From medicine to astrophysics, the very small to the unimaginably huge, here are the most remarkable scientific discoveries of 2013.
This article was previously published in French on Atlantico.fr : "Création d'un mini-cerveau et découverte d'eau sur des exoplanètes : les plus grandes avancées scientifiques de l'année 2013".
Human cloning and artificial organs
Scientists created an artificial ear. Researchers at IBM created a mini-brain. 2013 saw a blossoming of the production of artificial organs of all kinds. With the publication, in Science, of the first cloning of human embryonic cells, these scientific developments will likely have the greatest impact in terms of new therapeutics.
Immunotherapy in the fight against cancer
Also concerning cells, very promising clinical trials confirmed the potential of immunotherapy to fight certain cancers. Strengthening the body’s immune defenses and activating an autoimmune reaction could make it possible to create vaccines against cancer, one of the leading causes of death in developed countries.
The origin of intergalactic cosmic rays has been found
Data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have illuminated our understanding of cosmic rays, the ultra-high-energy particles and radiation that travel constantly through space at close-to-light speed. They seem to come from explosions of stars, known as supernovae.
First-ever transplant of an autonomous artificial heart
On 18 December, a team of French surgeons succeeded in transplanting, for the first time, an entirely artificial heart. Professors Carpentier and Fabiani successfully implanted a cardiac prosthesis developed by the company Carmat. The prosthesis should be permanent and should not need replacing. In addition, it runs no risk of rejection and should help solve the problem of the lack of cardiac donors.
Water on exoplanets
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope provided clear evidence for the presence of water in the atmosphere of five exoplanets located outside our Solar System. We knew of the presence of water in the Solar System. But detecting it beyond was not technically possible until now. Given the incredible number of exoplanets that we know, and considering all those that are still unknown today, we can imagine a significant number of planets harboring water – with all that that implies for the possibility of detecting life there, too.
The twin-prime conjecture
(3, 5), (5, 7), (11, 13)… According to the twin-prime conjecture, there are an infinite number of twin primes, pairs of prime numbers that differ only by two. This year, the mathematician Yitang Zhang made a significant step towards solving this centuries-old mathematical enigma.
A human skull that rocked paleontology
Thanks to the discovery of a 1.8-million-year old skull, scientists at the University of Zurich showed that what anthropologists had considered to be three distinct species was, in reality, a single hominid. This skull, also known as “Skull 5”, may prove that, 2 million years ago, the human species was, in reality, much less diverse than we thought. Instead, the perfect condition of this skull, along with the presence of five skulls at the same site, suggests that there was great diversity of traits within a single species.
An incredible material is born…by pure chance
As absent-minded as Pasteur, scientists in Uppsala, Sweden apparently forgot a chemical reaction for an entire weekend and, thus, obtained Upsalite, a new material opening the way for countless applications. The accidental formation of the solid form of MgCO3, published in open access in the journal PLOS One, results in a crystalline structure practically free of water molecules. Its ability to absorb water could make it a particularly powerful desiccant. It seems a company has already been created to bring its potential to industrial applications.
Teleportation of photons: a step toward quantum computing
This summer, two publications in the journal Nature announced major advances in controlling the teleportation of quantum photons. The two experiments, completely unrelated, had much higher success rates than before. The potential applications of quantum teleportation can be found in data encryption systems (cryptography), as well as in potential future quantum computers. These should achieve incredible calculating power by taking advantage of the fundamental properties of matter.
Google and NASA join forces to create the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab
Machine learning, quantum computers… The two organizations have partnered up to revolutionize, together, the field of artificial intelligence. QuAIL (Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) aims to push forward the development of quantum information science, in order to solve the problems of the most complex optimization calculations in aeronautics, medicine, climate change… Combining the scientific and financial power of the two behemoths could indeed give this discipline a boost in 2014.
The first wireless brain-computer interface
Last, but not least, come pigs and monkeys equipped with wireless communication devices transmitting their brain activity to a computer. The device analyzes this activity and can respond to certain stimulations, the idea being to develop, one day, the ability to control a computer with your thoughts. The team of Brown University researchers behind this result are clearly not faint of heart!
About the authors:
Laurence Bianchini holds a PhD in physics from the University of Paris-Sud. Since 2011, she has worked as a science journalist for MyScienceWork where she covers numerous scientific fields, taking a special interest in the multidisciplinary aspect of science, employment of PhDs and open access. She has also been the partnerships director for MyScienceWork since 2013.
Guillaume Decerprit has a PhD in high-energy astrophysics. He put his expertise in digital modeling and data analysis to work for research for several years in France, Germany and the United States, then for a Toulouse-based company specialized in space, electromagnetism and space weather.