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Science in 2007
The end of a year unavoidably brings various "top 10" or "Break through" lists and science is no exception. So much happens in science and technology that a single list may not be meaningful. So I decided instead to sample some of these science lists which you can look at for yourselves.Popular Science has a "Best of What's New" issue online. Their innovation of the year goes to a private company called Nanosolar which has found a way to cheaply produce a low cost coating that can convert solar energy to electricity. Popular Science is mainly oriented toward applied science and technology, so I am pleased to see that they also chose to recognize advances in detecting planets orbiting other stars. Some of their picks are potentially very disruptive technology. Take the Meraki Mini. This is a Wi Fi device with an important difference:"...add more Minis, and the network can blanket acres. So instead of all your neighbors paying an ISP, you could let them tap into your connection. To boost the whole network's bandwidth, just plug any of the Minis into another wired link."This could be very disruptive to local broadband companies. Heads up Sunflower!Science Magazine has a very different list in their Break Through Issue more oriented to basic science. The Break through of the year is not really a single break through per say but a recognition of how faster cheaper DNA sequencing methods are making it possible to really study genetic variation in humans. These methods have the potential to provide new insights into disease as well as human evolution, but also raise privacy and ethical concerns.Runners up include a new technique for reprogramming cells, new semi conductors and superconducting compounds, and strangely enough a brute force proof that checkers between players with perfect foresight leads to a draw. May seem almost intuitive but demonstrating this has involved new techniques in information processing and artificial intelligence that may be useful in other areas such as deciphering sequences of DNA.The Guardian has a biology laden list. The human genome is tops as it was in the Science list, but they also included the finding that skin cells and other sorts of cells in the body can be reprogrammed relatively easily to behave embryonic stem cells. If this discovery pans out, it could much of the ethical debate about harvesting stem cells from embryos to rest.Finally Scientific American has a "Top 25" list. Not presented in any particular order the list, has some overlap with the Guardian's list but also includes the spread of hospital infections caused by antibiotic resistant staph bacteria (Can you spell evolution?). Climate change received a lot of play on this list as it did on most of the other lists including a special report. One intriguing change that is often ignored in the popular press is the resurrection of nuclear power as a serious option including a proposal to build the first nuclear power plant in this country in 30 years. Nuclear technology has not stood still since the 1970's and reactor builders claim that today's designs are much more efficient and safe.As should be clear, many of the top stories of 2007 really are a recognition of technological or scientific trends that began before 2007. For instance, over at Space.com the big space events in their Top 10 list include planetary flybys, the successful Bigelow space station prototype, along with the privatization of space flight, and more space activity from Asian countries, especially China and Japan.It is hard to believe that the Space Age is 50 years old taking Sputnik as the starting point. Considering all the optimistic predictions made early in the Space Age, it may seem we haven't done much- remember the movie 2001. But given the cost of getting into space we have done pretty well. For instance, advances in robotics have taken us in directions and provided us with opportunities for exploration that we didn't envision in the late 1950's. Who would have thought that a pair of mechanical rovers would have allowed us to learn so much about Mars!I hope people enjoy looking at these lists...what is big in science in your mind? What trends are being ignored? What's coming up next?