Science

Standout science and technology in 2015

Standout science and technolog...
Advances in brain mapping were among the scientific highlights of 2015, making possible amazing images like this super-close-up reconstructed view of a mouse brain with the synaptic vesicles (little white dots that store neurotransmitters) visible
Advances in brain mapping were among the scientific highlights of 2015, making possible amazing images like this super-close-up reconstructed view of a mouse brain with the synaptic vesicles (little white dots that store neurotransmitters) visible
View 43 Images
Light simultaneously showing both wave pattern and particle energy attributes
1/43
Light simultaneously showing both wave pattern and particle energy attributes
A type of seaweed called Palmaria mollis could be a healthy stand-in for bacon
2/43
A type of seaweed called Palmaria mollis could be a healthy stand-in for bacon
Audi's pilot plant, which is operated by German startup Sunfire in Dresden, produced its first batches of the "e-diesel" in April
3/43
Audi's pilot plant, which is operated by German startup Sunfire in Dresden, produced its first batches of the "e-diesel" in April
In September, researchers at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) claimed to have created the first experimental wormhole that links two regions of space magnetically
4/43
In September, researchers at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) claimed to have created the first experimental wormhole that links two regions of space magnetically
Back in January UC Irvine scientists found a way to unboil an egg
5/43
Back in January UC Irvine scientists found a way to unboil an egg
NASA's New Horizons team reacts to the historic flyby
6/43
NASA's New Horizons team reacts to the historic flyby
An image of Pluto's back-lit surface shot from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 km) by the New Horizons spacecraft
7/43
An image of Pluto's back-lit surface shot from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 km) by the New Horizons spacecraft
Color image of Pluto created by software that combined information from blue, red and near-infrared images snapped by New Horizons, to recreate the scene as viewed by a human eye
8/43
Color image of Pluto created by software that combined information from blue, red and near-infrared images snapped by New Horizons, to recreate the scene as viewed by a human eye
Image displaying a full rotation of Pluto's large moon Charon
9/43
Image displaying a full rotation of Pluto's large moon Charon
Astronaut Bruce McCandless II, STS 41-B mission specialist, participates in a historical spacewalk, the first use of a nitrogen-propelled, hand-controlled device called the Manned Maneuvering Unit
10/43
Astronaut Bruce McCandless II, STS 41-B mission specialist, participates in a historical spacewalk, the first use of a nitrogen-propelled, hand-controlled device called the Manned Maneuvering Unit
Nine Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRB) originating from the nine galaxies has revealed what claimed to be the largest regular formation in the Universe (Credit: L. Balazs)
11/43
Nine Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRB) originating from the nine galaxies has revealed what claimed to be the largest regular formation in the Universe (Credit: L. Balazs)
25 years in orbit: The Hubble Space Telescope, imaged by the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2009
12/43
25 years in orbit: The Hubble Space Telescope, imaged by the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2009
Astronauts work on the International Space Station
13/43
Astronauts work on the International Space Station
The Falcon 9 made history's first controlled landing of an orbital space rocket
14/43
The Falcon 9 made history's first controlled landing of an orbital space rocket
The 3D printed Cool Bricks can be filled with water to bring down temperatures
15/43
The 3D printed Cool Bricks can be filled with water to bring down temperatures
3D-printed synthetic hair
16/43
3D-printed synthetic hair
3D printing technology has enabled a replacement sternum and rib cage customized for a patient
17/43
3D printing technology has enabled a replacement sternum and rib cage customized for a patient
The Shelby Cobra replica 3D-printed by ORNL is designed as a rolling automotive laboratory
18/43
The Shelby Cobra replica 3D-printed by ORNL is designed as a rolling automotive laboratory
Aurora Flight Sciences' high-speed UAV is 80 percent 3D-printed with Stratasys' additive manufacturing solutions
19/43
Aurora Flight Sciences' high-speed UAV is 80 percent 3D-printed with Stratasys' additive manufacturing solutions
The design of an office building that will be constructed using 3D printing technology
20/43
