The Greatest Scientific Breakthroughs Of 2019

The world's top scientists and researchers are always pushing to discover, prove, and create innovations in the world of science and technology. Their breakthroughs alter life on Earth and change our perception of reality. The greatest scientific discoveries are an inspiring testament to the profound capabilities of the human mind. Each year, scientists make incredible discoveries. What scientists learned in 2017 could help them make new advances in 2018, and scientific discoveries in 2018 can influence 2019 scientific advancements.

This list of 2019 scientific discoveries features breakthroughs and recent informative works that span a wide range of disciplines. From learning new things about the worlds beyond our planet to unlocking possibilities within our very cells, these breakthroughs will give you hope for the future even in bleak times.  

The latest in science news is inspirational for a new generation of thinkers who will continue to push the boundaries of human capability. Read on to find out the biggest discoveries of 2019 and the latest scientific advancements.

Photo: Thomas Hawk / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

  • The First Southern White Rhino In North America Conceived Through Artificial Insemination Is Born

    On July 28, 2019, the first southern white rhinoceros conceived through successful artificial insemination in North America was born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in healthy condition. Victoria, the mother, endured 493 days of pregnancy and 30 minutes of labor after being inseminated by a frozen sample from a southern white rhino named Maoto on March 22, 2018. The calf, whose name is Edward, is male. 

    The birth marks a major step toward preserving the nearly extinct species of the northern white rhinoceros, a close relative of the southern white rhino. As of 2019, only two northern white rhinos are known to exist, and both are female. Because the San Diego Zoo's conservation organization has proven a healthy birth is possible following hormone-induced ovulation and artificial insemination, the institute now plans to convert 12 individual northern white rhino cells into stem cells that could develop into sperm and eggs. 

    Eventually, scientists hope to use artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer to impregnate surrogate southern white rhinos with northern white rhino embryos, effectively saving the species. This process could take another 10 to 20 years. 

    In the meantime, the 100th southern white rhino born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and the second conceived through artificial insemination, was born on November 21. The calf, named Future because of what her birth represents for rhino conservation, quickly began exhibiting signs of healthy, natural rhino instincts. Apparently, rhinos are known to use mud as sunscreen and bug repellant, and according to zookeeper Marco Zeno, her "new favorite thing is mud. She sees a puddle and she wants to roll in it!"

  • A University Student Creates A Compostable Plastic Alternative

    Lucy Hughes, a product design student at the University of Sussex, created a compostable compound that could replace single-use plastic in products such as bakery bags, sandwich packs, and tissue boxes. The product, the result of her final-year project, is called MarinaTex, presumably because its main ingredient is byproducts of the fishing industry. She combined chitosan from crustaceans and agar from red algae with fish skins and scales to produce an effective and stable product.

    Hughes told Reuters she was trying to figure out how to "add value" to the 50 millions tons of fish waste produced globally every year. She noticed the skin and scales she found were "flexible, yet pliable, and strong," similarly to plastic we use daily.

    Hughes won the international James Dyson Award for her invention; she plans to use the $41,000 reward money to improve MarinaTex and build a business plan for mass distribution.

  • Doctors Place A Patient In Suspended Animation For The First Time

    Samuel Tisherman and his team of medics from the University of Maryland School of Medicine told New Scientist they placed one patient in suspended animation for the first time, in November. Technically speaking, the process of suspended animation is called emergency preservation and resuscitation (EPR), and the goal is to "make it possible to fix traumatic injuries" that could otherwise result in the patient's demise.

    As part of an extended trial, patients who are sent to the University of Maryland Medical Center with "acute trauma" will undergo EPR, allowing emergency surgeons to operate for two hours as opposed to the five minutes usually allotted when someone is admitted facing cardiac arrest. EPR works by "replacing all of [a patient's] blood with ice-cold saline," consequently lowering their body's temperature from approximately 98 to nearly 50 degrees, decreasing brain activity. They are then disconnected from the cooling system so surgeons can operate before their heart restarts.

