Top 10 scientific breakthroughs of 2010

Just what it says up there.


Really tiny things

This is an enjoyable diversion: the University of Utah’s Genetics Dept has a groovy slider-thingy to let you zoom in and out of a diagram showing the relative sizes between a coffee bean and a Carbon atom.


Special mentions go to paramecium, yeast, E. coli, tRNA and glucose.

Have fun fiddling with that one.


It’s official: water ice on Mars!

Big news from NASA as scientists announced that the Phoenix mission had found water ice on Mars.

The evidence is a pair of photographs taken 4 days apart showing small chunks of ice disappearing – by sublimation – from the bottom of the small trench dug by a robotic arm. The comparison photos below show the chunks in question before and after sublimation at the bottom left of the picture.

Amazing stuff. When the chunks were first observed, they were hypothesised to be either water ice or salt. However, salt crystals won’t sublime under the conditions at the landing site. Water will.

BTW, the announcement came first ( June 20) on the Phoenix lander’s tweet! And folks have been saying Twitter is of no use…

Egg allergies

The number of people with life-threatening food allergies has been on the increase in recent years. The condition, called anapylaxis, can be caused by the smallest amounts of a food allergen.


Two of the more prevalent foods that can cause anaphylaxis are peanuts and eggs. Now, Swiss and German chemists have developed a technique to produce egg-derived food products with just 1% of the allergenic potential of normal eggs. Exposing raw egg to heat and enzymes breaks known allergens down into harmless by-products.

While the safety of this kind of product for people who are potentially anaphylactic is a long way from being assured, it will definitely allow people who have milder allergic responses to egg products to have their cake and eat it, too!

Out for a while – back now, and swinging!

Back again after a week at a school camp. No web access is a real killer. I wonder when it will be regarded in the same way as running water and electricity?

The biggest consumer tech news last week was the complete and utter capitulation of HD-DVD’s main manufacturing backer, Toshiba, in what had been touted as the HD Format War.

Following declarations by the major movie studios that they planned to exclusively embrace HD-DVD’s competitor, Blu-ray, Toshiba decided not to throw any more good money after bad abandoning HD-DVD and leaving a single format for physical HD media. And until broadband web access in homes is fast enough to support a market in downloadable HD content Blu-ray is unlikely to feel much pressure from competition in the near future. Here in Australia, I can see that taking a very long time…

In other news, a failing US satellite was successfully shot down by a sea-launched missile. Nice shooting. Glad to see all those billions of dollars are good for something. However, an alternative was suggested: catching satellites on re-entry in a ‘blanket’ that would allow for a more controlled destruction or even retrieval after the event.

Then there was talk of self-healing rubber; an attempt to sail a wave-powered boat from Hawaii to Japan; implantable, blood-powered communication devices and efforts to make fuel from algae. A big week indeed.