Top 20 Biggest Scientific Discoveries of the Decade

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Top 20 Biggest Scientific Discoveries of the Decade

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
These discoveries truly prove that the future is NOW! For this list, we'll be looking at the most groundbreaking, inspiring and notable discoveries, inventions, achievements and breakthroughs in various fields of science from 2010 through 2019. What do YOU think is the biggest breakthrough of the 2010's? Let us know in the comments!
Transcript
Script written by Michael Wynands

Top 20 Biggest Scientific Discoveries of the Decade


Well, we’ve certainly come a long way! Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 20 Biggest Scientific Discoveries of the Decade.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most groundbreaking, inspiring and notable discoveries, inventions, achievements and breakthroughs in various fields of science from 2010 through 2019.


#20: The First Image of a Black Hole

Space inspires creatives and scientists alike. But of the many strange and wondrous things that make up the universe, black holes are without a doubt among the most captivating. And in 2019, after over a century of theories pointing towards their existence, a black hole was finally caught on camera. The Event Horizon Telescope, an international collaboration made up of eight radio telescopes from around the world, revealed a black hole larger than our own solar system at the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy, over 50 million lightyears away. This image is the end result of over a decade of effort and is an accomplishment that many once believed to be impossible - even within the scientific community.



#19: Pushing the Limits of Reproduction

While reproductive science can be a very controversial area of research, there are also so many potential benefits from greater knowledge. In 2016, a child was conceived not from two adults, but three; the sperm came from a man, while an egg’s nucleus and another egg were from two separate women. The purpose? To circumvent the mother’s neurological disorder called Leigh syndrome, which had claimed the lives of two previous children. Elsewhere, scientists have laid the groundwork to create human sperm and eggs from nothing but blood and skin cells. Last but not least, 2019 saw the successful cloning of macaque monkeys using the “Dolly method”.



#18: Progress Towards Artificial Brains

It’s long been featured in works of science fiction, but soon… it could become a reality. In 2014, IBM unveiled TrueNorth, a computer chip consisting of 4,096 processor cores that emulates the human brain’s approach to encoding and managing information. Though it’s just a stepping stone, TrueNorth already has potential real-world applications, with progress in predicting seizures. In 2016, IBM once again outdid itself when it unveiled artificial phase-change neurons, and the company shows no signs of slowing down - especially with ever more competition entering the field. The development of a new superconducting switch in 2018 — which essentially works as an artificial synapse — brings us another step closer to the creation of some forms of artificial brains.


#17: Memory Manipulation in Rodents

In movies and television, characters are always having their memories erased or rewritten with the simple click of a button. Thankfully, that seems impossible, and is likely to remain so for quite some time. However, in 2014, it was announced that two scientists successfully implanted a memory in a mouse. The memory in question (receiving an electric shock when navigating a specific box), though fake, was a clearly traumatizing one for the mouse, and it gave a fear response despite never having lived the aforementioned experience. This breakthrough could bring about all manner of sci-fi shenanigans, but more realistically, it might have major implications in the treatment of PTSD, as well as conditions like Alzeimer’s.


#16: Interstellar Advances

Though this decade has been notably lacking in terms of manned space flights (beyond the International Space Station), it’s nonetheless broadened our spatial horizons in a big way. 2012 saw Voyager 1 traverse the heliosphere to provide unprecedented data from beyond our solar system. This was followed by Voyager 2 in 2018, which, having more of its instruments intact when it crossed the heliopause (the outer perimeter of the heliosphere), gave scientists even more to consider when it comes to magnetic fields, plasma and solar winds. This decade also saw the identification of the fascinating interstellar object hurtling through our solar system, dubbed ‘Oumuamua.


#15: Robot Self-Organization

Is the machine uprising nigh?All jokes aside, robotics and AI are two of the most exciting fields of current study; both are likely to fundamentally change the world as we know it in the decades to come. In 2014, researchers at Harvard broke new ground with a swarm of over a thousand tiny robots capable of working together to form various shapes when prompted. This current application might be modest, but it’s a blueprint and proof of concept that promises big things in the future. With more advanced robots, this model could be applied to anything from emergency response systems and self-driving cars, to major environmental cleanup efforts.



