The Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the 2010s (Part 1)

We are entering a transition time of not only a new year but also a new decade. Let’s review the most important scientific discoveries of the past 10 years.​

The 2010 decade is coming to an end to make way for another decade to come. The past 10 years have been filled with groundbreaking new discoveries or new insights that have never been seen in history. These advances are either close to the human body, or as far away as the ends of the universe.

Looking at the findings of the past decade, it is easy to see the trend of research groups large to the size of thousands of people gradually increasing compared to research groups of just a few members in the past. These groups are not only colleagues in one place of work, but also work together around the globe.

Choosing the 20 most representative discoveries of the decade is therefore not easy. Here is a list of great discoveries voted by the National Geographic editorial board.

In 1916, Albert Einstein proposed an argument, that when objects with sufficient mass accelerate, they create oscillating waves in the fabric of space-time like ripples on the surface of a lake. . Einstein could not confirm this because there were no advanced tools to prove it, he just called it a gravitational wave.

The search for evidence of gravitational waves in reality has since become the passion of many scientists and led to many studies being launched throughout the century to achieve that end. In the 1970s, some clues about this wave were received, but it was not clear enough, and it was quiet until 2015.

The Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the 2010s (Part 1)
This image simulates two black holes colliding, creating gravitational waves in space-time. (Photo: SXS Collaboration).

In 2015, the LIGO Observatory in the US recorded aftershocks after two black holes collided in space. This discovery was then published in early 2016 and helps us to know a new way to listen to the universe. When two black holes collide, they create a common object of great mass and create gravitational waves.

Following that, in 2017, LIGO and the Virgo Observatory in Europe also recorded similar waves, this time created by the collision of two neutron stars with extremely dense matter. dense. Many other telescopes around the world have also recorded the event. This landmark event gives scientists an unprecedented look at how gravity works and how elements are made.

The past decade has seen many discoveries that make us rethink our own ancestors, the origins of humanity, and the addition of many other species to the human genealogy. These discoveries not only come from the excavation of new fossils, but the fossils found before also provide a new knowledge about ourselves.

In 2010, National Geographic explorer Lee Berger found a distant human ancestor known as Australopithecus sediba . Five years later, he continued to announce a new human species in a cave population in South Africa, called Homo naledi , they have many anatomical details similar to modern humans and lived about 20 years ago. 236,000 years to 335,000 years ago.

The Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the 2010s (Part 1)
A reconstruction of the face of Homo naledi, a species of the genus Human closely related to modern humans. Author John Gurche spent more than 700 hours scanning fossil skulls and using features to build this complete face.

Many other remarkable discoveries were recorded in Asia. Also in 2010, a team of scientists reported that they had found DNA in a pink bone in ancient Siberia. Through analysis, the genetic information is unlike any human in modern times, thereby providing the first clue about the Denisovans.

In 2018, at an archaeological site in China, stone tools dating back to 2.1 million years old were found, prompting scientists to confirm that humans in Asia have made them. furniture for living hundreds of thousands of years earlier than previously understood.

In 2019, researchers in the Philippines published fossils of humans similar to Homo floresiensis, a clade of Flores Islanders (Indonesia). In addition, many stone tools discovered on the island of Sulawesi in the country also reveal another human species that has never been identified in Southeast Asia.

Our knowledge of planets around distant stars has grown tremendously over the past 2010s. No small part of this progress is thanks to NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

Between 2009 and 2018, the Kepler telescope alone discovered 2,700 exoplanets – more than half of the total number of exoplanets found worldwide. Among the thousands of planets located outside this Solar System, there are some that stand out with unique properties and not to mention Kepler-10b, a rocky planet very similar to Earth. .

The Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the 2010s (Part 1)
Kepler-10b, a rocky exoplanet 1.4 times the size of Earth, lies 560 light-years away. (Graphic: NASA).

The successor to Kepler, TESS launched into space in 2018 is continuing this work and has confirmed 34 exoplanets. In addition to observatories in Earth’s orbit, ground-based telescopes have also begun a race to find exoplanets.

In 2017, scientists used the TRAPPIST-1 telescope and found a star system located 39 light-years away with 7 planets the size of Earth – this is a planetary system outside the Solar System. Heaven has the most planets ever discovered. And most recently, researchers have found Proxima b – a planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri as the closest star to the Sun with a distance of only 4.25 light years.

The past decade has marked huge advances in our DNA editing skills, thanks in large part to the identification of the Crispr-Cas9 system. Some bacteria in nature use this system as an immune system because they allow the storage of viral DNA fragments, thereby recognizing the same virus if encountered in the future and will shred the DNA fragments. of viruses.

