Science The Greatest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2016  

Amy Boal
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Scientific breakthroughs abound! Scientists and researchers all over the globe are constantly making new and exciting discoveries that will continue to change the course of human life on Earth, and 2016 is rich with scientific achievement. The greatest scientific discoveries inspire us to learn more about the world around us and to not just sit back and accept the way things are. Why? Because someone made a glove that stabilizes Parkinson's tremors! And someone else tracked down the mutation that led to multi-cellular life! Scientific breakthroughs from 2016 are crazy cool, and the scientific discoveries made in 2017 are even cooler! 

This list of 2016 scientific discoveries features interesting stories of researchers making breakthroughs in all kinds of different fields, with many important implications for human life. The scientific breakthroughs of 2016 will amaze and inspire a new generation of curious scientists, who will push the boundaries of what we know even further.

When it comes to recent scientific breakthroughs, 2016 is full of them. Whether here on earth (like dinosaur fossils from the actual extinction event) to light years away record-breaking explosions scientific discoveries made in 2016 will boggle your mind and change your view of the world. 

So what were the biggest discoveries in science and tech in 2016? Read on to find out! Then check out the scientific breakthroughs of 2019.


A Feathered Dinosaur Tale Preserved in Amber May Radicalize Ideas of Ancient Evolution

A Feathered Dinosaur Tale Pres... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2016
Photo:  R.C. McKellar/Royal Saskatchewan Museum

As National Geographic reports, researchers at China University of Geosciences announced, on December 8, 2016, the discovery of a feathered dinosaur tale preserved in amber. While scientists have previously discovered individual feathers assumed to be from dinosaurs, the find is a first in that the feathers are still attached to a bit of dino corpse. 

The team, led by Lida Xing, hopes the discovery will radically improve human understanding of the evolutionary relationship between birds and dinosaurs, including the point at which the two definitively diverged. Preliminary study of the feathered tail piece indicates it was unlikely the dinosaur that had these feathers could fly.

The sample was found in an amber mine in Myanmar, and was already being turned into jewelry when researchers got their hands on it. According to National Geographic, the area "most likely contains the world's largest variety of animal and plant life from the Cretaceous period." It's possible similar such discoveries were ruined or are dangling from a necklace somewhere in the world. 

Researchers Maybe Have Found Dinosaur Brain Tissue

Researchers Maybe Have Found D... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2016
Photo:  University of Cambridge

In 2004, a man in Brexhill, England, found a strange fossil while walking on the beach. In 2016, it was announced this fossil may contain pieces of dinosaur brain tissue. The fossil is about 130 million years old, and belonged to a relative of the Iguanodon. Such a find would be monumental if only for the existence of fossilized dinosaur brains. Outside this, it remains unclear whether any breakthroughs in our knowledge of dinosaurs will result from the fossil. 

May experts remain skeptical. Amy Balanoff of Johns Hopkins University is cautious in her approach - she calls the find intriguing, but says more details are needed to draw any meaningful conclusions. Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History is more emphatic in his skepticism, stating "I'm not convinced." Norell insists the fossil be put in a public institution such as a museum, so it can be studied and examined by scientists the world over before conclusions are drawn. 

Still, it's pretty darn cool. Dinosaur brains. 

Possibly Game-Changing Alzheimer's Antibody Announced

Possibly Game-Changing Alzheim... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2016
Photo:  Biogen/Neurimmune

A paper by an international team of researchers based in Cambridge, MA, published in the September 1, 2016 issue of Nature announced the development of an antibody potentially capable of indefinitely staving off the effects of Alzheimer's. In early trials, the antibody, developed from an immune cell found in elderly people not affected with the disease, proved capable of clearing all toxic proteins from the brains of patients. 

The ramifications of this development are unknown as of September 2016, as the drug only recently began extensive global testing. However, according to Professor Roger Nitsch of Zurich University, one of the authors of the paper, “Compared to other studies published in the past, the effect size of this drug is unprecedented.”

Ocotobot, the World's First Soft Robot

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In a paper published in the August 25, 2016, edition of Nature, a team of scientists led by Harvard researchers announced the creation of the world's first soft robot. Called the Octobot (because it was modeled after an octopus), the squishy mechanical creature is only two centimeters tall (about 0.8 inches) and operates autonomous of any outside control, using a chemical reaction to power internal logic to operates its eight limbs. 

So what is a soft robot? Exactly what it sounds like - the Octobot has no hard parts. It's created using a combination of embedded 3D printing, molding, and soft lithography, and runs on hydrogen peroxide. The team that created the Octobot believe its existence heralds a new era in the field of robots.