Science is and has always been extremely important for the development of human societies and life itself, simply because it allows us to describe, investigate, and ultimately understand—as much as possible—the world in which we live and how it works. By increasing our understanding of the world (and worlds beyond) we are able to identify and potentially protect endangered species, define how natural phenomena occur, cure diseases, define causes of climate change, and improve the quality of life for people, just to name a few positive results. That makes science probably the only discipline in which theories are validated against practical experiment. Some might even argue about the term discipline and suggest that science is an art—the art of discovery, for that matter. Thus it is capable of making models that let scientists and engineers build new things and sometimes predict effects of events that affect mankind or even predict the future. And while the importance of science in our daily lives may not always be obvious, we actually make countless science-based choices each day that help us improve or maintain our health and well-being. The constant progress made in various scientific fields can be traced to the fact that scientists around the world make new discoveries all the time, on a daily basis, and 2015 was no exception. These are the 25 Most Fascinating Scientific Discoveries of 2015.
FaceDirector software generated desired performances in post-production, avoiding reshoots
Disney Research unveiled FaceDirector, a new method of synthesizing an actor’s facial performances in post-production to get just the right emotion instead of reshooting the scene multiple times. In other words, better acting without the actors having to try too hard.
Stem cell scientists redefined how blood is made, toppling conventional “textbook” view from the 1960s
Stem cell scientists at the University Health Network identified an entirely new “two tier” process of how blood is made, overturning decades of established science. The researchers claim their finding could lead to radically improved and personalized treatments for blood disorders.
Destructive disease showed potential as a cancer treatment
Scientists achieved a breakthrough in finding a general cure for cancer by attaching malaria proteins to cancer cells, which appears effective on ninety percent of cancers. Human trials are expected to begin within four years.
New humanlike species discovered in South Africa
Last September paleontologists reported a new humanlike species, Homo naledi, based on the discovery of fifteen partial skeletons, the largest single find of its type in Africa. It is believed that H. naledi could have lived in Africa up to three million years ago and were capable of ritualistic behavior. Although the discoverers claim the bones represent a new species of early humans, other experts contend that more evidence is needed before such a claim can be justified.
Study shows that working longer hours increases stroke risk
According to a study published in The Lancet, people working a fifty-five-hour week have a thirty-three percent increased risk of stroke than those working a thirty-five- to forty-hour week, along with a thirteen percent increased risk of coronary heart disease.
First comprehensive analysis of the woolly mammoth genome completed
The first comprehensive analysis of the mammoth genome was completed, revealing a number of traits that enabled the animals to survive in the Arctic.
WISE spacecraft discovered most luminous galaxy in the universe
Last May NASA reported that the most luminous galaxy yet discovered is WISE J224607.57-052635.0. Smaller than the Milky Way, this dusty galaxy releases ten thousand times more energy. Nearly one hundred percent of the light emitted from the galaxy is infrared radiation.
Scientists achieved critical steps to building first practical quantum computer
Two critical steps toward a practical quantum computer were achieved by IBM scientists. They demonstrated the ability to detect and measure both kinds of quantum errors simultaneously, as well as built a new, square quantum bit circuit design that is the only physical architecture that could successfully scale to larger dimensions.
Small Jurassic dinosaur may have flown without feathers
Over the past two decades Chinese scientists have amazed the global scientific community with their discoveries on dinosaurs but with this one they have put in thoughts even the most skeptical paleontologists. Last April they reported finding a scansoriopterygid dinosaur named Yi qi (“strange wing”) that may have flown without feathers.
Key blood pressure drug seen in startling new detail
A study from Arizona State University reveals the action of an experimental blood pressure drug in unprecedented detail, potentially aiding the development of new and better drugs.
First exoplanet visible-light spectrum
Astronomers have made the first-ever direct detection of the spectrum of visible light reflected off an exoplanet. These observations also revealed new properties about this object, the first exoplanet ever discovered around a normal star: 51 Pegasi b. The result promises an exciting future for this technique, particularly with the advent of next generation instruments and future telescopes, such as the E-ELT.
Three thousand atoms entangled using a single photon
Physicists from MIT and the University of Belgrade have developed a new technique that can successfully entangle three thousand atoms using only a single photon. The results, published in the journal Nature, represent the largest number of particles that have ever been mutually entangled experimentally.
