Climate change and it effects dominated the news in 2009 (Source: David Gray/Reuters)
The News in Science team will be taking a break during the Christmas-New Year period, but you can still enjoy the following highlights from 2009.
The highlight for Australian science in 2009 would have to be Dr Elizabeth Blackburn becoming the first Australian-born female scientist to receive a Nobel Prize. Her work in discovering telomeres and their role in ageing saw her receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine with fellow researchers Dr Carol Greider and Dr Jack Szostak.
CSIRO also scored big in 2009 when they reached a settlement with a number of companies regarding the use of its patented Wi-Fi technology. The organisation received more than $200 million in licensing fees and its creator, Dr John O’Sullivan, received the Prime Minister’s Science Prize.
As the world celebrated the 400th anniversary of Galileo pointing a telescope to the night sky and 40 years since Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, the most viewed story in 2009 was about our impending doom: a French study found there is a 1% chance Jupiter will kick start a game of ‘planetary snooker’ in the next five billion years.
This year astronomers admitted they were baffled as to why the giant red star Betelgeuse is rapidly shrinking, and NASA scientists predicted the current solar minimum to be the quietest in almost 100 years.
The European Space Agency successfully launched two space telescopes to look deep into the universe, while NASA deliberately crashed a spacecraft into the Moon and tested its space shuttle replacement, the Ares 1 rocket.
The debate surrounding climate change reached a fever pitch in the lead up to the UN Copenhagen climate conference.
While some studies found the world is warming faster and sea levels are rising quicker than previously predicted, others found it is occurring as predicted and that glaciers and ice cover are actually growing.
Australian researchers identified a strong link between the patterns in the Indian Ocean and reduced rainfall in southeastern Australia, which they believe contributed towards Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires.
Sex in the animal kingdom continues to intrigue researchers … and readers. This year found that females of a species of Australian lizard roll over to avoid sex, chimpanzees exchange sex for food, being a desirable fruit fly comes at a cost, and male redback spiders that provide inadequate foreplay quickly become dinner.
They also showed being a free-range chicken doesn’t guarantee a worry-free existence, the cocker spaniel is the meanest breed of dog, serotonin causes locusts to swarm, a tiny marsupial soaks up the sun like a lizard, and the true colour of the extinct moa using its DNA.
Nano pros and cons
The benefits of nanotechnology featured heavily in the news throughout 2009. They included nanorods for increased data storage and nanotransistors for faster quantum computing, through to gold nanospheres that cook cancer cells and vibrating iron-nickel nanodiscs that cause cancer to self-destruct.
During his stay on the International Space Station, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata conducted a number of unusual experiments including, flying on a carpet, using eye drops in microgravity and wearing a pair of wash-free underwear for more than a month.
Researchers investigated ways to harness the power of hamsters running in a wheel, trained bacteria to draw on an agar plate, and grew fully-functional artificial penises that allowed dismembered rabbits to once again breed … like rabbits.
From ABC Science’s News in Science team have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We’ll be back publishing on 11 January 2010.