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Stellar moments for science in 2022

I admit I’m a fan Stefan Zweig. Their biographies, their short novels, and this wonderful compendium that every human being should read. Yesterday’s world (The Cliff, 2012) They occupied afternoons, nights, and waiting periods during my youth.

From him I always recommend a little book with a title stellar moments for humanity (El Acantilado, 2012), in which, in chronological order, Zweig recounts fourteen specific events of famous figures or unexpected twists of fate that changed the course of history.

When I read it, despite its charm, I missed more science, more discoveries for those who are leaving their mark on humanity. I remember that spring in college I set out to write a short book that I called “star moments in science”where Tells scientific milestones that revolutionized society. She freaked me out, a few weeks later I found out Isaac Asimov had beat me to it.

Either way, if anyone’s being stubborn, it’s me. That’s why I’m taking advantage of this last column of the year to make amends and write my own “star moments in science,” even though Focus on these 12 months that ends today

First of all, I should tell you, it is not my intention to make an arrangement, which is what always fails, nor to make a chair; Consider it a quiet conversation between curious and observant people. intended?

It is quite clear that the great achievements of 2022 had an indisputable protagonist: James Webb Space Telescope. In the works for only a few months, the successor to the legendary Hubble Space Telescope, it impresses us with stunning data and images almost every week. We have seen unknown structures of our solar system, distant galaxies, the first stars in the universe and so on.

[El telescopio James Webb, el avance científico más importante de 2022 para la revista ‘Science’]

James Webb is a Technological marvel An example of international cooperation in wartime. Spanish astrophysicist and historian David Parado assures us that its exploitation will give us interesting scientific surprises in the coming decades.

Upon reaching Earth, an almost unbelievable progression occurred as the year began. Just this January, a terminally ill 57-year-old man in need of a heart transplant became his The first human to successfully receive a Pig device Genetically modified.

Xenografts are often quickly rejected by the human body’s defenses, but this heart came from a pig with ten genetic modifications designed to reduce the risk of rejection. The heart worked well, but David Bennett died two months after the pioneering procedure. The fatal outcome I must admit was not exempt from moral controversy, it opened the door to extending human life.

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Another great scientific moment occurred in 2022 after the announcement of a Nuclear fusion with increased energy. As December began, news came from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California. It wasn’t the dream of cold fusion that, scientifically speaking, brought us to the end of the busy 1980s, but the news gives us reasons to rejoice. In these times when climate change is accelerated by the burning of fossil fuels, we have unlocked nuclear fusion window to mimic the sun.

On the other hand, since Edward Jenner produced the first vaccine in the second half of the eighteenth century, discoveries in this field are milestones for humanity linked to solving pressing health problems. In 2020, with the latest? A hot pandemic in our wake, there has been a quantum leap in Rapid vaccine generation: I’m talking about technology that includes molecules mRNA.

Together with them, we were able to stop the deadly progression of COVID-19 in 2021; Now in the year 2022 the technology has been applied to an old acquaintance: malaria. This was, without a doubt, one of the greatest scientific achievements of the year. By the way, Jenner loved hair and transplanted it.

Continuing in the field of biomedicine, the dogma has been broken: Life was created without sperm or eggs. The experiment was conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. There, mouse embryos were generated inside a bioreactor from cultured stem cells, I repeat: without eggs or sperm!

As the Weismann researchers reported, the fetuses developed normally. On the third day they began to lengthen and on the eighth day a beating heart was revealed. This promises!

[Qué es la fusión nuclear y por qué es el ‘Santo Grial’ de las energías limpias: las siete claves del hallazgo]

It has always been said that studying history prevents us from repeating mistakes, and I support that. This is why it is important to know where we came from and who came before us. In this sense, we had this year Rewrite some already created stuff: The timeline of human evolution is different than we thought.

Now we know that file Australopithecusone of the closest relatives of the human race, walked the planet 3.7 million years ago, A million years earlier than it was previously created. This has been achieved with new dating methods that make measurements more accurate. We will certainly have many more patches as the new technology continues to be applied to available archaeological samples.

