2014 – what happened and what did we learn?

2014 summary review digital

How was 2014 for you? Here’s my annual round-up of exciting developments in various fields of science, set against some of the major stories in world news from each month. Click any of the links or the images to find out more!

 

January

January 2014 single molecule LED

Science 1: A new machine by Illumina, inc has developed a machine which accurately sequence a whole human genome for just $1000 each. The first genome took $3 billion! Cheap access to our individual genomes opens up huge possibilities for personally tailored medicine. (link)

Science 2: Researchers develop an LED made from just one molecule in a spectacular feat of miniaturisation. (link)

World News: Egyptians vote with a 98% majority (39% turnout) on a new constitution which gives more rights to women and disabled people, permits “absolute” freedom of religion and gives more power to the military which overthrew Islamist dictator Muhammad Morsi last year. (link)

 

February

February 2014 Shaun White at the Sochi Olympics

Science 1: Synthetic nanomotors have been placed inside living cells and steered around magnetically. With tighter control, nanomotors might be used for microsurgery or drug delivery. (link)

Science 2: A 4.4 billion year old fragment of zircon found in Western Australia has been confirmed as the oldest scrap of the Earth’s crust. A crystal this old implies that Earth’s crust solidified much earlier than previously thought. (link)

World News: Winter Olympic Games take place in Sochi, Russia, amidst initial fears over the safety of LGBT people and concerns over political tensions in neighbouring Ukraine, which broke out towards the end of the month. (link + link)

 

March

March 2014 woolly mammoth clone

Science 1: Biomedical engineers create a fully biodegradable battery that could be used for medical implants inside the body which monitor vital signs or dispense therapies. (link)

Science 2: A 43,000 year old frozen mammoth carcass has yielded enough high quality DNA to provide a “high chance” of successful cloning and therefore resurrection of the species… if a satisfactory scientific purpose for doing so is ever decided upon. (link)

World News: Flight MH370 utterly disappears somewhere during its scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpar to Beijing. Missing. Nine months later, no trace of the Boeing 777 aircraft or its 239 passengers and crew has been found. (link)

 

April

April 2014 artist's impression of the view from an exomoon

Science 1: Evidence for what might be the first moon orbiting an exoplanet has been found, highlighting the ever-increasing sensitivity of detection techniques which help us find planets many lightyears away. (link)

Science 2: Despite its obvious importance to our continued survival, the molecular workings of mammalian fertilisation are still pretty mysterious. This month a protein called Juno was reported. Juno is found on sperm surfaces and is vital for allowing the sperm to recognise and bind to eggs. (link)

World News:  Kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria for forced conversion and use as cooks and sex slaves by militant Islamist group Boko Haram, whose name means “Western Education is Forbidden”. (link)

 

May

May 2014 massive titanosaur dinosaur

Science 1: The largest dinosaur every discovered was unearthed in Argentina. The currently unnamed species of titanosaur would have weighed as much as 14 African elephants. (link)

Science 2: Scientists in the Netherlands show it’s possible to instantaneously transfer data by quantum teleportation over 3 metres (10 ft) with a zero percent error rate. They are working on ever-larger distances. (link)

World News:  Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is found guilty of corruption and abuse of power, and is forced out of office after months of mass protest since November 2013. (link)

 

June

June 2014 Tesla roadster charging from a standard outlet

Science 1: The cause of the worrying global decline of bees becomes clearer as a huge examination of scientific studies draws a conclusion that pollution from neonicotidoid pesticides are at least partially responsible. (link)

Science 2: Electric car maker Tesla Motors opened up its patents “for the advancement of electric vehicle technology” in the hopes it will stimulate development in this alternative, potentially more environmentally-friendly mode of travel. (link)

World News: Japan’s parliament moves to ban possession of child pornography, which was previously legal. (link)

 

July

July 2014 60m diameter sinkhole discovered in Siberia

Science 1: A giant hole in the Earth was discovered in a remote part of Siberia. In November, scientists made the 35 metre descent to learn more about its origins. While some speculated meteorites might be responsible , they seem to have actually been formed by underground explosions of some sort. (link + link)