The Amazon’s carbon uptake declines as trees die faster
The results of a monumental 30 year survey of the South American rain forest which involved an international team of almost 100 researchers and was lead by the University of Leeds, has some bad new for earth. The most extensive study ever conducted shows that the rain forest is gradually losing its ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere as trees die at faster and faster rates.
NASA found evidence of a vast ancient ocean on Mars
According to NASA’s scientists a massive ancient ocean once covered nearly half the northern hemisphere of Mars, making the planet a more promising place for alien life to have gained a foothold. The huge body of water spread over a fifth of the planet’s surface, as great a portion as the Atlantic, and was a mile deep in some places. In total, the ocean held twenty million cubic kilometers of water, or more than is found in the Arctic Ocean, the researchers discovered.
NASA Ames Research Center reproduced the building blocks of life in a laboratory
NASA reported that, for the first time, complex DNA and RNA organic compounds of life, including uracil, cytosine, and thymine, have been formed in a laboratory under outer space conditions, using starting chemicals, such as pyrimidine, found in meteorites. Pyrimidine, like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the most carbon-rich chemical found in the universe, may have been formed in red giants or in interstellar dust and gas clouds, according to the scientists.
Big Bang, deflated? The Universe may have had no beginning
According to this theory (if it turns out to be true), the universe may not have started with a bang. A team of theoretical physicists at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, presented an alternative cosmological view to extend the Big Bang model, suggesting the universe had no beginning or singularity and the age of the universe is infinite. The new theory was explained in a paper published on February 4, 2015, in the journal Physical Letters B, and another paper that is currently under peer review, which was published in the preprint journal arXiv.
Researchers designed nano medicine for treating breast cancer
Iranian nanotechnologists synthesized the latest-scheme nano pill of bio-adaptable and biodegradable chain-molecular that is able to ebb toxicity of anti-cancer drugs. This modern medicine is being considered for treating breast cancer in a more effective way than any previous treatment but only time will verify this.
Scientists reprogrammed plants for drought tolerance
Scientists have genetically reprogrammed plants to be drought tolerant in response to an already existing agrochemical, circumventing the need for a new chemical that would otherwise have required many years of testing.
The world’s first “three-parent” IVF babies became a reality
Last February the British government voted to allow a controversial new technique involving babies created by three people. The UK intends to become the first place in the world to offer this medical procedure, which can also be used to treat mitochondrial diseases.
NASA’s Kepler marked the one thousandth exoplanet discovery
Last January NASA announced the one thousandth confirmed exoplanet discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope. Three of the newly confirmed exoplanets were found to orbit within habitable zones of their related stars: two of the three, Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b, are near-Earth size and likely rocky; the third, Kepler-440b, is a super Earth.
Scientists mapped bowhead whale’s genome
Scientists from the United States and the UK mapped the genome of the bowhead whale and identified genes responsible for its two-hundred-year life span, the longest of any mammal. The genome mapping was a result of two separate studies carried out in the States and the UK that allowed scientists to identify a small number of genes linked to cancer resistance, DNA damage repair, and increased longevity.
New role for proteins
A study published in Science showed evidence that a protein partially assembles another protein without genetic instructions. Defying textbook science, amino acids (the building blocks of a protein) can be assembled by another protein and without genetic instructions.
The fight against HIV and AIDS took a huge step forward in 2015 when researchers at the Scripps Research Institute developed a vaccine that was incredibly effective against HIV-1, HIV-2, and simian immunodeficiency virus. The key difference here is the new HIV vaccine actually alters DNA to fight off the virus rather than injecting a weakened form into the body so the immune system can learn to fight it. The research is still in the early stages, but the results thus far are extremely promising and if they continue to be, HIV treatment will become far simpler.
Brain imaging may help predict future behavior
A review article published in the journal Neuron described a number of recent studies showing that brain imaging can help predict a person’s future learning, criminality, health-related behaviors, and response to drug or behavioral treatments. The technology may offer opportunities to personalize educational and clinical practices.
First contracting human muscle grown in a laboratory
In a laboratory first, Duke researchers have grown a human skeletal muscle that contract and responds just like native tissue towards external stimuli, such as electrical pulses, bio chemical signals and pharmaceuticals. The lab grown tissue should soon allow researchers to test new drugs and study disease in functioning human muscles outside the human body.