Top 10 Scientific Discoveries - ScienceNet.cn

Top 10 Scientific Discoveries - ScienceNet.cn

Top 10 Scientific Discoveries OF 2008 Li Zhengxin School of MSE of HAUT 1. Large Hadron Collider Good news! The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) the massive particl e accelerator straddling the Swiss-French border didn't destroy t he world! The bad news: The contraption didn't really work either. I n September, the 17-mile collider was switched on for the first time , putting to rest the febrile webchatter that the machine would crea te an artificial black hole capable of swallowing the planet or at lea st a sizeable piece of Europe a bad day no matter what. No lucid observer ever thought that would really happen, but what they did expect was that the LHC would operate as advertised, recreating c onditions not seen since instants after the Big Bang and giving phy sicists a peek into those long-vanished moments. Things looked go

od at first, until a helium leak caused the collider to shut down afte r less than two weeks. Repairs are underway and the particles shou ld begin spinning again sometime in June. Read more: http://www.time.com/time/specials/2008/top10/article/0,30583,185 5948_1863947,00.html#ixzz0aabRwPWi 2. The North Pole of Mars For all the times robot probes have orbited or landed on Mars, none had ever visited its polar region wher e the greatest concentrations of ice and water (and ar guably the most evidence of life) are to be found. That changed in May when NASA's Phoenix lander touched down in Mars's far north and began scraping, samplin g and sniffing its surroundings. Phoenix found nothing that yet changes the picture of Mars as a dead world,

but it reinforced the planet's image as a once-wet plac e that could have teemed with organisms. The ship wa s not expected to survive the punishing climate for lon g and in November, the encroaching darkness and col d of the Martian winter silenced it for good. 3. Creating Life Living things don't get a whole lot humbler than a bac terium, with its few hundred thousand genetic base pa irs and its stripped-down physical design. Still, you try inventing one. That's what geneticist J. Craig Venter one of the two men credited with mapping the human genome managed to do. Venter stitched together t he 582,000 base pairs necessary to invent the genetic information for a whole new bacterium. Step two is to boot up that DNA programming in a living bacterium t

o see if it takes charge of the organism. That's next on Venter's agenda and he has little doubt it will work. As any software designer will tell you, once you know how to write the code, you can make it do almost anyt hing. 4. China Soars into Space China put astronauts in orbit. So what, right? The U.S. has been doing it since 1962. Here's what: The Chines e launched their first manned mission in 2003, their se cond in 2005 and their third this year. They began wit h a one-person ship, then a two-seater, then a threeman version, and during that last mission they comple ted a successful spacewalk. By all spacefaring measur es, that's impressive going from a standing start to a sprint in five years. What's more, China's unmanned Chang'e spacecraft is currently orbiting the moon and

Beijing wants to have humans on the lunar surface by 2020. Think it can't pull off something that big? Then you didn't see the Olympics. 5. More Gorillas in the Mist A rare bit of good news for the beloved and beleagu ered western lowland gorilla: New surveys this sum mer by the Wildlife Conservation Society put the speci es' numbers far higher than scientists had thought. Th e forests and swamps of the northern Republic of Con go are now thought to be home to 125,000 gorillas, or up to twice the previous estimates. But the good news Brave New Worlds by bad. War in the was, as so often 6. happens,

followed neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo has spilled into the Virunga National Park there, threatening the t iny and far more fragile population of 350 or so mount ain gorillas half of the world's total. 6. Brave New Worlds It's getting crowded out there. Scientists have always been certain that the universe was aswarm with planets orbiting stars other tha n our own little sun, but it wasn't until 1995 that they started to fin d these so-called exoplanets. Most of them were huge worlds lying too close to their parent stars to harbor life. In June, Swiss astrono mer Michel Mayor found 45 much smaller worlds, one only 4.2 time s as big as Earth. All of them inscribe small, scorchingly hot orbits t oo, but Mayor's instruments which detect planets by the gravitat ional wobbles they cause their suns should be sensitive enough t

o find ones with larger orbits that place them out in cooler, arguabl y habitable regions. In November, two teams of astronomers from t he U.S. and Canada got four exoplanets to sit still for their photogr aphs, producing the first ever images of alien worlds in visible and ultraviolet light. Read more: http://www.time.com/time/specials/2008/top10/article/0,30583,185 5948_1863947_1863930,00.html#ixzz0aadGORVC 7. The Power of Invisibility Berkeley, Calif., did nothing to change its rep as one o f America's flakier places when scientists on the local campus of the University of California announced the y'd invented an invisibility cloak. But it was hard physi cs and complex optics at work, not something illegal o r brain-altering. Using nanowires grown inside a porou

s aluminum tube to create a sheeting 10 times thinner 8. Cenozoic Park? that they could wra than a piece of paper, they proved p an object in the material and bend light waves arou nd it, making it effectively invisible. All of the usual ca veats apply: the process is experimental, the cloaking is fantastically fragile, the costs would be prohibitive f or anything remotely approaching practical use. Still, we now live in a world in which invisibility is a possibili ty. That's a good thing, right? 8. Cenozoic Park? It's not often that a hairball makes headlines. But tha t's what happened this November, when Penn State bi

ochemistry professor Stevan Schuster announced that he had reconstructed 80% of the genome of the long extinct woolly mammoth, using clumps of hair from th e remains of several of the giant critters. The job invol ved not just piecing together more than 3 billion DNA sequences, but making sure none of the material that was used came from bacteria or other organisms cling ing to the fur. The work raises the inevitable Jurassic P ark question and the answer is, no, we won't see wool y mammothpopulated theme parks any time soon. B ut the key word is soon. Stephan doesn't rule out the possibility forever. 9. Can You Spell Science? Think Americans haven't gotten smarter? Think again. Betw een 1979 and 2006, the percentage of scientifically literate

adults doubled to 17%. This year, a survey by a professor of political science at the University of Michigan found that t hat dismal showing may have improved, but only a little. Cu rrently, 25% of the population of the U.S. the country that invented the airplane and the light bulb and landed men on the moon, remember qualify as "civic scientifically literat e." In practical terms says the investigator, that means that only one in four adults can read and understand the stories i n the weekly science section of The New York Times. And thi s comes at a time when the U.S. electorate is being asked to grapple with and reach informed consensus about such complex questions as global warming and stem cell researc h. Meantime, in November, Beijing announced a new high in scientific literacy scores for the Chinese. So let's at least rais e a glass to China. It's somewhere in Europe, right? 10. First Family

Americans may boast of family values, but they've got nothi ng on the folks of Saxony-Anhalt in central Germany. That's the home region of what might be the most traditional or at least the oldest nuclear family ever uncovered. Resear chers there excavated 4,600-year-old graves of a group of S tone-Agers who appeared to have been killed together in a r aid judging from the defensive wounds many of them bor e and the projectile point embedded in the vertebra of one f emale. Among the remains was a foursome interred togethe r an adult male and female and two boys, one of them 8 t o 9 years old, the other 4 to 5. Analyzing molecular DNA evi dence, the investigators confirmed what the tableau sugges ted: This was a family. Certainly this is not the oldest one th at ever existed, but merely the oldest ever unearthed. Still, f or now it is, to scientists at least, the true First Family.

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