Top 10 Science and Technology Stories of 2017

There were a great deal of scientific and technological breakthroughs in the year 2017. In this article, I pick out what I think are some of the top stories of 2017.

1. NASA discovers the largest set of habitable planets around a single star

On February 22nd, 2017, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Spitzer Space Telescope made a remarkable discovery. The Telescope found the existence of a system of seven planets all orbiting around a single star, the greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star in our solar system. Although only three of these planets are definitively located in the habitable zone (the area around the parent star in which the orbiting planets are most likely to have liquid water), all of the seven planets have the potential to contain liquid water.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is launching in 2018, which aims to help aid follow-up studies in order to assess the habitability of the planets.

To read more, read the initial discovery on NASA’s website

2. Total Solar Eclipse

On August 21st, 2017, the moon completely covered the sun and treated many parts of the world to a total solar eclipse. The last time that the United States has a total eclipse was in 1979.

3. Artificial Intelligence to Improve Early Cancer Detection

Mammograms are currently the best test available to allow for early breast cancer detection, however, they often lead to false positive results. One of the common causes for these false-positive cases is when there are lesions that appear on the mammograms, which turn out to be benign after surgery around 90% if the time. The result of this is thousands of women each year that go through surgeries; which are painful, expensive, and lead to scarring; which were ultimately unnecessary.

To solve this problem, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard Medical School, and Massachusetts General Hospital turned to artificial intelligence (AI). This new piece of AI uses machine learning in order to make predictions if the high-risk lesion would create cancer after surgery. The model helped to correctly diagnose 90% of breast cancers as malignant, and helped to reduce the number of unnecessary benign surgeries by more than 30%.

Pictured above, from left to right are Manisha Bahl, who is director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Breast Imaging Fellowship Program; Regina Barzilay, who is an MIT professor; and Constance Lehman, who is a professor at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Breast Imaging Division at MGH’s Department of Radiology. 

Read more here

4. Oldest Human Fossils: A Different History?

Findings that were published on June 7th, 2017, researchers found the oldest human remains in Morocco. Skull, face, and jaw bones, which were found at an archaeological site near the Atlantic coast, have been dated back to around 315,000 years ago. This means that humans appeared more than 100,000 years earlier than was previously thought.

To read more, here is the link to the article published in Nature

Pictured above is Jebel Irhoud, Morroco, which is where the fossils were found.

5. Hurricane Season

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially ended on November 30th, 2017, was one of the most devastating in history. This season produced 17 storms, 10 of which were hurricanes, and 6 being major hurricanes. This season was the most active season since 2005 and 7th most active season in historical record, which dates all the way back to 1851.

Hurricane Harvey in Texas was the first major hurricane to hit the United States since Hurricane Wilma struck Florida back in October 2005. The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season will officially begin on June 1st.

6. AlphaZero: AI program defeats champion chess program after learning chess in 4 hours

December 6th, 2017 marks the day that the chess world changed. AlphaZero, which is a piece of AI created by DeepMind, taught itself the rules to chess in only 4 hours. After this, AlphaZero beat the world champion chess program, Stockfish 8, in a 100 game match. The program was not specifically designed to play any of these games, but was only given the basic rules; no strategies or tactics were given.

7. Antartica: Going Green?

On May 18th, 2017, researchers confirmed that plant life has been growing in Antarctica, and spreading rapidly across the continent. Although Antarctica remains mostly frozen with plants only growing on less than 1% of the continent, this is still an alarming discovery.

If more of the Antarctic becomes green, this means that more sunlight would be reflected back into space, increasing the possibility of accelerated warming. Mosses that one grew less than a millimeter per year are now growing over 3 millimeters per year on average.

 

8. Two-Thirds of the Great Barrier Reef Damaged through Bleaching

Bleaching, which is the loss of algae, has impacted around 2/3s of the reef as a result of record-breaking water temperatures. However, the latest damage due to bleaching was concentrated in the middle section, while last year’s bleaching primarily impacted the northern region of the reef. This is a cry for help; governments must immediately and urgently address climate change to prevent more bleaching of the reef. These findings were released on April 10th, 2017.

The Great Barrier Reef has bleached severely 4 times – 1998, 2002, 2016, and now 2017. This means that this was the quickest gap between severe bleaching. Marine biologist James Kerry said that the coral could potentially survive, but it would take at least 10 years for even the fastest growing corals to recover.

 

9. Berkeley Lab creates a device that pulls water from dry air, powered by the sun

University of California, Berkeley, created a solar-powered harvester, which can pull liters of water out of air each day with conditions as low as 20% humidity. The prototype was able to gather 2.8 liters of water from the air over a 12 year period, under conditions of 20-30 percent humidity. The prototype uses a special material called metal-organic framework (MOF).

10. University of Minnesota Researchers allowing robots to have a sense of touch

On May 10th, 2017, findings were released in which engineers at the University of Minnesota developed a process for 3D printing with stretchable electronic sensory devices, ultimately giving robots the ability to feel their environment. These sensors could make it easier for robots to walk and interact with the rest of the environment.

To read the entirety of the discovery, read this

There's also a YouTube video about the topic

These were just some of the science and technology news stories of 2017 I found particularly interesting! Let me know which one your favourite one is in the comments :)