Some incredible things happened in the science world in 2014, but one of the best things about science is that we learn more and make progress every year. We take new steps that we couldn’t imagine decades ago. And if we look at the rate of change over time, it’s astounding.
As retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recently said, “In 100 years we’ve gone from filming the Wright Brothers to landing a camera on Titan, a moon 800 million miles away.” That’s pretty incredible. So let’s look ahead.
Here are a few potential world — changers that we’re looking for over the next year:
1. Reusable Rockets
If we’re ever going to set up a colony on Mars, we’re going to need to be able to land rockets there that can be re-used for a journey back to Earth. Not only that, but this reuseable rocket technology will make all space travel much cheaper. On Jan 10, SpaceX succesfully directed a rocket from approximately 50 miles up back to a landing platform in the ocean, but it came down so hard that it won’t be reusable. Still, that indicates good potential for future success.
2. Pepper Robot
The Japanese company Softbank will begin selling a humanoid robot produced by the French company Aldebaran Robotics. Pepper has an “emotion engine” that uses artificial intelligence to help it learn your mood from face cues and learn from past experiences, and it’s fluent in Japanese, English, Spanish, and French — not quite 6 million forms of communication, but a start.
3. The Invisible Universe
The Large Hadron Collider is going to power back on in March and it will be crashing particles together at twice the power it had before. No one knows exactly what we’ll learn from this, but possibilities include particles associated with dark matter. Further, the presence or absence of certain particles could prove or disprove the supersymmetry theory, which holds that there is a mirror universe to our own made of invisible particles that have mass and correspond to what we can see.
4. The Gravitational Waves
If physics works as Einstein thought, there should be gravitational waves rippling through space-time. Two experiments this year will give us our greatest shot at detecting those waves ever. In July, the LISA Pathfinder will launch to test technology for a space-based gravitational wave observatory. On Earth, the most sensitive gravitational wave detectors we’ve ever built, the Advanced LIGO detectors, will be turned on.
5. The Closest Look at Pluto
We’re finally going to get some pictures of Pluto clearer than the Hubble images. The New Horizons mission will arrive at its closest point to the dwarf planet after a 5 billion kilometre journey on July 14.
It’ll snap some photos that will show us Pluto’s surface and Charon, its largest moon, before heading on to explore the Kuiper Belt. In April, NASA’s Dawn probe will reach Ceres, the largest asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter, and one that’s believed to have water ice beneath its crust.
6. Ebola Epidemic will be Stopped
The Ebola epidemic is far from over in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Drug tests are underway and vaccine trials are scheduled to begin soon. Hopefully these, combined with improved public health measures, make a crucial difference toward stopping the worst outbreak of Ebola we’ve ever seen.
7. Airspace Regulations for US Drones
The US Congress has mandated that by September 2015, the FAA has to come up with a way for drones to be integrated into US airspace, making those Amazon drone-delivered packages a possibility, but also with various uses for scientists, including watching wildlife, creating maps, and monitoring wilderness areas.
8. Limiting the Climate Change Effects
In 2014 people called for action on climate change. In 2015, we’ll see if those cries are answered. The groundwork has already been laid for an international agreement at UN meetings in Paris in December 2014 to try and limit future greenhouse gas emissions, starting in 2020. The world’s two largest CO2 emitters, the US and China, have already made a deal which should make agreement much easier.
9. An End to HIV
AIDS is still the world’s leading infectious killer, but important steps in diagnosis and treatment mean that scientists have reason to think we could be at a turning point in the fight against the virus. Backpack-sized diagnostic labs are expected to arrive in Africa, and new drugs like Truvada can actually prevent people from catching HIV in the first place.
10. Vaccination against Dengue
Though Dengue isn’t always fatal, it’s a terribly painful disease that half the world’s population is at risk of catching. Plus, it kills 20,000 a year and is the leading cause of death for children in certain countries. But a vaccine has been developed that protects against 60% of regular Dengue cases and is 95.5% protective against the severe, potentially fatal form of the disease. That vaccine could be available in the second half of the year.