#14: New Targeted Gene Therapy

Around the world, at this very moment, countless scientists are hard at work trying to find solutions to the various diseases and conditions that plague us as a species. Cures are few, far between and hard-fought, but in 2017, the FDA approved something truly miraculous - a treatment for the form of hereditary blindness known as leber congenital amaurosis. It’s a degenerative condition, and so the best results to date have been observed in younger patients, but with just a single gene therapy injection directly into the retina of each eye, the majority of patients see noticeable improvements.


#13: Animal Discoveries

As this past decade has reminded us, while space is undeniably captivating, we’ve still got plenty to learn about our planet’s co-inhabitants. The decade saw the discovery of everything from a bright purple crab to a micro chameleon; and in 2013, we met the olinguito, the first newly discovered carnivorous mammal in the western hemisphere in roughly 35 years. In 2015, biofluorescence was observed in hawksbill sea turtles - making them the first known reptile with bioluminescence. Perhaps most fascinating however, was the 2019 revelation that Visayan warty pigs use tools (and have a great name). More specifically, they pick up pieces of bark or sticks and use it to dig nests for themselves. How cool is that?



#12: Synthetic DNA

DNA governs pretty much everything about life. Think of it as the recipe or blueprint for all living things. Though we’ve been obsessed with DNA for decades, the last decade has seen the scientific community making unprecedented leaps forward in all things DNA-related. And with the creation of synthetic DNA, this research just got way more exciting. DNA naturally consists of four nucleotide molecules labeled A, G, C and T. But a 2017 study showed that it was possible to introduce four new “letters” to create 8-letter DNA, which has been dunned “hachimoji DNA”. In short, science has added new building blocks into the mix. This proves that life can function beyond the four bases naturally occuring on earth, opening the door to big discussions about the nature of life.


#11: External Wombs

Much time, money and energy goes into research that seeks to extend our lives or improve human health. But this decade has also seen a serious push to develop viable alternatives in the form of artificial replacement body parts. A 3D-printed tibia bone was successfully surgically implanted in a patient in 2017, and organs don’t seem very far behind. One of the most uniquely compelling man-made technologies that has been developed over the last decade is the artificial womb. In 2017, researchers were able to successfully develop a lamb in a “biobag”, and it’s believed that the technology can be used to save babies born prematurely.


#10: Discovering the Building Blocks of Life Beyond Earth

Much to the disappointment of alien enthusiasts, another decade has come and gone without the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life. Be that as it may, various off-planet findings did provide ample cause to hope. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, probed by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, was found to have the essential building blocks of life, including amino acids. This has caused much speculation about the origins of life on earth, and that crucial initial material may have originated elsewhere. Furthermore, NASA confirmed the presence of organic compounds in the water vapors of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, which has further bolstered the hypothesis that life could exist below the planet’s icy crust in the liquid ocean below.


#9: The Rise of Artificial Intelligence

Once, not so long ago, we spoke of artificial intelligence as if it were a concept limited to the distant future and works of science fiction. But in reality, we’re already living in the age of AI. In 2016, the Google AI program, AlphaGo (which is part of DeepMind) bested the world champion of Go in 4 out of 5 matches. It’s a testament to the very real potential of computer learning, not to mention the superior processing power of artificial intelligence compared to the human brain. And this is by no means a one-off. Over the past decade, various AI programs have been beating some of the world’s top players in a variety of games, including poker, jeopardy and even Starcraft II!



#8: Combating Major Diseases

There are few viruses more infamous than ebola. When there’s an outbreak, the effects are deadly and devastating - especially when the local people have inadequate access to medical treatment. In 2015 however, a field trial of a vaccine was hugely successful. In 2019, the vaccine was officially approved in Europe, with the American Food and Drug Administration soon following suit in mid-December of the same year. The Ebola vaccine wasn’t the only breakthrough of its kind however; we also saw the rollout of a malaria vaccine that also performed well in trial applications, as well as major improvements in HIV prevention and treatment both in America and around the world.



#7: Rocket Science

NASA gets a lot of flack for not doing more manned missions to space, but the simple reality is… the numbers don’t add up. At least not with the current tech. The cost of sending people into space and getting them home safely is astronomical. SpaceX, however, has developed reusable rockets which will hopefully make space travel far more affordable heading into the next decade. In December of 2015, after a few failed attempts, SpaceX achieved its goal by successfully landing the craft in an upright position. In 2017, they achieved another milestone by reusing a recovered orbital class rocket booster. And with the launch of the Crew Dragon ship in 2019, commercial space travel looks set to become a reality sooner rather than later.



