As it is still the first month of a new year, I thought it would be nice to do a brief review of 2016. Wikipedia has a great summary of noteworthy scientific breakthroughs from this past year (sadly, seal whiskers did not make the list. 😉 ). The majority of them are astronomical, medical, or technological discoveries that may be a little bit too detailed for this short blog post, but feel free to check out the complete list here. I selected my favorite breakthrough for each month while trying to maintain a good variety of topics:
January: Researchers developed new brain implants which are smaller than a grain of rice and help monitor brain temperature and pressure. The sensors are naturally biodegradable, so they function for a few weeks and then dissolve, thereby eliminating the need for follow-up surgeries.
February: The company Boston Dynamics unveiled its newest humanoid robot prototype. I do not particularly keep up with this type of science, but the Youtube video shows the robot walking in snow/unstable environmental conditions. It makes some really incredible balance corrections! Definitely worth watching.
March: The Mauna Loa Observatory, regarded as the most vital global monitoring facility in the world, released data that carbon emissions in 2015 grew at the fastest rate on record thus far. The facility, the oldest of its kind, is in Hawaii and has been monitoring atmospheric conditions since the 1950s.
April: I realize that these types of cancer-causing/preventing studies come out all the time, but I have a special place for coffee in my heart and wanted to highlight this one. So, coffee drinkers unite! Apparently, we have a significantly reduced risk of developing bowel cancer. You even get the great cancer-preventing perks from decaf coffee!
May: Researchers released shocking data that leopards have lost 75% of their habitat in the last 250 years. Leopards in Asia appear to have been hit particularly hard, with six regions showing a 95% loss of leopard habitat. This research is considered the most comprehensive leopard study to date, having evaluated 6,000 records from over 1,300 different sources.
June: Scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency released data indicating that the universe is expanding 5-9% faster than they previously thought. Researchers were able to propose this new estimate from distance measurements provided by the Hubble Telescope.
July: I chose this discovery to give a shout out to my Alma Mater, Rice University. Currently, titanium is the primary component used in joint replacement surgery (e.g. knee, hip) because of its strength, resistance to wear, and nontoxic properties. Physicists showed that a titanium-gold mixture can actually be four times harder than pure titanium and can even resist grinding/wear by a diamond-coated mortar and pestle.
August: This new study suggests that Greenland sharks could live to become at least 400 years old, with 272 years being their average lifespan. These estimates make the Greenland shark the longest-lived vertebrate to date. Although this is incredible, the study also states that the sharks consequently do not reach sexual maturity until they are about 150 years old. In the ocean’s current state of health, I think it is clear that reaching sexual maturity so late in life could be problematic for the future of the species.
September: Three separate research laboratories analyzing a diverse array of genomes all came to the conclusion that the history of all non-Africans can be traced back to a single migration from Africa about 80,000-50,000 years ago.
October: More scientific progress brought to you by the Hubble Space Telescope! Astronomers released new estimates on the total number of galaxies in the observable universe. The estimate is now 2 trillion galaxies, a number approximately 10 times larger than previously believed. The part that is really crazy about this estimate is that the scientists stated that we can only glimpse 10% of galaxies in the universe. That means 90% remains unstudied!
November: Large-scale trials in South Africa have begun on a new HIV vaccine. A total of 5,400 sexually active men and women will participate in the trials. Researchers are hoping the drug is at least 50% effective and proves to be an invaluable step towards curing/preventing HIV, a disease that currently infects 1,000 people in South Africa every day.
December: It is becoming increasingly clear that reducing emission into the atmosphere, albeit helpful, may not be enough to completely combat climate change. Some researchers are making progress in the field of solar geoengineering (a field that I had never heard of before today but sounds really interesting). Apparently, Harvard researchers identified an aerosol that may be able to be released into the stratosphere to cool the planet and simultaneously repair ozone damage. One of the researchers stated, “Essentially, we ended up with an antacid for the stratosphere.” I liked that the researchers also highlighted the fact that this type of solution should only be considered temporary and that further research is critical. “Geoengineering is like taking painkillers. When things are really bad, painkillers can help but they don’t address the cause of a disease and they may cause more harm than good.”
There you have it! The Bloggerhead picks for 2016. If you would like to share your own top picks, you can let the Bloggerheadsphere know by commenting below. I am looking forward to seeing what 2017 holds!