Last year was a big one for science, with a large range of discoveries made and a huge number of impressive feats achieved. We take a look at a number of these and what exciting developments lie ahead in the coming year.
Over the summer the Voyager-1 spacecraft left our solar system, this marked a historic moment as it is the first man-made object to do so. It has taken Voyager-1 36 years to travel to edge of the solar system and its exit marks the beginning of a new age of space exploration as it begins its journey into interstellar space. 2013 was also a big year for Neurology with the launch of two large projects, the BRAIN Initiative and The Human Brain Project, which aim to map the human brain. This is an incredibly ambitious goal, as there are almost as many neurons in the brain as there are pages on the internet. But unlike the pages on the internet each one of these is not connected to a couple of pages, but thousands of other neurons. There were also many medical advances made throughout 2013, one was the ‘curing’ of a baby from HIV. The baby girl received standard drug therapy from a few hours after birth and it now appears she is fully free from HIV. Another major medical success was the growth of a laboratory-grown human-like ear. Not only have laboratory-grown organs and tissues been created, at the end of last year cells taken from the eye where successfully ’printed’. A slightly quirkier first for 3D printing also occurred last year when a fully functioning gun was successfully printed.
Over the next year the developments in printing are expected to continue. Already this year, a multi-material coloured 3D printer has been launched. One company is expected to produce the first 3D printed liver at some point over the next year. Although it may still be a while until organs and tissues produced by 3D printing are ready for transplanting, this would be a huge step in the right direction. It is also thought that 2014 could be the year of 4D printing, a technology where 3D printed parts assemble themselves into objects. Self-assembly could be very useful for several different sectors and companies. NASA could send parts into space and then those parts could arrange themselves into place at the desired location. One of the main things to look forward to in space exploration this year is the landing of the European space agency’s Rosetta probe on a comet. So far Rosetta is on target to land on the comet this August. The European space agency hopes that by studying the comet closely they may learn more about the origins of the solar system and perhaps more about the origins of life.
A look ahead at what we can expect this year in science would not be complete without mentioning that this year has been declared the international year of crystallography. The aim of this is to raise public awareness of the branch of science which has contributed to the discovery and invention of smart materials and led to drug discoveries. Crystallography is also involved in the field of genetics, a field with several controversial projects expected this year. The first being the creation of transgenic monkeys with immune defences or brain defects. Many are opposed to this research on ethical grounds, while others argue it is necessary to test therapies relevant to humans. The other is a ‘three-parent baby’; the process is controversial but would avoid a mother passing on genetic defects.
This summer’s FIFA world cup is not only the 20th one, but also a special one for another reason. The first to kick the ball will not be a famous footballer, but a paralysed teenager. The teenager will use a mind-controlled exoskeleton to kick the ball, showcasing the remarkable new technology created by the Walk Again Project.
With video calls on the rise IBN researchers recently named holographic video calls a technology which they expect to see in place within the next year. This technology which sounds to most like it belongs only in Star Wars is already possible; it is now just a matter of implementation. The increasing number of video calls made by businesses has lead to a reduction in the amount of flights employees are required to take, it is therefore good news for those concerned about the environmental impacts of frequent flying. This year is expected to be crucial in the shaping of the international response to climate change. Two reports are due from the intergovernmental panel in climate change. While world leaders are due to gather to discuss the issue of climate change in September.
There are many more fascinating discovery also anticipated this year, but as always with science it is difficult to know what to expect. Some projects will experience setbacks, while accidental discoveries may surprise us all. Either way it will be exciting to see what steps forward science will take.