ONE OF THE year’s most significant scientific events was not an item of news, but an anniversary: 2019 was the 150th birthday of the periodic table of the elements. How the table was put together is a classic illustration of the mixture of inspiration and perspiration that drives science forward. The result should be part of the intellectual armamentarium of every educated person.
Another anniversary, more recent, was the 50th of the first Apollo landing on the Moon. That raised thoughts about whether it is a good idea to go back to the Moon. Farther out in space, meanwhile, the study of exoplanets started to take on the characteristics of a true science, and the origin of many of the elements in the periodic table, in collisions between black holes and neutron stars, became clearer.
Back on Earth, a group of original-thinking biologists questioned conventional explanations for sexual orientation, while others began farming insects on an industrial scale, to provide protein for fish farms. Trilobites, we discovered, followed each other across the sea bed in long convoys. A piece of Burmese amber yielded up a dinosaur’s tail, complete with feathers. And the oldest art gallery so far found turned up in a cave in Sulawesi.
Three-dimensional printing took great strides forward, making things as big as boats and bridges, and as bespoke as orthopaedic implants. And sports cars were knitted out of carbon fibre. The quest for cheap and effective fusion power continued. Flying cars appeared from over the horizon. And quantum computing overtook the conventional sort. Or maybe not.
But the dominant science story of the year, as we said in a special issue in September, touches everything on which The Economist reports. Changes to Earth’s climate became yet more threatening, to the point where direct intervention is now under serious consideration.
- Substantial undocumented infection facilitates the rapid dissemination of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) – Science Magazine
- England coronavirus testing has not risen fast enough – science chief – The Guardian
- Coronavirus Tests Science’s Need for Speed Limits – The New York Times
- Trump Falsely Distorts New York Times COVID-19 Science Story – FactCheck.org
- This is the brightest supernova ever seen – Science Magazine
- Coronavirus Today: Science will save us – Los Angeles Times
- Italians stuck at home are measuring light pollution for ‘science on the balcony’ – TechCrunch
- ‘Oumuamua might be a shard of a broken planet – Science News
- College of Arts and Science converts thriving academic programs to departments – Vanderbilt University News