As we step into a new year heavy with anticipation, we can proudly look back and appreciate what the previous one has given us. 2015 was a phenomenal year for scientific progress. Whether astrophysics or anthropology, from discovering planets to uncovering new cures, we have a lot to be thankful for. Science, as they say, is multiplicative; a single step forward paves the way for countless others, all at an astounding rate.
Rejoice, all you science geeks and knowledge nerds, this one is for you. Here is a list of the biggest discoveries of 2015:
5. The new artificial leaf may have made space exploration much simpler
Silk leaf by Julian Melchiorri
When speaking of obstacles faced in space travel, an unsuitable atmosphere probably takes the cake. Imagine how much simpler our job would be, how many billions of dollars we’d save, if we could somehow carry oxygen into space. Julian Melchiorri, a student of the Royal College of Art, has courageously attempted to solve this problem.
This new invention uses water and light to create oxygen. Unlike a normal plant, it doesn’t require more earthly elements like soil and nutrients, which makes it ideal for space exploration. The material used encases chloroplast- which, as we’ve all earned in basic biology, is the food-making organelle in plants. However, as fascinating as this may sound, there has been no test conducted to prove its space efficiency, and it may easily end up forever as a prototype. All we can do now is be patient for more proof of its practicality.
4. Say hello to Homo Naledi, our newest ancestor
John Gurche / Mark Thiessen / National Geographic.
Earlier this September, in a hidden cave in South Africa, excavators discovered a treasure of bones that may have changed evolutionary science as we know it. This revolutionary finding was made in the popular Rising Star cave, a few miles outside Johannesburg, that has been home to a number of archaeological discoveries since 2013.
Not much is known about Homo Naledi yet, except that it has a rather unusual bone structure- with a tiny brain and ape-like shoulders, scientists speculate that it has a more primitive placement in our genealogy. If scientists are correct in this assumption, they will be extending the Homo genus’ timeline by nearly 400,00 years!
3. Doctors grow vocal cords from scratch
Sciepro/Science photo library
One of the more peculiar discoveries of the year, this one, quite literally, gives people their own voice. A number of scientists from the US built a pair of vocal cords from scratch using cells from human donors. These cells were then used to arrange tissue that mimic the flaps of the larynxes, all in an attempt to create a realistic, human-like noise.
This may not seem like a big deal, considering the countless stories of lab-grown tissues floating around on the internet, but it is vital to patients who have lost their speech due to illness or accidents. 2015 saw a boom in the field of tissue regeneration, where various other organs such as windpipes and kidneys were added to the list.
2. Kepler-452b, aka Earth 2.0
Science | News | The Independent
Unless you lived under a rock this past year, it would have been hard to miss this dramatic discovery. While there have been a number of planets found to have potential life-supporting qualities, Kepler-452b stands out as the most ideal candidate should we ever need to vacate the Earth. Except for one tiny glitch- it’s 1400 light-years away.
Kelper-452b was discovered by Nasa’s planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope mission earlier in July. Known as “Earth 2.0”, this planet is located in the Cygnus constellation and orbits the G-Class star, Kepler 452, which, simply put, is too far away to visit, at least in this generation. However, being 60% wider and four times as massive as our planet, it should prove to be quite adequate if we are to ever call it home.
1. Finally, finally, there is proof of water on Mars!
Every once in a while humanity comes across a discovery so profound, so popular, that an entire planet celebrates its revelation. After years of conjecture, scientists at NASA have confirmed the existence of dark streaks of water flowing downhill on Mars’ surface, proven by NASA’s own Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
Unfortunately, the water discovered on our neighbouring planet is what we call “recurrent slope lineae,” which is unlike the water found on Earth. Although this discovery is monumental in its own right, it is simply a stepping stone on the path to a greater mission- finding life outside of our own planet. Definitely the most sensational discovery of 2015, it is a vital ingredient to uncovering the history of the red planet.
All of these wonderful discoveries are just the tip of the iceberg; findings are being made almost daily, and only time will reveal what new paths they have forged for humanity. Until then, we can only hope that will probably, hopefully, benefit us all.