With the end of the year fast approaching and the belief that the end of the world will happen tomorrow, its easy to overlook some awesome things that have happened this year. All over the world this year has been an awesome year for Science. Here we will run down some of the most amazing things to happen this year in Science and Technology. Everyone knows about events like Curiosity landing Mars but there are many other cool things that didn’t get that kind of press, so in no particular order, here are 18 awesome things that have happened in science and technology in 2012 you might not have heard of. While it may not be flying cars or hover boards, it is pretty awesome.
1. A quadriplegic woman can now use her mind to control a robotic arm. We did more of a full story on this in our article Robotic Replacement Limbs – Science Fiction Comes to Life (video at the bottom of the article). Her story is amazing, paralyzed 13 years ago from the debilitating effects of Multiple Sclerosis, she is able to perform task such as feeding herself after a revolutionary surgery to implant 2 – 96 channel intracortical implants into the motor cortex of her brain.
2. At the University of Wyoming, scientists have modified a group of silkworms to produce silk that is, weight for weight, stronger than steel. Several different groups hope to benefit from the use of the super-strength silk, including stronger sutures for the medical community, a biodegradable alternative to plastics, and even possibilities of lightweight armor for military purposes. The uses of super strong, exceptionally lightweight material will be vast.
3. Invisibility cloaks have made the quantum leap from science fiction to science fact. This year British Columbia company HyperStealth Biotechnology showed a functioning prototype of its new fabric to the U.S. and Canadian military. The material is able to reflect light around itself without the use of batteries, cameras, or mirrors. The material, called Quantum Stealth, bends light waves around the wearer. It blocks the subject from being seen by visual means but also keeps them hidden from thermal scans and infrared. Its about as close to the magical cloak Harry Potter wears as anyone could hope for.
4. Spray on skin has been developed for victims of severe burns, and other trauma. ReCell by Avita Medical uses a postage stamp–size piece of skin from the patient, leaving the donor site with what looks like a carpet burn. The sample is mixed with an enzyme harvested from pigs and then sprayed back onto the burn site. Each micrograph expands, together able to cover a space around the size of a book page in under a week. Since the donor skin comes from the patient, the risk of rejection is almost nonexistent.
5. Stem Cells bring the possibility of extended human life. Researchers have injected laboratory mice with a normal life span of 20 to 21 days with stem cells from younger mice and the results were staggering. When injected 4 days before the mouse was expected to die, the mouse not only lived but experienced rejuvenating effects and lived 3 times its normal life span, living to 71 days. Comparatively if used in humans it would be like an 80 year old living to be more than 200. This could make for real life bicentennial men.
6. In 2012 the Voyager 1 probe has officially left the solar system. Launched September 5th 1977 it has now traveled out beyond the furthest reaches and has exited our solar system. At a distance of over 123 AU from Earth the spacecraft is further out into space than anything we have ever launched. If that wasn’t enough Voyager 1 is still transmitting data back to us. NASA knew eventually Voyager 1 would fly off into the great unknown and to that effect a recording was placed on Voyager I with sounds ranging from music to whale calls, and greetings in 55 languages.
7. 3D printers have for the first time been used to create custom replacement parts used in human transplants. A custom working jawbone was created for an 83-year-old patient using titanium powder and bioceramic coating. The success of this surgery brings with it the eventual goal of custom replacement bones for people with severe injuries and even the ability to print out new muscles and organs.
8. 3D printers have been busy this year, not just creating custom jaws, but now printing full houses. The D-Shape printer, created by Enrico Dini, is capable of printing a two-story building, complete with rooms, stairs, pipes, and partitions. Using only sand and an inorganic binding compound, the resulting material has the same durability as reinforced concrete with the look of marble. As long as the printer sticks to round structures construction can be finished in less than 1/4 the time of traditional building techniques, and with out specialist knowledge or skill sets. All of this at a cost much lower than traditional houses.
9. Green technology has taken an interesting turn, with artificial leafs capable of generating a fuel compounds. The device builds upon a breakthrough hydrogen producing technology developed in 2008. Using relatively inexpensive materials, Daniel G. Nocera created the world’s first practical artificial leaf. The self-contained units mimic the process of photosynthesis, but the end result is hydrogen instead of oxygen. The cell is also made from common materials like silicon, cobalt and nickel, which means that the “leaf” could potentially be mass-produced. The hydrogen can then be captured into fuel cells and used for electricity, even in the most remote locations on Earth.
