Here are some of the biggest scientific developments that took place in 2022, including a breakthrough in nuclear fission energy technology as well as the “revived” dead pigs. The 5 biggest scientific breakthroughs of 2022: Fusion energy, ‘life after death’, and more.
- 1 Fusion energy breakthrough promises future of clean energy
- 2 Large hadron collider gets back into action, producing almost immediate results
- 3 “Baby wormhole” simulated in a quantum computer
- 4 “Reversing death” by reviving pig cells
- 5 Synthetic mouse embryo develops a beating heart
- 6 Scientists Revive 48,500-Year-Old Virus
A big advance in nuclear fusion technology in the United States provided a glimpse of a future in which a renewable, clean, and near-limitless source of energy may be possible. This accomplishment rounded off an amazing year for science, which saw many scientific breakthroughs that promise to change the course of humankind and our comprehension of the universe. Here are five of the most significant scientific advancements that occurred this year.
Fusion energy breakthrough promises future of clean energy
On Tuesday (December 13), scientists reported that scientists at the Lawrence National Laboratory in California achieved a nuclear fission reaction that produced more energy than was necessary to start it. This is a significant advancement in the discipline. Nuclear fusion energy accounts for nearly all of the energy on the earth. Many of the energy sources we are familiar with, from food to fossil fuels, may be traced back to nuclear fission events that occur in the Sun. However, we are still years, if not decades, away from perfecting the process ourselves.
The energy used in conventional nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons is derived from a nuclear fission process in which the nucleus of an atom, usually Uranium, is divided into two separate nuclei, resulting in massive amounts of energy.
Nuclear fusion is a process in which two nuclei fuse together to generate a single heavier nucleus. When this occurs, the mass of the new heavier nucleus is less than the sum of the separate nuclei, implying that some mass is lost. Einstein’s most famous equation, E=MC^2, shows how this mass is turned into a significant amount of energy.
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Large amounts of energy are released during both fission and fusion reactions, however the latter generates significantly more energy than the former. For instance, the nuclear fusion of two heavier hydrogen isotope nuclei will result in four times as much energy as uranium atom fission.
If nuclear fission energy were to be made commercially available, it would provide a clean, renewable energy source that will aid in the battle against climate change and avoid producing the wide range of radioactive waste that fission energy reactors are notorious for. Since it is difficult to sustain the conditions necessary for fusion reactions to occur, the technology still has a long way to go before it is a practical alternative source of energy. As a result, the technology is presently only being tested for fusion reactions that last only a few minutes.
Large hadron collider gets back into action, producing almost immediate results
The world’s largest particle accelerator, the large hadron collider (LHC), reopened in April after a three-year break for maintenance and modifications. This marked the start of the LHC’s third run, during which researchers will gather data from a record number of particle collisions occurring at unprecedented energy levels.
The LHC did not take long after restarting to provide stunning new science. CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) reported the finding of three new unusual particles—a new pentaquark and two new tetraquarks—using the particle accelerator in July of this year.
“The newly-discovered pentaquark is still a baryon, but with the three quarks, it has an extra pair consisting of a quark and an anti-quark. The two tetraquarks are within the family of mesons, but instead of having pairs of quarks and anti-quarks, it has two pairs of quarks. These states were predicted in the nominal quark model introduced in the sixties, but these states were not found until now,” said Nicola Neri, a senior member of the LHCb (LHC beauty) experiment.
During its third run, the LHC’s unprecedented number of collisions will enable scientists from around the globe to examine the Higgs boson particle in considerable detail, while also subjecting the “Standard model of particle physics” through its most stringent testing yet.
“Baby wormhole” simulated in a quantum computer
Wormholes have remained a speculative science fiction concept since they were initially postulated by Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen in 1935. Wormholes, also known as Einstein-Rosen bridges, are theoretical constructions with two ends at separate places in space-time. This tunnel could connect two sites separated by huge or small distances, or two points in time.