    Tisherman's trial, approved by the FDA, compares 10 patient's who undergo emergency EPR to 10 who do not. The medical center allowed the local community the opportunity to opt out the trial in advance, as, in the event of an emergency situation, they cannot provide consent, and no alternative treatments are available. The results of the trial are expected by the end of 2020.

  • Google Accomplishes The Impossible With A Quantum Computer

    Google Accomplishes The Impossible With A Quantum Computer
    Photo: Erik Lucero / Google AI Blog / Fair Use

    In October 2019, Google AI researchers announced they had successfully built a quantum computer. The results of their experiment, in which they tested the computer against the world's fastest supercomputer, were published in NatureGoogle claimed it would take the world's fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to solve their benchmark testing, but it took the quantum computer, called Sycamore, 200 seconds to complete.

    The researchers wrote in Nature that they compared their "quantum processor against state-of-the-art classical computers in the task of sampling the output of a pseudo-random quantum circuit." Google suggested that for a classic supercomputer, "emulating such quantum circuits typically takes an enormous amount of effort," but Sycamore can process the test at an exceptionally high rate. 

    Quantum computing has been discussed for over 30 years, but physicists have wondered if it was worth investing in. Google researchers said they devised the Quantum Supremacy Experiment to test the possibility of making "a computer that is both programmable and powerful." Google developed a 54-qubit processor for the experiment comprising "fast, high-fidelity quantum logic gates." The experiment was exceptionally difficult, however, the researchers said in Nature: "In order to claim quantum supremacy we need a quantum processor that executes the program with sufficiently low error rates," since the 54-qubit processor is "sensitive to errors." 

    IBM researchers Edwin Pednault, John Gunnels, and Jay Gambetta argued Google's claims could be misleading because the "threshold" for "quantum supremacy," which "was [originally meant] to describe the point where quantum computers can do things that classical computers can't," has not been met. And apparently, "an ideal simulation of the same task [Google performed on Sycamore] can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity." 

    Google researchers said their main objective moving forward is to find valuable applications for quantum computing, and that they are working "to build a fault-tolerant quantum computer as quickly as possible." 

  • Bees Are Declared The Most Important Living Beings On Earth

    The Earthwatch Institute officially concluded that bees are the most important living beings on Earth at a September 2019 meeting of the Royal Geographical Society of London. Experts debated whether plankton, bats, primates, fungi, or bees deserved the honor, ultimately declaring the little yellow insects as the most invaluable creatures on our planet. Bees are responsible for pollination, and without them, Earth's agriculture would suffer. They pollinate about 70% of our crops and therefore feed 90% of the world, according to the BBC. The Apiculture Entrepreneurship Center of the Universidad Mayor, the Apiculture Corporation of Chile, and the Foundation for Agrarian Innovation also discovered that honeybees are the only species that does not carry some type of pathogen. 

    Unfortunately, bees are endangered. Up to 90% of bees have disappeared in recent years due to pesticides, deforestation, and a lack of flower growth. To prevent a honeybee extinction, conservationists suggest avoiding harmful pesticides, planting a bee-friendly garden, creating a bee bath, planting trees, buying honey from your local beekeeper, and more. 

  • A New Glow-In-The-Dark Shark Species Is Identified

    A 5 1/2-inch Western North Atlantic Ocean kitefin shark that emits a bioluminescent fluid was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico in February 2010. Researchers from the Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute began studying the shark in 2015, and in July 2019 they officially identified it as a new species of pocket shark. This new species uses its glowing powers to attract prey, and is the first of its kind known to humans.

    The kitefin, also known as an American pocket shark, is only the second pocket shark ever studied. The first pocket shark, discovered in 1979 in the east Pacific Ocean, is thought to be an entirely different species, however. 

    According to the Tulane University Study, the kitefin they discovered emits the bioluminescent fluid from a gland near its front fins, which draws prey attracted to the glow. The shark itself is hardly visible beneath the luminescence, making it a stealthy predator.