In 2012, researchers proposed the use of Crispr-Cas9 as an effective gene editing tool, as it can precisely cut DNA that we can also tweak to our liking. Within a few months, many other research groups had confirmed the technique worked well on human DNA.

The Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the 2010s (Part 1)
Researcher Zhou Yin at Yunnan Laboratory, Kunming, China is holding a long-tailed macaque born and raised by CRISPR technology. (Photo: National Geographic).

Since then, laboratories around the world have begun racing to produce more similar systems based on Crispr-Cas9 , making DNA editing even more precise for practical applications in various fields. agriculture and medicine. While the benefits of Crispr-Cas9 are great, there are also ethical limitations that raise questions for the technology.

In 2018, the global medical community was amazed that Chinese researcher He Jiankui gave birth to two baby girls whose genomes had been edited with Crispr, the first humans created from the past. DNA modifier. This research sparked heated debate and led to a ban on deep editing of human genes.

The past 10 years have seen an explosion in our knowledge of the prehistoric world, as scientists continually find stunning fossils with each upgrade in excavation technology, search engine fossil search and tools to analyze them.

In 2010, scientists at the National Geographic Society published a study that reproduced the full body color of a complete dinosaur, based on the discovery of pigments in fossils. Since then, the palette of paleontology has been continuously expanded. Researchers have begun to color a variety of species that lived in prehistoric times, such as the dark blue, rainbow-red feathered feathers or the reddish-brown skin of a giant dinosaur. .

The Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the 2010s (Part 1)
The first true color image of the Sinosauropteryx species was created based on pigments found in their fossils. (Photo: Nature).

The most miraculous step in addition to finding biological colors is analyzing the chemical properties of these species. In 2018, Dickinsonia is an organism that existed 540 million years ago, which has been analyzed by scientists through molecules still stored in fossils. This is the first time this work has been done.

In 2014, paleontologists found fossils of the carnivorous dinosaur Spinosaurus and through analysis they believe that this is the first known living amphibian dinosaur. A year later, a research team in China published the fossil of Yi qi, a very strange dinosaur with webbed wings like bats.

Also in the same decade, scientists also found a 99-million-year-old piece of amber in Myanmar that has fueled the theory of a feathered dinosaur, a primitive bird that is the ancestor of modern birds. and a few species of invertebrates trapped in fossilized tree sap.

Over the past 10 years, space missions have given us a more detailed look at life forms beyond Earth, such as finding carbon-based organic molecules as the starting point. required for a life form on other planets.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission sent a lander to comet 67P Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014 and began collecting data until 2016, sending back to Earth a wealth of new knowledge about how the asteroids work. meteorites sent life to Earth billions of years ago.

The Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the 2010s (Part 1)
ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft sent the Philae lander to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko to probe and detect many mysterious signs discovered for the first time on a comet. (Photo: ESA).

Before NASA’s Cassini spacecraft ended its mission in 2017, it confirmed the water on Saturn’s moon Enceladus contained mostly organic components, a clue that it was a suitable place. suitable for survival and development of life.

In 2018, NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars found organic compounds on the planet as well as recorded a strange cycle of the movement of methane clumps in the Martian atmosphere. to the life of a species.

In response to the Ebola outbreak that broke out in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, medical researchers quickly launched and followed up the trial of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine. After a successful trial in 2015, European authorities approved the vaccine in 2019 and this is an important step forward to help fight this deadly disease.

Several landmark studies have also opened up new avenues for stopping HIV’s advance. An experiment in 2011 showed that an antiretroviral drug significantly prevented HIV transmission in heterosexual couples and a lower rate in same-sex couples.

In 2016, clinicians announced the birth of a child from more than one parent, namely sperm from the father, the nucleus of the mother’s cells, and an egg from another woman. remove the cell nucleus. Although this therapy has been successful in correcting disorders in the mother’s mitochondria, it is still ethically controversial.

Another study conducted in 2018 also created precursors to human sperm or created eggs from genetically edited skin or blood cells. Another study of gene editing allowed two same-sex mice to conceive.

The Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the 2010s (Part 1)
The filaments from the Ebola virus (green) reach out and grip a cell, inactivating the cell’s activity. (Photo: Callista Images).

In the same year, Chinese scientists gave birth to two cloned monkeys, the first time a primate was born like Dolly the sheep. Although ethical standards do not allow this technology to be implemented in humans, scientists say it could smoothly work on other primates including us.

to be continued…