The design of an office building that will be constructed using 3D printing technology
3D-printed jet engine combustor
21/43
3D-printed jet engine combustor
Mushtari's bacteria-filled 3D-printed tubes are coiled into a mass to emulate the construction of the human gastrointestinal tract
22/43
Mushtari's bacteria-filled 3D-printed tubes are coiled into a mass to emulate the construction of the human gastrointestinal tract
The world's first 3D-printed jet engine
23/43
The world's first 3D-printed jet engine
DRC-HUBO robot at the DARPA finals in 2015
24/43
DRC-HUBO robot at the DARPA finals in 2015
DARPA Robotics Challenge winner DRC-HUBO is latest of the "HUmanoid roBOt (HUBO) robots developed by the Korean Institute for Science and Technology
25/43
DARPA Robotics Challenge winner DRC-HUBO is latest of the "HUmanoid roBOt (HUBO) robots developed by the Korean Institute for Science and Technology
040502 is a painting of pigment on paper by the robotic, artificially intelligent painter AARON
26/43
040502 is a painting of pigment on paper by the robotic, artificially intelligent painter AARON
The mother robot at work producing offspring
27/43
The mother robot at work producing offspring
A tiny, cubic millimeter-sized chunk of mouse neocortex studied as a test case for nanoscale brain imaging technology at Harvard University
28/43
A tiny, cubic millimeter-sized chunk of mouse neocortex studied as a test case for nanoscale brain imaging technology at Harvard University
Quantum information has been written onto europium atoms and stored for up to six hours in a prototype quantum hard-drive
29/43
Quantum information has been written onto europium atoms and stored for up to six hours in a prototype quantum hard-drive
Researchers in Australia are developing quantum computers out of silicon
30/43
Researchers in Australia are developing quantum computers out of silicon
A molecule-sized transistor that can control the flow of single electrons could pave the way for the next generation of nanomaterials and miniaturized electronics
31/43
A molecule-sized transistor that can control the flow of single electrons could pave the way for the next generation of nanomaterials and miniaturized electronics
A hybrid supercapacitor combines high power and energy density (Photo: UCLA)
32/43
A hybrid supercapacitor combines high power and energy density (Photo: UCLA)
A diagram of the Lucid Energy hydroelectric pipe system
33/43
A diagram of the Lucid Energy hydroelectric pipe system
The incredibly complex Wendelstein 7-x stellarator
34/43
The incredibly complex Wendelstein 7-x stellarator
The Tesla energy storage system for utilities can be scaled to over 10 MWh
35/43
The Tesla energy storage system for utilities can be scaled to over 10 MWh
Researchers created an on-chip incandescent light source using graphene, making it the world's thinnest light-bulb
36/43
Researchers created an on-chip incandescent light source using graphene, making it the world's thinnest light-bulb
A group of speedy Stuttgart University students broke the EV acceleration record, hitting 100 km/h from a standing start in 1.779 seconds
37/43
A group of speedy Stuttgart University students broke the EV acceleration record, hitting 100 km/h from a standing start in 1.779 seconds
Central Japan Railway Company's high-speed maglev train hit a top speed of 603 km/h (375 mph) in April
38/43
Central Japan Railway Company's high-speed maglev train hit a top speed of 603 km/h (375 mph) in April
Part of the stunning 46 billion pixel vista created by scientists from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum
39/43
Part of the stunning 46 billion pixel vista created by scientists from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Canadian Todd Reichart claimed the world record for human powered speed in september
40/43
Canadian Todd Reichart claimed the world record for human powered speed in september
Xinghe No.1​ set a new record for the longest distance covered by a four-legged robot
41/43
Xinghe No.1​ set a new record for the longest distance covered by a four-legged robot
A painting of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker sculpture by robot painter e-David
42/43
A painting of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker sculpture by robot painter e-David
Advances in brain mapping were among the scientific highlights of 2015, making possible amazing images like this super-close-up reconstructed view of a mouse brain with the synaptic vesicles (little white dots that store neurotransmitters) visible
43/43
Advances in brain mapping were among the scientific highlights of 2015, making possible amazing images like this super-close-up reconstructed view of a mouse brain with the synaptic vesicles (little white dots that store neurotransmitters) visible

