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October 11, 2015 | by  | in Science |
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Science 2015: Year in Review

Online data suggests that in 2015, the number of people worldwide who fucking love science has risen above 22 million. It appears that science is slowly veering away from its reputation as the pimpled Rubik’s Cube player in the room, and towards a vibe more along the lines of “sophisticated man at a whisky bar with an understanding of the world”.

Here at Salient, we’ve had a great time bringing you the sometimes serious, sometimes ridiculous and always last minute, news in science. To conclude our year together, we present to you some of our favourite headlines from science around the globe in 2015.

Large Hard-on Collider

Oops. Typo. That title was meant to read “Large Hadron Collider”. We certainly wouldn’t be trying to make science cool using immature sexual innuendos. But now that we have your attention…

On 5 April the Large Hadron Collider was switched back on after two years of inactivity. The LHC reached peak levels of fame in 2012 with the detection of the Higgs Boson, the subatomic particle credited with giving other particles mass. After its two-year makeover, the LHC got back in the game quickly, smashing particles together at speeds greater than ever before. It wasn’t long before the LHC was back in the news again, this time for the discovery of a new species of sub-atomic particlethe pentaquarkan exotic particle arrangement of five quarks.

Quarks are the most fundamental building blocks known to man, and the six different types have been named by physicists as: up, down, strange, charm, top and bottom. (Note: this has been known to crop up as a question in a Wellington pub quiz). Commonly accepted theory has long suggested that it is the combination of three quarks that make up well known particles such as the proton and neutron, but until July this year, there had been no hard evidence of a five quark combination. Physicists are hoping that the discovery of the pentaquark will yield greater insight into what was happening in the first fractions of a second following the Big Bang.

Hawking Won Hearts and Continued Being Badass

In 2014, women around the world developed a newfound crush on both physics and Stephen Hawking as a result the film The Theory of Everything. In 2015 Hawking surprised many by revoking elements of his previous reservations about searching for extraterrestrial life. In a press conference in London on July 20, Hawking, along with Russian Billionaire Yuri Milner, announced a new $100 million initiative looking for signs of intelligent life. This came as a surprise to many as Hawking has long been vocal with his concerns about the discovery of alien life.

As Hawking said during the press conference, “If you look at history, contact between humans and less intelligent organisms have often been disastrous from their point of view, and encounters between civilisations with advanced versus primitive technologies have gone badly for the less advanced.” He continued to explain that other civilisations could be billions of years ahead of us, and if so, “will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria”. Although these concerns remain entirely valid, Hawking explained in his always beautifully concise manner, that “We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know.”

Pluto, Baby, I’m Sorry—I Want You back

Poor Pluto has been strung around by us on Earth for a number of years now, and 2015 proved no different. Pluto was discovered by in 1930, and spent a period of relative bliss as the smallest planet in our solar system and the ninth planet from the sun, but was demoted from its planetary status in 2006. The rejection came following the discovery of an object located beyond Pluto, which was suspected to be a larger planet; this sparked a discussion about what should classify as a planet, and eventually Pluto was kicked out of the category. However, in July this year, NASA’s New Horizons mission was able to finally answer the question “How big is Pluto?” As it turns out, bigger than we thought in 2006 when we rejected it, and certainly larger than any other known objects in the solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune. Many of us got our hopes up, thinking this could mean Pluto would be welcomed back into the cool kids club; but alas, it wasn’t enough. Although the New Horizon flyby provided some stunningly detailed photographs of the icy planet, Pluto remains a dwarf planet.  

Bacon Seaweed is the New Kale

That kale craze that happened was mental, and although at the moment it appears that Instagramming about pepperoni pizza is on the rise, the long term trends suggest that the health food fad is here to stay. So, what comes next? Well, apparently, bacon-flavoured seaweed.

Scientists at Oregon State University are in the process of cultivating a red algae called dulse, which is packed with more nutrients than kale, yet naturally tastes like bacon. Dulse had been available for human consumption for a long time now, but costs around $200 per kilogram—i.e. more than a basic bitch is willing to spend on a gram-worthy lunch that may or may not crack 100 likes. So it is here that the science teams step in. New strains of the superfood are being developed and patented, which will make the seaweed easily to cultivate with only seawater and sunshine, and without a large ecological footprint.

Real Guys Go for Real Down to Mars Girls

On 28 August six scientists—three men and three women—locked themselves inside an 11-metre-wide dome on a volcano in Hawaii. This is no hula vacation. The team will be in there for an entire year, isolated from the rest of the world in an attempt to simulate the realities of life as a colony on Mars, in preparation for a potential mission in the near future. Plans to establish a human settlement on Mars have been discussed for quite some time now, and this is not the first time Salient has reported on this; however, with NASA’s recent discovery of flowing liquid water on Mars, human life on Mars is looking more feasible than ever.

Yet just days after NASA broke the incredible news that the evidence now strongly suggested the presence of flowing water on Mars, they declared that Mars rover Curiosity would not be able to go near that water to investigate any further. Despite the robot’s fascinating successes to date, there is a high risk that Curiosity is contaminated with microbial matter from Earth. Essentially, although a fantastic scientist, Curiosity hasn’t had a bath for over three years, and a United Nations treaty prevents it from contaminating life-giving water on Mars with bacteria, especially as Mars may be the future home of a number of scientists in as little as 15 years.

I Tried Really Hard Not to Include This One

Salient science works hard to present science in a positive and engaging manner, but sometimes you have to be real, and we’d be lying if we didn’t address the fact that one of the most prominent science issues of 2015 was climate change. Let’s take a look at some of the climate change news from this year.

January 7: a new model suggests that if we want global warming to be kept lower than 2°C this century, then we need to keep over 80% of our coal, 50% of our gas, and 30% of our oil reserves in the ground. May 14: researchers confirm that “strong warming” is already taking place in the upper troposphere. May 15: reports suggest that two large ice shelves in the Antarctic are on the brink of collapse, a threat which could potentially add several centimetres to global sea levels. Today: science columnist Bridget Pyć asks Vic students to please take responsibility for your actions and contributions to sustainability and climate change. You all know what to do.

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