/Science’s big leaps in last 10 years (via Qpute.com)

Science’s big leaps in last 10 years (via Qpute.com)

It often feels as if the pace of modern life has led to a much more hectic world. This is true in the sciences as well as everyday living. Major breakthroughs abound and the 2010s demonstrate this vividly.

The last decade has seen several major advances in physics. One of the world’s largest scientific instruments was brought online. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN consists of a 27-kilometre tunnel housing hundreds of superconducting magnets capable of carrying pulses of protons at speeds approaching the speed of light.

It smashes the particles together with enough energy to release the particles governing the forces of nature. Specifically, the LHC was searching for the Higgs Boson and in 2012, the ATLAS detector provided evidence of the particle for the first time. The Higgs Boson is part of the mechanism which gives rise to mass.

In 2016, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected the distant collision of two black holes by observing the rippling distortions the collision produced in spacetime. The instrument validated Einstein’s theory of gravity and has opened up a whole new area of gravitational wave astronomy. It has been joined by the Virgo observatory in Italy and a LIGO observatory is planned for India. We have now detected over 50 gravitational wave events generated by either colliding black holes or neutron stars.

This year, we got the first glimpse of a black hole. By utilizing radio telescopes in different parts of the world, astronomers were able to piece together an image of the supermassive black hole and its shadow in the centre of the galaxy M87. The results confirm the calculations of German physicist Karl Schwarzschild building on Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Furthermore, it provides additional evidence that there may be a black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

Yes, we may all be circling our way around a giant cosmic drain!

But the past decade hasn’t been just about physics. Computing has advanced by leaps and bounds. Quantum computing may be on the verge of becoming a reality. At the heart of these machines is quantum entanglement – the idea that once two sub-atomic particles engaged in a quantum state with one another, they remain entangled permanently. This means multiple q-bits reflect each other’s state in a way which allows for values other than just zero and one. In effect, instead of having binary computation, it is a probability computer. The resulting machine is capable of doing certain calculations very much faster than ordinary machines and brings us one step closer to truly thinking machines as the human brain employs much of the same architecture albeit not at a quantum level.

Another major advance in computing has been AI and machine-learning. For good or for bad, computational power has been brought to bear on a wide variety of problems which were once thought to be the purview of humans. For example, AIs are as good as – if not better – at reading mammograms and detecting the early traces of breast cancer. AIs are also able to analyze the cutting pattern for logs in a saw mill at a speed no human can match. There are numerous AI programs now capable of beating humans at chess and more recently the world champion at go. And we have AIs able to drive cars.

The past decade has also seen major advances in biology and biochemistry. We are now able to sequence the genome of any living creature – and we are learning much about the relationship between genes and their manifestation in physical characteristics. Not as much as the hype would have us believe. For example, there is no single gene governing intelligence or athleticism. But the source of some genetic diseases have been identified. And the development of CRISPR-Cas9 holds out the promise of being able to alter the DNA of afflicted individuals.

Gene editing is not without its risks. Inherent dangers arise from the possibility of unexpected consequences. An attempt to fix one gene might result in the unanticipated modification of another. But rewriting the human genome has already been attempted and we will now have to wait to see the results.

Perhaps the most dominant scientific endeavours of the past decade have been around climate change. We now know the models scientists have been developing for the past 50 years have been validated. Their predictions of 20 years ago have been shown to be consistent with the modern world. Further research over the past decade is refining the models and bringing us a better understanding of the potential future we face.

Unfortunately, in the past decade, the science has not had the impact on the politics of the planet. Perhaps the next decade will see us finally get on with addressing the problems before we pass the tipping point.

.(tagsToTranslate)news(t)Large Hadron Collider(t)Higgs Boson(t)Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory(t)Karl Schwarzschild(t)Milky Way(t)CRISPR-Cas9(t)Prince George(t)News

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