The blistering advance of technology we are experiencing in the 21st century is nothing short of mind-boggling, and the rate of change being exponential, 2015 was by definition the busiest year yet. So before the Gregorian calendar keels over into 2016, let's take a wander through some of the year's most significant, salutary and attention-grabbing examples of scientific achievement, technological innovation and human endeavor.

From the lab

Light simultaneously showing both wave pattern and particle energy attributes
Light simultaneously showing both wave pattern and particle energy attributes

It's been over a century since Einstein postulated the wave/particle duality of light, but it wasn't until earlier this year that was directly observed by EPFL researchers, who captured the phenomena by using a sophisticated electron imaging technique.

Across the Atlantic geochemists discovered that life on Earth started hundreds of millions of years earlier than previously thought, engineers figured out how to make 3D objects from the much-vaunted wonder material graphene, and physicists set a new distance record for quantum teleportation of information over optical fibers.

Back in January UC Irvine scientists found a way to unboil an egg
Back in January UC Irvine scientists found a way to unboil an egg

Audi created a stir with the creations of synthetic diesel from just water and carbon dioxide, as did UAB researchers when they created the first experimental wormhole that links two regions of space magnetically. But perhaps the oddest thing to emerge from the lab in 2015 was an unboiled egg, which may or may not go well with a newly discovered strain of seaweed that tastes like bacon.

Getting quite brainy

A tiny, cubic millimeter-sized chunk of mouse neocortex studied as a test case for nanoscale brain imaging technology at Harvard University
A tiny, cubic millimeter-sized chunk of mouse neocortex studied as a test case for nanoscale brain imaging technology at Harvard University

While the ability to fully map the human brain may be some way off, if it's even possible at all, our ability to both understand and imitate its complexities took some serious strides forward in 2015. Examples include the development of a brain imaging tool that can see all of the brain's cellular objects and many of their sub-cellular components, a lab grown "brain organoid" equivalent in size and structure to that of a five-week old fetus, intelligence boosting gene therapy (for mice only at this stage), successfully using brainwaves to help a paralyzed man walk again and an array of new approaches to combating cognitive disorders like Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers in Australia are developing quantum computers out of silicon
Researchers in Australia are developing quantum computers out of silicon

Fifty years after Moore's Law was conceived, there were many advances that could ensure computing power continues to accelerate exponentially, including the use of memresistors to create advanced computers that function like the human brain. News of the first biologically-powered computer chip emerged just this month and the long-sought goal of practical quantum computing also crept closer on several fronts, with breakthroughs such as photonic processors, quantum hard drives and silicon-based quantum logic gates.

Celebrating space

NASA's New Horizons team reacts to the historic flyby
NASA's New Horizons team reacts to the historic flyby

2015 saw a string of stunning achievements in space exploration, but it is most likely to be remembered as the year we got to Pluto – at least, the New Horizons probe did, sending back beautiful, invaluable images and data from the dwarf planet and its moons some 3 billion miles away.

An image of Pluto's back-lit surface shot from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 km) by the New Horizons spacecraft
An image of Pluto's back-lit surface shot from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 km) by the New Horizons spacecraft

Some significant space anniversaries also passed in 2015, namely 25-years since the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope and half a century since the first space walk.

But the biggest thing in space this year was the biggest thing in space – a newly-discovered ring of nine galaxies 7 billion light years away and 5 billion light years wide that covers a third of our sky.

In skies closer to home, the age of commercial space flight rolled on with SpaceX providing the clear highlight by successfully nailing the first landing of an orbital space booster rocket earlier this month.

Read more in our full 2015 space round-up.

Printing the future

The world's first 3D-printed jet engine
The world's first 3D-printed jet engine

While 3D printing had already moved well beyond plastic trinkets, 2015 saw it begin to show its true potential as an industrial process. Perhaps more accurately described as "additive manufacturing" in this context, we saw this process used to create the first 3D-printed jet engine, the first FAA approved jet engine part, and a jet-powered unmanned aerial vehicle that can reach speeds of up to 150 mph (240 km/h). Add in a variety of body parts, including replacement titanium sternum and rib cage, teeth, hair, houses, bricks and cars, and you begin to get the picture of just how far-reaching this technology is set to become.

Mushtari's bacteria-filled 3D-printed tubes are coiled into a mass to emulate the construction of the human gastrointestinal tract
Mushtari's bacteria-filled 3D-printed tubes are coiled into a mass to emulate the construction of the human gastrointestinal tract

Our pick for the most thought-provoking object to emerge from a 3D printer this year is Mushtari – a 3D-printed photosynthetic wearable embedded with living bacteria designed to produce sugars or bio-fuel when exposed to light. Conceived as a kind of living spacesuit, this wearable microbiome would act like an organ system to ingest biomass, absorb nutrients, and then eject waste products when exploring other worlds.

