Best Of 2011 The 14 Greatest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2011  

Ariel Kana
84.6k views 14 items

In the 11th year of the third millenium, scientists brought innovations in medicine that may annihilate killers like malaria and HIV. They announced milestones in alternative energy, and landmarks in space exploration. The implications of some of these discoveries are uplifting, while others (e.g., cloning) are fodder for philosophical debate. Others are downright amusing--there are few things more entertaining than a levitating, frozen hockey puck.

The top science discoveries of 2011 have impacts that are bound to span far beyond this single year. Most of these developments were years in the making, and all are likely to affect the future of scientific research.

Human Stem Cells Cloned

In October of 2011, scientists at the New York Stem Cell Foundation Laboratory announced that they had successfully created human embryos using cloning techniques like the ones used to make Dolly the cloned sheep back in 1996. Until this breakthrough, scientists had tried unsuccessfully to replicate Dolly's results among humans. Now that the task has finally been achieved, it appears that human cloning may not be far off.

Human stem-cell cloning can mean better treatments for serious illnesses like diabetes. However, scientists must grapple with one problem--the cloned cells have an extra set of chromosomes, which will need to be removed before the cells can be used.

Dark Energy Compels the Universe to Expand at an Accelerated Rate

Three American scientists--Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess --won the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics for discovering that the universe is expanding at an accelerated rate. While the knowledge that the universe is expanding has been around for a while, the scientific community was stunned to find that a substance called dark energy is speeding up the rate of expansion. What this means is that the universe is cooling down and will ultimately turn to ice.

While the news may sound grim, this chilly fate is billions of years away. This discovery will help us better understand the world that we live in as science continues to explore the unknown universe.

Quantum Levitation Discovered at Tel Aviv University

Researchers at Tel Aviv University found a way to suspend an object in midair using a technique called quantum levitation. This works via the Meissner effect, which allows a superconductor set atop a magnetic field to emit an equal magnetic field as a counter. While the researchers demonstrated their discovery using a frozen hockey puck, the technique may be used to levitate other items as well.

The superconductor, which is made of yttrium barium copper oxide that has been exposed to liquid nitrogen, can either hover in place or move in a track like a Maglev levitating train.

Fuel Cell Cleans Water While Producing Energy

Fuel Cell Cleans Water While P... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The 14 Greatest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2011
Photo: via Wikimedia

Scientists in China have created a type of photocatalytic fuel cell that uses organic materials to sanitize water while it makes energy. The system takes organic compounds and uses light energy to make electrons that are converted to electricity via a platinum-based cathode. In experiments, the cell removed such pollutants as perfumes, dyes and medications. At this stage, the system is just a prototype and further research will need to be conducted before it can be put into practical use.

Once refined, this invention may prove useful in an era with high demand for alternative energy sources as well as a need for water purification.

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