Going almost to the near future, in November Rules for returning to the moon: Artemis finally released it. The mission demonstrated the capability of Orion systems in the spaceflight environment. Coming back, getting off, letting go, and recovering already seems guaranteed. Now everything is ready for manned flight: Artemis II. With this, in addition, the human dream of moving further into our solar system is resumed.

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Returning to the present, we can already say that The human genome is arranged. In 2000, a landmark in medicine was announced: we knew the exact sequence of letters that make up our genome. However, that was not entirely accurate. In fact, we know that 92%, there are still 8% that need to be serialized.

Twenty-one years later, the telomere-to-telomere (T2T) consortium has decoded 8%, and now it has: the human genome sequence in 100%, without gaps or voids. Understanding 100% of the human genome will lead to major improvements in the investigation of genetic diseases and even human evolution.

Tearing secrets from nature

I’ve said that many times one of the most wonderful things about him Science is interaction This often occurs among supposedly watertight areas of knowledge: biology, physics, chemistry, and even technical disciplines. There have been many occasions when my friend, immunologist and celebrity Alfredo Corel, has asked me to identify myself as a scientist, avoiding the label physicist or immunologist. For me, science and the scientific method is a tool for extracting secrets from nature, no matter what field you work in.

In this sense, I highlight an experiment that indicates that consciousness Depends on Quantum coupling And here they mix: neuroscience, psychology and physics in their purest form. We know that the human brain is, by far, the most powerful computer we know of. Its complexities have turned researchers of all times and disciplines upside down. Recently, a team from Trinity College Dublin conducted an amazing experiment that led them to a bizarre conclusion: It could be the quantum brain.

These scientists succeeded in connecting the heartbeat potential of the subjects with the apparently unconnected interactions between the proton spins in their brains. I was not mistaken!, everything seems to point to it Quantum physics may be at stake. Brain activity, and perhaps consciousness, can operate at a quantitative level. Quantum neuroscience will be a discipline of the future.

[La energía sexy oculta en los núcleos de hidrógeno]

Do you remember everything he promised graphene? You may not remember it, but its popularity soared at the turn of the century when it was rediscovered by a group of Russian scientists based in Manchester as part of their fun Friday afternoon experiments. By the way, the fun earned them the Nobel Prize in 2010.

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Graphene is a material made up of Pure carbon, with the atoms arranged in a regular hexagonal pattern, similar to graphite. You have Amazing propertiesIt is translucent, stronger than steel, highly flexible, an excellent conductor of electricity, five times lighter than aluminum, and repairs itself using a strange effect that attracts neighboring atoms when its structure is damaged or broken. Quite a promise were it not for the fact that producing it on a large scale would have been a challenge.

Why did you stop there? Well, because in August of this year, two research centers — the University of Colorado Boulder and Qingdao University — Compilation of this very promising material. Soon we will have it everywhere.

Many other milestones have been achieved this year, and scientists are very productive and in every day Newscasts can be populated With the news that is generated in the laboratories.

Also included in this bizarre list are advances in gene editing to combat various diseases, and safe steps taken by some scientific teams to find an alternative explanation for malignancy based on the fusion of two cellular entities.

Also the almost astonishing increase in the computing power of supercomputers, the generation of a polyvalent vaccine against 20 strains of influenza using mRNA technology, the discovery of giant bacteria visible to the naked eye, the isolation of genetic material more than 2 million years old, the preservation of dying organs …

But something very unusual: dart task (Double asteroid reorientation test). I wanted to leave this colossal achievement of our species to last: being able to deflect an asteroid. Using a car-sized ship that crashes into a wayward celestial body, we humans have created a concept so far fanciful Planetary defense.

In fact, there was no danger of crashing into our planet, it was an experiment that we usually call: proof of concept. On October 11 of this year, the success of this strategy was confirmed, and I am sure that it will save us from falling into the same fate as the dinosaurs. Science fiction is no longer fantasy. Of course we have to work so as not to disturb her with our wars.

Paraphrasing the American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, I tell you that the good thing about our work is that it is ultimately true, whether you believe in it or not. I usually add: because It’s not magic, it’s science.