Robots evolve

DRC-HUBO robot at the DARPA finals in 2015
DRC-HUBO robot at the DARPA finals in 2015

Perhaps the most unnerving news from the world of robotics this year came from the University of Cambridge, where researchers created a mother robot that can not only build its own children, but mimic the process of natural selection to improve their capabilities with each generation.

040502 is a painting of pigment on paper by the robotic, artificially intelligent painter AARON
040502 is a painting of pigment on paper by the robotic, artificially intelligent painter AARON

Despite this slightly depressing news, watching the world's most advanced robots struggle to open doors at the DARPA robotics challenge finals does suggest we have a little way to go before robot armageddon strikes – though we shouldn't dismiss that scenario, as we were reminded in July when over 1,000 robotics and artificial intelligence researchers urged the UN to ban on the development of weaponized AI. We also saw the beginnings of another, somewhat surprising element of AI begin to take shape – the creative potential of robots as painters, musicians, architects and storytellers.

High energy

The Tesla energy storage system for utilities can be scaled to over 10 MWh
The Tesla energy storage system for utilities can be scaled to over 10 MWh

This year saw renewable energy overtake coal in the UK's energy mix, Portland install water pipes in that generate their own electricity, the Wendelstein 7-x experimental fusion reactor fire up and solar energy – particularly cheap Perovskite cells – continue to advance, but innovations in the energy storage arena also grabbed our attention at Gizmag. Tesla unveiled its home battery storage system, Daimler and Nissan gave used EV batteries a second lease of life and solar energy and a number of promising new battery technologies made headlines, including lithium-air batteries, flow batteries and energy dense hybrid supercapacitors.

Recorded history

Researchers created an on-chip incandescent light source using graphene, making it the world's thinnest light-bulb
Researchers created an on-chip incandescent light source using graphene, making it the world's thinnest light-bulb

Finally, let's see out the year with a quick look at some of the record-breaking feats that 2015 delivered. The world's thinnest light-bulb was created using (surprise, surprise) graphene, the largest astronomical image of all time – at 46-billion pixels – was complied, a robot walked 83 miles in 54 hours, a maglev train hit 375 mph (603 km/h), Stuttgart University students took an EV from 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in a blistering 1.779 seconds, and a Canadian cyclist clocked 85.71 mph (137.9 km/h) to set a new world record for human-powered speed.

A group of speedy Stuttgart University students broke the EV acceleration record, hitting 100 km/h from a standing start in 1.779 seconds
A group of speedy Stuttgart University students broke the EV acceleration record, hitting 100 km/h from a standing start in 1.779 seconds

Of course, we've only just scratched the surface when it comes to significant moments in science and technology, let alone the biggest news of the year across the many fields that Gizmag covers, so for a closer look at more of the best 2015 had to offer, follow the links below.

Before you go ... we'd like to wish all our readers a happy new year! We very much appreciate the support and feedback you've given us in 2015. Have a safe and innovative 2016!

The best mobile devices of 2015

Our favorite wearables of 2015

The best concept cars of 2015

The top cycling innovations of 2015

Drone technology highlights 2015

The top tiny homes of 2015

The best water toys of 2015

The wildest off-road vehicles of 2015

The best outdoor gear of 2015

Our favorite camping equipment of 2015

The best music gear of 2015

The oddest inventions of 2015

The 25 best iOS apps and games of 2015

The 25 best Android apps and games of 2015

A year in space, 2015

4 comments
Bob Stuart
Has "Einstein" morphed into a collective term for all of his era in physics? He was working on the speed of light, more than its basic nature. See the double-slit experiment.
Grunchy
This is all great stuff, but we still live in an era that includes mysticism, witchcraft, superstition, the supernatural, and religion. I think it's time for people to recognize Hawking and Dawkins (and others) for showing us the leadership by rejecting all of that nonsense. The same like scientists taught us to rejected nonsense undemonstrable concepts, like free energy. We can put these scam artists, like Popoff, Tom Cruise, and the Pope into the same scornful category of disrepute that we regard witch doctors and astrologists with.
habakak
Well said Grunchy! I violently agree.
HensleyBeuronGarlington
Shame such a great article has people bringing up and hating on the beliefs of others. Way to show how far man has come by putting your negative opinions in the comment section of such a great recap of the past year. Not all beliefs in things unseen stump scientific research and our basic need for more understanding about the world around us. Quite the opposite really.