Science 2: Fabien Cousteau and two crew members completed “Mission 31”, where they spent 31 continuous days living underwater and collecting scientific data, a record length of time for a film crew . Given that we know more about the surface of distant planets than we do about what’s going on under the surface of our own, the information gained from missions like these are of huge scientific importance. (link)

World News: The second Malaisian Airline aircraft to make the headlines this year, flight MH17, was shot down over Ukrainian airspace. Investigation is still underway but pro-Russian separatists are thought to be responsible. All 283 passengers and 15 crew died. (link)

 

August

August 2014 self-organising kilobot swarm

Science 1:  Researchers from Harvard present kilobots, a 1000-strong robot swarm which give an impressive demonstration of an artificial hivemind. Communicating using relatively simple rules, the bots self-organise to form complex shapes and patterns. In the future they may be used as efficient search-and-rescue machines or to model real animal swarms. (link)

Science 2: Emotions have always been tricky for computers, as recognising them follows complex and often unintuitive sets of rules. By developing new ways of “teaching” emotions to computers, a program has been developed which recognises a typed emotional state correctly up to 87% of the time. (link)

World News:  Shooting of an unarmed black civilian Mike Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Being one of many similar cases in recent years for the USA, it sparked discussion and protest about racial tensions and police brutality in Ferguson and the USA overall. The policeman responsible was let off without a trial. (link)

 

September

September 2014 Dendrogramma enigmata new category of life

Science 1: India sends an orbiter to Mars, making it the first country to achieve this feat on the first attempt. (link)

Science 2: An entirely new type of life was found in the ocean off Australia. While casually resembling mushrooms, Dendrogramma enigmata and discoida have been placed in the animal kingdom but couldn’t be categorised any further than that. (link)

World News: Scotland votes “No” to Scottish independence, with a record high turnout of 84.5%. (link)

 

October

October 2014, the first baby to be born to a women with a transplanted womb

Science 1: The first baby to come from a mother with a transplanted womb was born in Sweden this month. The baby boy was born premature but healthy and is still doing well. (link)

Science 2:  The invention of the elusive blue LED, understanding how we learn where we are and developments of the new field of nanoscopy were celebrated this month in the award of the 2014 Nobel Prizes in Physics, Physiology / Medicine and Chemistry. (link)

World News: Ebola, which had already claimed more than 2000 lives across West Africa, spreads beyond the region with the infection of a Spanish nurse. She recovered, but concerns grow. (link)

 

November

November 2014 Philae lander on the surface of comet 67/P, the first ever comet landing mission

Science 1:  Philae leaves its mother spacecraft Rosetta and makes the first ever landing on a comet. Philae ended up  at the base of a cliff after bouncing hundreds of metres into the air after initial touchdown. It performed some fascinating new science before being put into possibly permanent hibernation. Rosetta is still going strong. (link)

Science 2: Mutated Ras proteins are found in over a third of all cancer cases, and can cause particular problems when they move from inside the cell to the membrane. A new drug and treatment strategy to stop this happening was announced this month. (link)

World News: Indian state-run sterilisation clinics result in death of 13 women, caused by squalid conditions and negligence from lack of proper resources. (link)

 

December

December 2014 3D haptic shape that can be felt in midair

Science 1: Haptic technology, which includes virtual objects you can touch and feel, and most likely going to be big news in the next few years. Using ultrasound to create visible air disturbances, researchers at Bristol University have created floating shapes which you can interact with in mid-air. (link)

Science 2: The first functional enzyme was created using XNA, a synthetic alternative to DNA and RNA. This massively changes the way we think about life, showing that DNA is far from the only possible blueprint to existence. (link)

World News:  A report on the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists reveals “brutal and ineffective” torture which the CIA repeatedly covered up with lies. Waterboarding, extended sleep deprivation and rectal feeding were among the procedures used. (link)


Honestly, that last entry was a tough one to end on. The world in 2014 has not been trouble-free, and not all developments have been positive. As exciting and empowering as all these scientific developments can be, humanity is still learning lessons (or not) about how to get along. Anyway, now 2014 is all but wrapped up, here’s to a happy and science-filled 2015!

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