Best of 2008 Scientific Discovery

The biggest scientific experiment that was in the news was in 2008 was the Large Hadron Collider. Every one waited with baited breath as it was turned on hoping it was not the end of the world, but what an anticlimax as the switch was thrown nothing exciting seemed to happen, we had to wait to see if it had worked. It only lasted 2 weeks before a helium leak caused it to shut down making what should have been one of the top scientific breakthroughs of 2008 a disaster. They hope to have it up and running again by June 2009. Lets see if it makes next years list.

This year we visited the North Pole of mars for the first time, well NASA’s Phoenix lander did. Unfortunately it has not found any signs of life (or is that fortunately?) but it has reinforced the planet’s image as a once-wet place that could have teemed with life at some point in the past. NASA stopped receiving transmissions form the lander in November.

geneticist J. Craig Venter attempted to create life and managed it. He stitched together the 582,000 base pairs necessary to invent the genetic information for a whole new bacterium. His next task is to boot up that DNA programming in a living bacterium to see if it takes charge of the organism.

In June, Swiss astronomer Michel Mayor found 45 Small worlds, one only 4.2 times as big as Earth. All of them are in small, scorchingly hot orbits, making them to hot to be suitable for harboring life. Mayor’s instruments detect planets by the gravitational wobbles they cause their suns and they should be sensitive enough to find ones with larger orbits that place them out in cooler, arguably habitable regions. In November, two teams of astronomers from the U.S. and Canada took photos of four exoplanets, these are the first ever images of alien worlds in visible and ultraviolet light.

n November, Penn State biochemistry professor Stevan Schuster announced that he had reconstructed 80% of the genome of the long extinct woolly mammoth, using clumps of hair from the remains of several of the giant critters. He had to piecing together more than 3 billion DNA sequences while making sure none of the genetic material that was used came from bacteria or other organisms clinging to the fur. Could this mean that Jurassic Park could become a reality? Well Stevan does not rule it out but it wont be any time soon.

And for all you Harry Potter fans fancy owning an invisability cloak of your own? Well thanks to a group of Scientists at UC Berkeley it is one step closer to becoming a reality. They’ve engineered two new materials, one using a fishnet of metal layers, the other using tiny silver wires that neither absorb nor reflect light, causing it instead to bend backward. The principle at work is refraction, which is what makes a straw appear bent in a glass of water. This has to be my scientific discovery of 2008.