10. Google set forth their view of the future. Almost everyone has seen the video of Google’s revolutionary idea. With their Goggles, everyday life is overlaid with a HUD (Head’s Up Display). The Goggles show pertinent information, surf the web, or call a loved one and are controlled part by voice and part by where the user is looking. This concept would be a whole new direction for smartphones and how technology interacts with our daily lives. Apple is also working on this kind of technology and has even filed a patent or two. Who knows we may soon see a literal eye-phone.
11. On July 4th while America was sitting back drinking a cold one and blowing things up in honor of our independence the Scientific community was making a breakthrough discovery. At multinational research center CERN confirmed it had discovered a particle that behaved enough like a Higgs boson to be given the title. For scientists, this meant there could be a Higgs field, similar to an electromagnetic field. In turn, this could lead to the scientists’ ability to interact with mass the same way we currently do with magnetic fields.
12. Diamonds are a girls best friend right? How about a planet made of diamonds? An exoplanet made entirely of diamonds was discovered this year by an international research team. The planet is around 5 times the size of the earth and has a mass around that of Jupiter. Made almost entirely of crystalline carbon, the planet is basically a giant diamond in space.
13. Our closest sun like star named Tau Ceti, has been discovered to have 5 planets in its orbit, one of which is inside the star’s habitable zone and can not only support liquid water but very possibly life. Our closest neighboring star system with planets is Alpha Centauri, a scant 4 light years from Earth. The Tau Ceti star system is 12 light years from Earth, from there, our Sun appears in the constellation Bootes. We’ve known about the Tau Ceti system for a while but only recently have been able to find its planets. The quintet includes planets between two and six times the Earth’s mass, with periods ranging from 14 to 640 days. One of them, dubbed HD 10700e, lies about half as far from Tau Ceti as the Earth is from the Sun – and because Tau Ceti is slightly smaller and dimmer than our Sun, that puts the planet in the habitable zone.
14. Ocular implants have been able to give sight to the blind. Two blind men in the United Kingdom were fitted with eye implants during an eight-hour surgery. After years of blindness, both had regained “useful” vision within weeks, able to make out outlines of objects and dreaming in color. They are expected to make continued improvement as their bodies and brains adjust to the implants.
15. In addition another kind of implant has been developed for people with retinal development that will be going into clinical trials in 2013. This implant called the “bioretina” is specifically tailored to restore sight to patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts.It is made up of two tiny cameras attached to a pair of glasses which send images to a computer chip attached to the patient’s eye. The chip turns the images into an electrical current sent along a wire to a film inserted behind the retina.
16. Back in space a planet has been discovered in orbit of 4 stars. Discovered by amateur astronomers, the planet closely orbits a pair of stars, which in turn orbit another set of more distant stars. The planet is roughly the size of Neptune. Scientists are trying to understand how planet has avoided being pulled apart by the extreme gravitational force of that many stars.
17. Imagine living without a heart. It is possible — if you have a new artificial heart pumping blood through your body. You can even go to the supermarket, watch your kid’s soccer game or go on a hike. Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center has performed its first procedure to remove a patient’s diseased heart and replace it with a SynCardia Temporary Total Artificial Heart. Chad Washington, 35, underwent the seven-hour transplant surgery at UCLA on Oct. 29, led by Dr. Murray Kwon, an assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery. The temporary pump will act as a “bridge” until Washington receives a new donor heart. “Historically, patients with a total artificial heart had to remain hospitalized while they waited for a transplant because they were tethered to a large machine to power the device,” Kwon said.
18. Not to be forgotten is Microsoft. While you wouldn’t think they would be on this list. Microsoft has filed a patent for an almost Star Trek style holodeck for use in homes. A newly published patent application shows Microsoft potentially planning to take console gaming beyond the barriers of the TV screen by projecting a “peripheral image” around a room, providing a 360-degree view of a virtual scene. The system described in this patent application may never turn into a full-fledged product, but this kind of environmental system could be a real revolution in the way we play and think about video games. One of the main factors limiting the current potential of motion controls, as I see it, is the need to constantly stay facing the TV screen in order to know what’s going on in the game. Still, it’s interesting to see Microsoft’s R&D department thinking about ways to extend games past the black borders of our flat-screen TVs in a potentially revolutionary way.