The 7 Best Accomplishments of Science in the Past Decade
Do you remember when you were a kid all those science fiction movies you used to watch?
The science and technology depicted in those old movies were the epitome of imagination during those times. We would see flying cars, robots that served humans and watched people get teleported to locations that were miles away.
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Have you checked out the latest developments in science and technology lately?
We are getting closer and closer to seeing the old science fiction movies come to life. Check out these seven (7) most significant accomplishments of science over the last decade.
Molding Memory within the Brain
MIT Neuroscientists are putting forth ideas that seemed out of reach a decade or so ago regarding the memory of the brain. These scientists have successfully created artificial memories within the brains of mice. This significant development is an illustration of how neuroscientists are increasing the ability to manipulate, control, and engineer memory in the mind¹.
This new memory manipulation tool is called optogenetics. The process is where scientists put the DNA of light-sensitive proteins into individual neurons. This allows them to toggle those specific neurons off and on using light flashes.
Hopefully, optogenetics can help patients suffering from mental ailments such as PTSD.
Computer Chip that Mimics the Human Brain
Artificial neural networks are algorithms that are inspired by the workings of the human brain. Many of them have accomplished important tasks like recognizing faces, detecting lies, and even predicting heart attacks. The problem is that most computers cannot run these algorithms efficiently.
Recently, engineers created a computer chip that utilizes light beams to mimic neurons². These “optical neural networks” will make virtually any application of deep learning tremendously faster and much more efficient.
Computers have always functioned through a series of transistors, which are gates that let an electrical current either pass or not pass. A few decades ago, physicists discovered that light would be more efficient than electricity — especially in developing neural networks. This is because light waves can interact and travel in parallel, which allows them to achieve many tasks simultaneously. For several years, photonic processing was impractical — not any longer.
Discovered Largest Black Hole Ever
Recently, astronomers discovered the most massive black hole ever measured³. It is so vast that its mass is 40 billion times greater than the mass of the sun. This mass is also equal to about two-thirds of every star within the Milky Way.
This fantastic black hole lurks within a galaxy that is also supermassive and most likely was formed from collisions of some eight smaller galaxies. This massive galaxy is known as Holm 15A resides within a galaxy cluster called Abell 85. A research team obtained a snapshot of the stars within Holm 15A that are orbiting around this massive black hole. From this, they were able to calculate the total mass of the black hole.
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Whenever two or more spiral galaxies collide with one another, they often merge to form an elliptical-shaped galaxy. In crowded regions like galaxy clusters, these galaxies can have collisions and join again and again to create even more massive elliptical galaxies. When this occurs, their respective black holes also combine to make bigger black holes. An indicator that this has happened is when large groups of stars get kicked out to the edges of the newly formed, more massive galaxy.
Stem Cell Reprogramming
Stem cells are quite amazing. While they are like any other cell within our bodies, they have a unique quality. They have this remarkable ability to morph into any cell they desire at will. For instance, they could become a red blood cell if our body needs that cell at the moment. Or they could become a white blood cell — or even a muscle cell, and so forth.
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While many of us are now learning about the incredible ability of stem cells, scientists have known about them since 1981. But the thing that we discovered more recently is that any cell within our bodies can be reprogrammed and converted into a stem cell⁴. And even greater news is that it is very simple to do.
A man named Shinya Yamanaka first did this by adding four certain genes to a skin cell. After 2–3 weeks, the skin cell became a stem cell that was ready to become any cell found in the human body. This is a critical advancement in the world of regenerative medicine since we can use these helpful cells for repairing bodily damage from diseases and injuries.
World Robot Domination
During 2014, over 1,000 “kilobots” obeyed a command to arrange themselves into a star-shaped configuration⁵. Without any additional instruction, these kilobots coordinated together and created the shape of a perfect star.
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While they were at times, slow and sloppy in doing so, they ultimately achieved the assigned task. The fascinating thing was that whenever one of the bots got confused or stuck, it communicated with one of its fellow bots and got back on track.
So how exactly will such an array of bots be used in the future? Thousands of micro-robots could be injected into our bloodstream and potentially form themselves in unique ways to fight disease. Larger bots in a swarm could fan out for effective search and rescue missions, and even larger bots could possibly shape themselves into temporary buildings. And yes, they could also become armies and fight on future battlefields as well.
Validation of Gravitational Waves
Physicists refer to gravitational waves as ripples that reside within the fabric of space-time and travel at the speed of light. These waves were originally predicted by Albert Einstein as he created his Theory of General Relativity, a famous theory that suggested mass curves space-time. This means that events such as the combining of black holes will emit these gravitational waves.
In the year 2016, these waves were discovered and detected passing over the Earth by assorted LIGO laser instrumentation⁶. This confirmed Einstein’s predictions that had been made some 100 years earlier.
This is a vital event within the field of astronomy since it proves a significant part of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Additionally, we now know that we can rely on apparatus like LIGO to detect large-scale cosmic events in the future.
Confirmation of Dark Matter?
Dark matter is something that has gravitational pull but puts off no light. Scientists are not sure what it is made from, and there have been many searches for it that have borne no fruit. But most physicists believe in its existence.
They see evidence of this throughout the universe. Examples of this are mysterious light distortions in the night sky, star clusters that spin much faster than they should, and there have even been holes found within our galaxy that make no sense.
Studies that have been developed to find dark matter usually involve classes of never seen before particles that exist outside of the Standard Model of physics — including those that pertain to subatomic particles. Since it is assumed that dark matter is comprised of theoretical classes of particles, no one ever proposes it is made of matter that we already know about.
However, two physicists from the University of York in England went against the grain by suggesting that the known d*(2380) hexaquark, or “d-star,” could account for all the missing matter in our universe⁷.
Quarks are among the most fundamental of physical particles within the Standard Model. Whenever three of them are joined together, they make up a neutron or a proton — which exists in all atoms. But when they are arranged in new ways, more exotic particles can be formed. The d-star is a six-quark particle that is positively charged. Researchers believe that this d-star existed for a portion of a second during an experiment at Germany’s Jülich Research Center in 2014.
: Anne West. (June 28, 2014). Manipulating Memory through Optogenetics: A Conversation with Neuroscientists Xu Liu and Steve Ramirez. https://behavioralscientist.org/manipulating-memory-through-optogenetics-qa-with-neuroscientists-xu-liu-and-steve-ramirez/.
: Matthew Hutson. (June 20, 2017). Computer chip mimics human brain, with light beams for neurons. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/computer-chip-mimics-human-brain-light-beams-neurons.
: Erika K. Carlson. (December 5, 2019). This huge galaxy has the biggest black hole ever measured. https://astronomy.com/news/2019/12/this-huge-galaxy-has-the-biggest-black-hole-ever-measured.
: UCLA Blood Stem Cell Research Center. Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS). https://stemcell.ucla.edu/induced-pluripotent-stem-cells.
: Mark Zastrow. (August 14, 2014). Researchers create 1,000-robot swarm. https://www.nature.com/news/researchers-create-1-000-robot-swarm-1.15714.
: LIGO News Release. (February 11, 2016). Gravitational Waves Detected 100 Years After Einstein’s Prediction. https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/news/ligo20160211.
: Rafi Letzter. (March 09, 2020). Did German physicists accidentally discover dark matter in 2014? https://www.livescience.com/hexaquarks-could-explain-dark-matter.html.