#6: Dating Some of the World’s Oldest Art

These cave drawings might not set new standards for realism, but when you consider their age, they certainly are mind-blowing. Discovered in the Maros Caves on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi decades ago, these works of ancient art have finally been properly dated, as having been produced nearly 40,000 years ago, and can now be counted amongst the oldest known works of art found anywhere on Earth. Much of the images have been worn away by the passage of time, but rough outlines of hands and animal illustrations remain. In terms of age, they’re rivalled only by the Chauvet Caves paintings of southern France discovered in 1994, and their identification forces us to reevaluate the history of human development in relation to representational art around the world.


#5: Filling Out the Human Family Tree

The theory of evolution scored a number of big wins over the past 10 years. The decade kicked off in 2010 with the discovery of Australopithecus sediba, a newly discovered species of hominid that lived 2 million years ago. That same year, DNA was extracted from a tiny pinky bone that revealed a genome of an entirely new branch of ancient human relatives, the Denisovans. Much like neanderthals are seen as a cousin to the direct ancestors of humans, the Denisovans are yet another distinct offshoot that went extinct. Throughout the decade, various other human species have been uncovered, including Homo naledi and Homo luzonensis, adding two more distinct faces to an already complex family tree.




#4: The Beginning of the CRISPR Era

As previously discussed this decade has been an especially exciting one for anyone interested in DNA. Not only did researchers manage to create synthetic DNA, but with the CRISPR-Cas9 system, a tool can effectively be used to edit DNA. We’re just beginning to explore possible applications, but in theory, there are too many to count. In 2018, twins in China were illegally and unethically genetically-modified as embryos to attempt to make them immune to HIV. But possibilities include disease resistance, reverse engineering extinct species, cures to various genetic illnesses and the ability to create more durable crops. For those who look to works of science fiction as a roadmap to the future, CRISPR is being heralded as the key to mastering humanity’s genetic destiny.



#3: Kepler-452b

Our search for life beyond planet earth has taken on many forms, but arguably the most promising approach has been in identifying potentially habitable planets, those with earth-like characteristics that could theoretically have given rise to intelligent life. Throughout the decade, we’ve found thousands of new exoplanets beyond our solar system, but arguably the most exciting is Kepler-452b, which is arguably the closest to an “earth-twin” discovered to date. It’s been said that, if we could reach it, which is unlikely with 1,400 light-years separating us, life there would be possible — though given the extreme gravity, colonists living there would experience notable physiological changes over time, including changes in bone strength.



#2: Detecting the First Gravitational Waves

Like black holes, gravitational waves have been the subject of much theorization dating back over a century, but it wasn’t until 2015 that their existence was finally confirmed. Gravitational waves are ripples caused by the movement of objects with sufficient mass through space. And that’s exactly what the LIGO and Virgo observatories in America and Europe were able to observe directly, for the first time, following what has been identified as the distant collision of two black holes. What does this mean? Well, for starters, it’s the long overdue confirmation of an element of Einstein's Theory of Relativity that even Einstein himself doubted. More importantly, however, gravitational waves are a measurable force that allows us to explore and understand previously unfathomable depths of space.



#1: Tracking Down the Higgs Boson

As with our previous entry, there’s something especially satisfying about a scientific discovery that has been long in the making. First theoretically predicted by Peter Higgs and François Englert in 1964, the Higgs boson (also known as the God Particle) was finally scientifically proven to be fact in 2012 using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. And with the successful identification of this subatomic particle, the scientific community got a much clearer and definite picture of reality as we know it - a confirmation of why matter has mass. In the case of the standard model of particle physics, the Higgs boson was THE missing piece. Now onwards to the next decade of discoveries!



Trivia:
In what year was Dolly the sheep cloned?

1987

1996 (correct)

1999

2003



The hominid species known as Denisovans are named after who?

The explorer Nikolai “Denis” Ovodov

Russian Prince Denislav Olagorik

An 18th century hermit named Denis (correct)

The scientist Johannes “Denis” Krause



Peter Higgs came up with the concept of the Higgs boson elementary particle in conjunction with his research partner, Johann Boson.

(False)
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