It’s that time of year again, when “best of” lists trumpet the year’s top everything movies, books, songs, hairstyles, cars, wines. There are even lists of best-of lists.
Here at UT Austin, we wanted to contribute to the best-of-the-year list frenzy by celebrating scientific breakthroughs. Some you might have already seen, others you might have missed. So sit back, cozy up to the fire and relive a few of those magical science moments from the past year, in no particular order:
1. Cancer researchers discovered that aspirin and ibuprofen can significantly reduce breast cancer recurrence rates for overweight women.
2. Geophysicists found that part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is not only being eroded by the ocean, it’s being melted from below by geothermal heat.
3. Researchers created a smaller, more efficient radio wave circulator that could double the useful bandwidth in wireless communications, resulting in faster downloads, fewer dropped calls and clearer communications.
4. Anthropologists and geneticists showed that even though skull and facial features of ancient Paleoamericans were different from modern Native Americans, both are closely related and descended from the same people who migrated from northeast Asia over the Bering Land Bridge.
5. Neuroscientists created mutant worms that can’t get drunk, gaining key insights that could eventually lead to drugs to treat alcoholism.
6. Chemists created a “poison pill” that uses the components of table salt sodium and chloride to force cancer cells to self-destruct.
7. Astronomers found a star in the constellation Hercules that appears to have formed in the same cloud of gas and dust as our sun, earning it the nickname “the sun’s long-lost brother.”
8. A fly’s super hearing mechanism inspired a team of researchers to develop a tiny, low-power device that could lead to hypersensitive hearing aids.
9. Computer scientists developed a new technique that led to the most accurate bird family tree ever developed, with some surprising results, including that flamingoes are more closely related to pigeons than to other water birds like pelicans.
10. Biomedical engineers designed an optical-based skin cancer detection device that may reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies.
11. A geologist found evidence that a massive tectonic shift more than 485 million years ago might have triggered a surge in evolution.
12. Physicists finally caught a glimpse of a mysterious particle that had been predicted in the 1930s with the strange property that it is both matter and antimatter, which might make it useful in quantum computing.
13. Mechanical engineers designed the world’s smallest, fastest nanomotor, which is an important step toward building miniature machines that could move through the body to deliver medicine.
14. Biologists made several significant discoveries about gut microbes, which play a critical role in human health and disease, including: our gut microbes are much less diverse than those of our closest relatives, the African apes; a man’s gut microbes react differently than a woman’s to the same diet; and for a fish, the more diverse its diet, the less diverse its gut microbial community.
15. Hydrologists confirmed that the Mississippi River network’s natural ability to chemically filter out nitrates is being overwhelmed.
16. A researcher is developing a mobile medical tool that will resemble an iPhone game, and enable faster and cheaper diagnosis and monitoring of diseases such as Ebola.
This story is part of our “Eyes on Innovation” series, which explores UT’s world-changing ideas, fascinating discoveries and new ways of doing things.
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