2010 Science Roundup
On the last day of 2010, the final day of the last year in the first decade of the 21st Century, we bid farewell to another year. Let’s take a look back over the last 12 months through the eyes of science.
First, physicist Dr. Michio Kaku looks back over the natural disasters that rocked the world and does some future disaster forecasting as well.
2010 started with a major earthquake that killed 200,000 and 3 million homeless in Haiti. Then later in the year a gigantic quake in Chile knocked the Earth off its axis and shortened our 24-hour day by one micro-second. Dr. Kaku insists that the planet is not trying to seek revenge on the human species, which has also been very busy this year.
Top Bio Stories
According to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News 2010 was a big year for biology. Last year third-generation gene sequencers came to market which opened the door to generate DNA sequences as well as epigenetic information with single-molecule sensitivity in real time. This was also the year that synthetic biology became mainstream. J. Craig Venter created a bacteria from scratch, making Synthia the first fully synthetic, self-replicating cell.
2010 Also saw the gene patent wars heat up. In the Spring a New York court declared the patent on the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and 2 invalid. This case will likely end up before the U.S. Supreme Court before it’s finished but the Justice Department now supports the lower court’s ruling, saying that naturally occurring phenomena such as genes should not be subject to intellectual property laws.
Stem cells, aging and cancer rounded out a full year for biotech. After President Obama repealed former President Bush’s ban on research involving embryonic stem cells this year a federal court judge placed the future of embryonic stem cell research in limbo again.
After all the excitement about the anti-aging benefits of sirtuins, the chemical found in red wine, is still not well understood. A couple of drug candidates involving the activator and inhibitor are in clinical trials but haven’t made the medical strides they promised last year.
A cancer vaccine called Provenge made it to market this year to help treat prostate cancer. Several other treatments are in late stage clinical trials and could be ready next year.
Top Physics and Space stories
One of the most inspiring space endeavors to finish a rocky trip in 2010 was the Japanese Hayabusa mission. It rendezvoused with asteroid Itokawa in 2005 after being pummeled by a large solar flare in 2003. The goal was to gather dust from the asteroid and bring it back to Earth.
After all the technical mishaps Japanese researchers didn’t hold much faith that the probe would return with any dust. But after a triumphant return to Earth in June, a few specks of the asteroid were identified. Now scientists have another tool to understand the beginnings of our solar system.
But 2010 was all about space water. Remember water on Mars? That was so last year. This year confirmed water on the moon and on one of Saturn’s moons.
The ever-impressive NASA Cassini Equinox mission continues to blow us away with amazing imagery from the Saturnian system, including what appears to be liquid water shooting from the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The spacecraft has been orbiting the ringed gas giant since 2004, buzzing past its many moons and delivering some of the most detailed observations of this iconic planet we have ever seen.
But closer to home, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter found that the moon not only has water ice stored in the shadows of its deepest and darkest craters, but there appears to be a lot of water just below the surface.
Discovery News asks how much water is there.
Writer Ian O’Neill says, “Bucketloads. 600 million gallons stashed away in 40 craters as measured by a NASA instrument that flew on board the Indian Chandrayaan-1 mission. But how much water is 600 million gallons? That’s enough water to fulfill Seattle’s water needs for a whole year… or enough water to manufacture 588 billion bags of Cool Ranch Doritos (according to one commenter who obviously has way too much time on his hands).”
2010 was the year that President Obama canceled the Constellation manned space program and scrapped plans to go to the moon. But it was also the year that commercial space flight became a reality. Leading the way into space is Virgin Galactic. SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are helping to privatize the space industry and will be fulfilling space services for NASA once the shuttle program is retired in early 2011.
But the biggest space story of the year was happening right here on Earth. Or rather under the Earth at the European nuclear science lab CERN. There particle physicists in search of the elusive Higgs Boson or God particle have successfully trapped antimatter for the first time.
Capturing antihydrogen will allow physicists to study the beginning of the universe and try to figure out why if both matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts during the Big Bang that matter is all that mattered for its formation.
Top Stories by Accident
Science makes some its greatest discoveries through accidental encounters and without looking. A few stories found their way to us that way this year, mostly from the animal kingdom.
The most distressing story resulted from pictures of oil covered seabirds struggling in the slimy Gulf of Mexico after the BP Horizon Deepwater oil rig explosion and disaster. Months later, clean up efforts are still underway and scientists are looking at long term consequences of the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
But across the world, a two-foot long isopod — that looks like something Hollywood cooked up for a sci-fi movie — hitched a ride to the surface aboard a deep sea submarine, giving the world a glimpse of this rare giant creature.