, we want to determine which of these achievements will make the biggest difference to creating tomorrow's world.
Our panel of experts have sifted through this huge list of discoveries, developments and breakthroughs and narrowed them down to a top 10. Over the next four weeks, we’ll be asking you to vote for the one that you believe is most important. We’ll announce the winner in April.
The contenders are:
A century after Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in his general theory of relativity, we’ve finally managed to detect this elusive phenomenon for real. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the universe. They transport energy as gravitational radiation, a form of radiant energy similar to electromagnetic radiation. Oh well, better late than never!
It might sound like something out of a Ridley Scott sci-fi epic about space exploration gone horribly wrong, but 2016 HO3 is actually a small asteroid discovered last year by scientists at NASA. 2016 HO3 is a stable quasi-satellite that became trapped in the Earth’s orbit almost a century ago and follows our trajectory around the sun. Indeed, it’s expected to stick around as Earth’s cosmic companion for centuries to come.
The cybernetic implant
No longer is the Bionic Man just a futuristic fantasy. Thanks to a small chip implanted in his brain, a quadriplegic man has been able to move his fingers for the first time in six years. Built by researchers at Ohio State University, the chip sends signals to a nearby terminal which in turn transmits to an electronic sleeve on the man’s arm. The sleeve then uses wires to stimulate specific muscles, causing the man’s fingers to move. And as if that wasn’t enough, he has even been able to play Guitar Hero.
Dinosaur tail in amber
In December last year, palaeontologists announced that the first known piece of dinosaur tail, dating back 99 million years, had been found in a small lump of amber in Burma. The tail once belonged to a young coelurosaur, the family that includes tyrannosaurs and modern birds. Allowing scientists to directly match feather types to a particular dinosaur, the discovery could pave the way for a blockbuster dinosaur movie franchise in the near future. Hold on a minute…
Four new elements added to Periodic Table
Chemistry teachers the world over will be cursing their luck after four brand new elements were added to the Periodic Table. Nihonium, Moscovium, Tennessine and Oganesson are the 113th, 115th, 117th and 118th elements, filling out the table’s seventh row. They were discovered between 2002 and 2010 when Russian, American and Japanese scientists smashed very light nuclei together and tracked the elements left behind.
With an ever-growing global population and dwindling resources, there’s long been a fear that mankind could be hurtling towards an overcrowded dystopian future. But a brand new agricultural superhero could help to solve that problem. Genetically engineered by scientists, superwheat photosynthesises far more efficiently than the average variety, meaning it could yield up to 40% more crops – and make great strides towards feeding an overcrowded Earth in the future.
The artificial pancreas
Doing the job of an actual pancreas for diabetes sufferers, the artificial pancreas measures blood glucose levels on a minute-to-minute basis using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). It then transmits this information to an insulin pump that calculates and releases the required amount of insulin into the body. Funded by Diabetes UK, this ground-breaking system could prove a crucial breakthrough in treating sufferers of Type 1 diabetes in the years to come.
New prime number discovered
In January 2016, the 49th known Mersenne prime number was discovered by Dr Curtis Cooper at the University of Central Missouri. This is the longest on record and is almost 5 million digits longer than its predecessor. The number, known as ‘2^74,207,281 – 1’, needs to be written in such a way as the total number of digits exceeds 23 million. Ain’t nobody got time to write that.
Stroke patients walk again
At a clinical trial in Stanford University, 18 chronic stroke patients had modified human stem cells injected directly into their brains in a bid to aid recovery. The results were incredible – significant healing was seen in all patients and some were even able to walk again after previously requiring a wheelchair. This is a discovery that will undoubtedly change the life of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
A single mutation created life as we know it
According to researchers, around 800 million years ago a DNA-building enzyme in an ancient single-celled organism duplicated to evolve a protein complex – and thus multicellular life began. To put it simply, the complex human body (which contains 37 trillion cells) and all other multicellular organisms on Earth are derived from a single change in a single cell. Astonishing information like this is helping us to uncover the intricacies of evolution and the secrets to life as we know it.