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From black holes to babies: 2016 in science

9th December 2016 - Last modified 4th October 2017 - 0 comments

Written by William van Grunsven, PhD.

As we’re going into the final weeks of 2016, many of you will be taking a moment to look back at the past year in one way or another. For myself, as a science writer and the newest addition to the Alto team, what better way to reflect than to look at 2016 in science? Here are my choices: the big, the small, the old and the young.

The big – Announced at the beginning of the year and, one could argue, a discovery we’ve been waiting almost 100 years for, the observation of the first gravitational waves brought physics to the front pages. These phenomena, caused by some of the most cataclysmic events in the universe such as colliding black holes, were predicted by Einstein at the beginning of the 20th century, but took some cutting-edge 21st century engineering to detect.

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The small – Proposed earlier this year, the largest ever addition to one of the most recognisable images in chemistry – the periodic table – was confirmed just two weeks ago. Four new unstable, superheavy elements have been named, including the first element to be discovered in Asia, nihonium. The other three – moscovium, tennessine and oganesson – complete the updated table of the famous building blocks of matter.

The old – When did life on earth first emerge? Many scientists expect life to have been around for close to four billion years, but evidence of these early stages in the earth’s development is notoriously hard to come by. In August this year, scientists studying newly-exposed rocks in Greenland discovered what may be the oldest fossil evidence of life on earth. Mats of fossilised microbes – called stromatolites – were found in rocks as old as 3.7 billon years, pushing back the date of the oldest known fossil by almost 300 million years.

The young – What could be more appropriate to represent ‘young’ than a newborn baby? A groundbreaking but controversial achievement was announced with the birth of the first ‘three-parent-baby’. In this technique, the mitochondrial DNA – which sits outside of the nucleus – is provided by a donor. In the future, it has the potential to help couples that are struggling to conceive due to abnormalities in their mitochondrial DNA.

Those are my picks for this year. I’m excited to see what we’ll discover in 2017. And, as always, if you’re wondering how to communicate some of the excellent science going on in your business, that’s what we’re here for. Contact us to find out more.

Written by William van Grunsven, PhD – Scientific Writer 
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