Top 10 scientific breakthroughs of 2010

Just what it says up there.


Evolution & Dawkins – the Greatest Show on Earth

I’m embarrassed at how late to the party I am with this, but PZ Myers has a great review of Richard Dawkin’s new book on what I’m going to take to calling the Fact of Evolution.


Have a read here.

Nom nom nom on Fido to save the planet

Seems that some NZ environmentalists have taken it upon themselves to show pet-lovers the true error of their ways in their new book Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living.


Brenda and Robert Vale of Victoria University, Wellington, calculated the ecological footprint of common household animal companions to draw some alarming conclusions. For instance, a large dog consumes an equivalent amount of energy to driving a large family car or SUV 10,000km every year. They suggest instead keeping rabbits and chickens that have a more traditional end as a hearty repast upon their expiration.

Of course, this has upset a few cardigan-wearing, non-poo-pick-upping dog-owners who can’t abide the idea of nomming on their fur-kids… Oh well. Their loss – I mean, I’d be happy to try a green curry with dog. It’s all just meat, right?

Dominion Post, NZ, via Slashdot

Not just hobbits, kiwis and sheep

Now we can add giant eagles the size of hang-gliders to the list of New Zealand’s characteristic fauna.


The New Zealand Herald ran a story this week about a giant raptor, Haast’s Eagle, which seems to be the basis for Maori legends of man-eating birds. Recently revisiting the few fossils available of the birds, and using newly available technology, paleontologists have been able to better predict the lifestyle of these massive predators that became extinct only 500 years ago.

Because New Zealand was always so isolated geographically from the rest of the world, birds took over the ecological niches that mammals evolved to exploit elsewhere. This explains the unique birdlife of the islands including the kiwi, moa and Haast’s eagle.

And I love the line from the newspaper quoting Canterbury Museum curator Dr. Paul Schofield: “Haast’s eagle wasn’t just the equivalent of a giant predatory bird. It was the equivalent of a lion.”

Yep. A flying lion, possessed of a 3m wingspan and 4cm long talons, that could reach speeds of 80km when diving onto its unsuspecting prey! Yowsah.

Image acknowledgement: John Megahan


A night club in London is now generating 60% of its energy requirements from the dancing of its patrons!

Under the dancefloor is a an array of piezoelectric elements that produce electric current when they are squashed by the dancers’ movements.

And it’s not the first. Another club in Rotterdam has been going for some time now using the same technology. Clever, isn’t it? I’d love to see more of this. Imagine generating electricity in public spaces like train station concourses or shopping centres, schools, libraries, museums just from the footsteps of the people walking through.

From via Engadget

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…

Solar stickers

Going with the theme of yesterday’s posts on renewable energy comes news of solar panels that are installed quickly like stickers on building roofs and come in a variety of colours and shapes.

The disadvantage of the low-profile design is a trade-off in efficiency. As yesterday’s post on the solar lilies showed, a panel needs to be able to follow the path of the sun through the sky during a day if it is to collect the maximum amount of solar energy. The panels discussed here are stationary – lying flat along the unchanging roof-line – and the resulting drop in efficiency is fairly substantial (somewhere in the order of 5%).

Still, the design of the collection elements in solar panels is also the subject of improvement; I imagine it wont be long before this limitation is removed by advances in panel design.

Bonus article linked at the bottom of the Treehugger page: Hairy Solar Cells created from nanotubes. Nice!