BOSTON (December 21, 2018) – As 2018 winds down, the Museum of Science, Boston has looked back on the year’s game-changing science and technology news and compiled its list of the Top 10 Science Stories of 2018. From animals that can teach us a thing or two about growing old gracefully to ethics in the brave new world of Artificial Intelligence, 2018 has been a year of groundbreaking scientific discoveries and achievements.
The list has been compiled by educators at the Museum of Science who report the latest science news daily to visitors as part of a series of live presentations.
According to Susan Heilman, Senior Education Associate, Current Science & Technology Center at the Museum of Science, 2018 was a year full of incredible scientific advancement across a wide variety of STEM fields. “The remarkable thing about science is that we are in a constant mode of discovery and there are always breakthroughs to learn from. Our team looks forward to the many advances that are sure to make headlines in the New Year.”
With each incredible breakthrough and discovery, big and small, scientists open up a new world of questions to answer and theories to be explored. Read the Museum of Science’s top ten science stories of 2018-plus an honorable mention- below:
- #10 Naked Mole Rats
- Unlike their human counterparts, the mortality of naked mole rats does not increase with age. While they are not immortal, these rat-like creatures don’t die of old age or experience age-related diseases. Scientists want to learn more about these rodents who seem to have found the Fountain of Youth and explore how we may someday extend human lifespans by understanding their biology.
- #9 Data and Privacy
- Our personal data was under attack as an inherent flaw in the high-performing, super-fast processing microchips, found in just about every electronic gadget from computers to smartphones and everything in between. The technology that makes these microchips so fast is exactly what makes them vulnerable to data breaches – with 1.9 billion assaults on our personal information documented in 2018 alone. Just how will we protect our privacy in 2019?
- #8 Ancient Human Populations
- DNA sequenced from a 90,000-year-old female hominin (the family of primates that includes humans) revealed that her mother was a Neanderthal and her father was a Denisovan (another human relative). This further confirms that the discrete species groups we used to think existed between our ancient ancestors are, in reality, much blurrier.
- #7 Artificial Intelligence and Ethics
- How do you teach Artificial Intelligence to make ethical decisions in self-driving cars? To make AI responsive and more realistic, the answers to forty million survey questions were tallied to determine how humans would react to a variety of situations. This data was used to program autonomous vehicles. Now that they have eliminated the need for a driver behind the wheel, let’s hope that researchers can figure out how to jettison backseat drivers.
- #6 Microplastics in the Environment
- Microplastics have been found everywhere we have looked: seawater, fresh water, bottled water, beer, soil, air, and in most of the organisms that live in these environments, including humans. Though we know the impact that microplastics have on animals in the wild, we still don’t know the long-term effects on human health, which begs the question – when will we?
- #5 Spinal Implant Restores Mobility
- Three paralyzed individuals made headlines when electrical stimulation devices implanted in their spines helped them regain the ability to walk. This breakthrough technology, which was designed to send signals through the network of neurons that control movement, marks a major advance for those coping with mobility issues and paralysis.
- #4 Exploring the Sun Up Close
- The Parker Solar Probe is exploring the sun, its many layers and mysteries, including why the corona is 100 times hotter than the surface. This revolutionary, high-speed spacecraft will make dozens of flybys, getting closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history. The Parker Solar Probe will help scientists learn more than ever before about our solar system.
- #3 Seeing Inside Living Cells
- A new frontier in biological imaging has been reached. Scientists can now look inside cells within living organisms, in real time, to gain a better understanding of biological functions.
- #2 Falcon Heavy’s Maiden Flight
- SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, from innovator and entrepreneur Elon Musk, has proven to be the most powerful rocket in over forty years. In 2018, the rocket, which was designed to carry humans, had a successful test flight. The power and reusability of the rocket could mean an increase in the rate at which we explore the solar system, leading to a greater understanding of outer space.
- #1 Our Warming Planet
- Climate change is the most important science story of our time. Every day, every season, every year, we see the effects of climate change increasingly in our lives, from drought, to wildfires and extreme weather of all kinds. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report looks at a number of impacts of climate change that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C, or more, including a smaller increase in sea level rise and less of a decline in live coral reefs.
To help round out the list, the Museum team included an honorable mention. Staffers were intrigued by the story of an eight-year-old Swedish girl who retrieved a long, rusty sword from Vidostern Lake, near her family’s home. Archaeologists from a nearby museum believe the sword dates back to the 5th or 6th century AD, estimating that it is approximately 1,500 years old and from a pre-Viking age. The young girl’s incredible find led scientists to further explore this lake, where they later found a broach from the same time period.
About the Museum of Science, Boston
One of the world's largest science centers and New England's most attended cultural institution, the Museum introduces more than 1.4 million visitors a year to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) through the world-class hands-on exhibits, programs and pre-K-12 curricula of its William and Charlotte Bloomberg Science Education Center. An extraordinary variety of learning experiences span the Hall of Human Life, Thomson Theater of Electricity, Charles Hayden Planetarium, Mugar Omni Theater, Gordon Current Science & Technology Center, 4-D Theater, and Butterfly Garden. The Science Behind Pixar, created with Pixar Animation Studios, is touring internationally. The Museum's National Center for Technological Literacy® has transformed STEM education nationally and internationally through advocacy, standards and assessment reforms, teacher professional development, and curriculum development. The Museum’s pre-K-12 curricula, including its award-winning Engineering is Elementary®, have reached an estimated 18 million students and 185,000 educators. Visit: http://www.mos.org.