Now, scientists have taken wormholes from the worlds of “Interstellar” and “Star Trek” and brought them into our own. Well, sort of. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) built two simulated black holes in a quantum computer and conveyed a message between them, thereby constructing a space-time tunnel.
While the scientists did not produce a physical rift in space and time, it looked that a traversable wormhole was formed using quantum information “teleported” utilizing quantum codes on the quantum computer.
“There’s a difference between something possible in principle and possible in reality. So don’t hold your breath about sending your dog through the wormhole. But you have to start somewhere. And I think it’s exciting that we can get our hands on this at all,” said Fermilab physicist and study co-author Joseph Lykken to Reuters, at the time.
While it will be a good amount of time before we can send a person, or even their dog, via a wormhole, this discovery represents a significant step forward. Scientists have long sought a deeper understanding of these wormholes, and this new study will aid in their efforts.
“Reversing death” by reviving pig cells
The search for immortality is as old as time, dating back to the Greek legendary hero Achilles and the Hindu mythological figure Hiranyakashipu, who was slain by Narasimha. However, new evidence published in the journal Nature in August by Yale scientists challenges the concept of immortality.
According to the New York Times, scientists utilized a device similar to the heart-lung machines used in hospitals to pump a custom-made solution called OrganEx into the bodies of dead pigs. As the machine began to circulate the solution through the cadavers’ veins and arteries, the brain, heart, liver, and kidney cells reactivated. In addition, unlike usual dead bodies, the cadavers never stiffened.
Despite the fact that the presumably dead cells appeared to be rejuvenated, the pigs were not conscious. While this experiment was far from immortality or reversing death, it raised crucial issues regarding the scientific divide between life and death.
One of the researchers’ key goals is to improve the supply of human organs for transplantation in the future by allowing doctors to receive viable organs long after a patient has died. They also hope that this technology will be utilized to avoid serious damage to organs such as the heart following a big heart attack or the brain following a stroke.
Researchers employed an OrganEx solution that included nutrition, anti-inflammatory medications, chemicals to prevent cell death, and, curiously, nerve blockers—substances that suppress the firing of neurons and prevent the pigs from recovering awareness.
But what if the remedy lacked nerve blockers? Would the pigs’ brains be rejuvenated, effectively reanimating them from death? These are the questions that the researchers have yet to address. However, in addition to the technical hurdles, any research in this path will be burdened by numerous ethical problems.
Synthetic mouse embryo develops a beating heart
The University of Cambridge and Caltech developed an artificial embryo without utilizing any sperm or egg cells in a technological advance that will make you wonder what life is all about. According to the University of Cambridge, the embryo made from mouse stem cells grew a brain, a beating heart, and the building blocks for every other organ in the body.
The master cells in the body, or stem cells, can differentiate into practically any form of cell. The scientists controlled three different types of stem cells seen in early mammalian development until they started interacting, simulating the natural processes that take place at conception. They managed to get the stem cells to communicate with one another by creating a special environment for their interactions.
As a result, the stem cells organized themselves into structures and advanced through developmental stages so that the embryos had beating hearts, the brain’s building blocks, and the yolk sac, which provides nutrition to the embryos in the first few weeks. The embryos created by the researchers reached the stage where the full brain started to develop, unlike other synthetic embryos created in the past.
“Our mouse embryo model develops not only a brain, but also a beating heart, all the components that make up the body. It’s unbelievable that we’ve got this far. This has been the dream of our community for years, and a major focus of our work for a decade, and finally we’ve done it,” said Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, corresponding author of a research article published in the journal Nature.
Although the research was done on mice, the researchers believe the technology can be used to the development of certain human organ types. They are better able to comprehend vital organ development processes thanks to this research, which is not possible with actual human embryos. In the UK and other nations, the “14-day rule” prohibits the study of human embryos under laboratory conditions.
But more research into this field might eventually enable the development of particular human organs that can be generated in labs using stem cells and then transplanted into patients.
Scientists Revive 48,500-Year-Old Virus
An international team of experts has resurrected what they claim to be the oldest virus ever resurrected. The scientists revived a 48,500-year-old virus.