Highlights of Science 2016

Salutations,

We all know that 2016 wasn’t the best year in the history of time for several reasons, but I have found a wonderful article in the Focus magazine describing all the best innovations and achievements of science in 2016.

Primarily, as I wrote a blog post on earlier this year, the Juno lander made it to Jupiter! The 5 year journey finally ended in July when the probe completed its first ‘flyby’, passing as close as 4200km to the clouds at more than 200,000km/h. Just unfathomable speed! During its mission, the Juno probe will measure ‘the planet’s magnetic field, atmospheric conditions and landscape.’ The highlight for many scientists has been seeing the pictures taken by Juno, and visualising what Jupiter is really like when you’re up close and personal. It will complete 36 ‘flybys’ before it crashes into the planet in February 2018. I can’t wait to see what it will complete and what discoveries it will make before then.

Another astonishing and rather under acknowledged achievement of 2016 was that in Sao Paulo, Brazil 8 paraplegics have taught themselves how to walk again. Thanks to advances in technology, virtual reality and robotics have been used to make the brain remember how to walk. When a paraplegic tells its legs to ‘walk,’ there is no response, but when virtual reality is used and the patient visualises their legs moving regularly, the brain reorganises its electrical commands and sends new signals to the remaining nerves in the legs. The article describes how the most successful patient can now drive- such progression in science is astonishing!

Of course, the news all physicists will be demanding to hear in this blog is that of the detection of gravitational waves. Einstein predicted their existence over a century ago in his theory of general relativity, but they were detected for the first time by LIGO (Laser Inferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) in February. Gravitational waves indicate an amalgamation of space and time, and is very rare due to the large collision courses required. However, despite the waves’ weakness, the waves were detected when two black holes ’29 and 36 times the mass of our sun’ collided 1.3 billion light years away. The team at LIGO have witnessed the gravitational waves a second time in a smaller black hole collision, and there are hopes that in the future it will be possible to see gravitational waves originating from the mergence of neutron stars- an enthralling prospect!

Furthermore, mice have been grown from lab grown eggs. The article explains how in October, pups were born from this controversial method. Skin cells were taken from the tails of mice and transformed into ‘induced pluripotent stem cells.’ These cells behave like embryonic stem cells and can form any cell. The cells started dividing once hormones had been given from mouse ovaries and then, using IVF, the mice were born. Unfortunately only 11 in 300 embryos survived but this pathway prevents the need for egg donors in the future.

Finally,  scientists have always struggled to tell which sex dinosaurs were due to lack of remaining soft tissue and organs. However, in 2016, a fossil was found containing medullary tissue which provides the calcium needed to create egg shells. It was found in Montana and holds similarities with modern chickens, so hopefully in the future it will be much easier or even simple to tell whether a fossil belongs to a male or female.

Despite the atrocities in 2016, science muddled through and significant breakthroughs were made. Let’s hope 2017 will be even more prosperous for science!

Keep your eyes peeled for my next post,

Lara

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