Now that we are nearing the end of the calendar year 2016, I thought I’d take a little time to evaluate some of what has happened in the last twelve months. This post is going to be mainly about science and tech advances. Celebrity deaths and politics have already been covered at length in other parts of the internet. But I truly don’t think enough attention is paid to science and technology by the public at large. Politicians tend to think wealth is created through taxes. Lawyers tend to think wealth is created via law suits and judicial rulings. Business operators tend to think wealth is generated through sales. Yet it is the scientists and researchers that develop technologies that can start previously undreamed of industries. I wish more people were as enthusiastic about science as I am. I guess I was spoiled by growing up around books, having parents who encouraged me to learn and ask questions, and having teachers who made science, reading, history, and math interesting.
The source for this list is mainly wikipedia. This is not meant to be a definitive or exhaustive list, it’s mainly for illustrative purposes. Sometimes the major breakthroughs and improvements receive little note in the press.
1. Glycerol 3-phosphate phosphatase (G3PP), an enzyme that prevents sugar being stored as fat, is identified by scientists at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre.
2. Light-activated nanoparticles able to kill over 90% of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are demonstrated at the University of Colorado Boulder.
3. Lockheed Martin announces the “Segmented Planar Imaging Detector for Electro-optical Reconnaissance” (SPIDER), a new way of dramatically shrinking the size of telescopes, by using hundreds to thousands of tiny lenses. The diameter does not change, but the SPIDER system is thinner and does not need multiple mirrors.
4. The University of New South Wales announces that it will begin human trials of the Phoenix99, a fully implantable bionic eye.
5. Google announces a breakthrough in artificial intelligence with a program able to beat the European champion of the board game Go.
6. Researchers demonstrate that graphene can be successfully interfaced with neurons, while maintaining the integrity of these vital nerve cells. It is believed this could lead to much improved brain implants for restoring sensory functions.
7. Scientists in the United Kingdom are given the go-ahead by regulators to genetically modify human embryos by using CRISPR-Cas9 and related techniques.
8. Scientists at the LIGO, Virgo and GEO600 announce the first direct detection of a gravitational wave predicted by the general relativity theory of Albert Einstein.
9. Scientists report unprecedented success using T-cells to treat cancer. In one trial, 94 percent of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia saw their symptoms disappear entirely.
10. The University of Southampton announces a major step forward in creating “5D” data storage that can survive for billions of years.
11. Boston Dynamics reveals the latest version of its “Atlas” humanoid robot, featuring highly dynamic movements and reactions in both indoor and outdoor environments.
12. Paleontologists report the discovery of a pregnant Tyrannosaurus rex, shedding light on the evolution of egg-laying as well as gender differences in the dinosaur.
13. Researchers at Rutgers and Stanford universities develop a novel way to inject healthy human nerve cells into mouse brains, with potential for treating Parkinson’s disease and other brain-related conditions, though human trials are likely 10–20 years away.
14. Researchers at the University of Toronto use stem cell therapy to reverse age-related osteoporosis in mice.
15. Case Western Reserve University announces an optical sensor a million times more sensitive than the current best available, with potential for improving early cancer detection.
16. A study by the University of Southern California concludes that drinking even moderate amounts of coffee can significantly reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
17. SpaceX successfully lands the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket (SpaceX CRS-8) on a floating drone ship for the first time.
18. By adding a one-atom thick layer of graphene to solar panels, Chinese scientists report that electricity can be generated from raindrops.
19. Scientists announce Breakthrough Starshot, a Breakthrough Initiatives program, to develop a proof-of-concept fleet of small centimeter-sized light sail spacecraft, named StarChip, capable of making the journey to Alpha Centauri, the nearest extrasolar star system, at speeds of 20% and 15% of the speed of light, taking between 20 and 30 years to reach the star system, respectively, and about 4 years to notify Earth of a successful arrival.
20. A quadriplegic man, Ian Burkhart from Ohio, is able to perform complex functional movements with his fingers after a chip was implanted in his brain.
21. An international team reports synthesising ultra-long carbyne inside double-walled nanotubes. This exotic form of carbon is even stronger than graphene.
22. BioViva USA reports the first successful use of gene therapy to extend the length of telomeres in a human patient.
23. Scientists announce the discovery of an extensive reef system near the Amazon River, covering an estimated 3,600 square miles (9,300 km2).
24. A team at Stanford University reveals “OceanOne”, a humanoid robot capable of moving around the seabed using thrusters.
25. Astronomers discover three potentially Earth-like planets in the habitable zone of an ultracool brown dwarf star (TRAPPIST-1) just 40 light years away from Earth.
26. NASA’s Kepler mission verifies 1,284 new exoplanets – the single largest finding of planets to date.
27. Samsung announces a 256 gigabyte microSD card.
28. Scientists at IBM Research announce a storage memory breakthrough by reliably storing three bits of data per cell using a new memory technology known as phase-change memory (PCM). The results could provide fast and easy storage to capture the exponential growth of data in the future.
29. A detailed report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine finds no risk to human health from genetic modifications of food.
30. Researchers at the University of Virginia Health System find that the Oct4 gene, once thought to be inactive in adults, actually plays a vital role in preventing heart attacks and strokes. The gene could delay at least some of the effects of aging.
31. India conducts the first successful launch of a new space plane, called the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), which is delivered to a height of 65 kilometres (40 mi).
32. A survey of 216,000 adolescents from all 50 US states finds the number of teens with marijuana-related problems is declining and marijuana use is falling, despite the fact that more US states are legalising or decriminalising the drug.
33. Strimvelis, an ex-vivo stem cell gene therapy for adenosine deaminase deficiency, and the first gene therapy for children, is granted regulatory approval by the European Commission.
34. Worldwide, renewable energy grew at its fastest ever rate in 2015, according to a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21).
This list is getting longer than I thought. I’m breaking this into two blog entries.