And now it's time to sit down, look back, take a deep breath and look through the headlines of scientific articles that we could have missed. Scientists constantly please us with new developments in various fields. Nanotechnology, gene therapy, quantum physics are spheres beyond which it is impossible to follow without admiration. Gradually, the headlines of articles become more and more like fantastic. We can not wait to find out what 2018 will present to us. For now …
Scientists have created a time crystal
According to the first law of thermodynamics, perpetual motion machines that work without any loss or gain of energy are impossible. But at the beginning of this year, physicists created structures – crystals of time – that challenged this statement.
Time crystals were the first examples in the world of a new state of matter – "nonequilibrium" – in which atoms have a variable temperature and are never in thermal equilibrium with friend. Time crystals have an atomic structure that is repeated not only in space, but also in time, which allows them to maintain constant oscillations without energy. This occurs even in the lowest energy state, when motion is theoretically impossible, because it requires energy expenditure.
Do the crystals of time violate the laws of physics? Technically, no. The conservation of energy can be determined only in systems with the symmetry of time, provided that the laws of physics are the same everywhere and always. And time crystals break this symmetry. However, they are not the first. Magnets are also often represented as natural asymmetric objects, because they have a north and south ends.
Another reason why time crystals do not violate the laws of thermodynamics is that they are not completely isolated. They need to be "pushed" from time to time – that is, to apply energy from outside, so that they begin to switch their states again and again. Possible future applications of time crystals include the transmission and storage of information in quantum systems. They can play a decisive role in quantum computing.
Wings of a dragonfly – "living"
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the "wing" as a movable feathered or membrane appendage used by birds, insects and bats for flight. It does not have to be alive, but entomologists from the University of Kiel in Germany have made some startling discoveries that point completely to the opposite in dragonflies.
Insects breathe through the trachea system. Air enters their bodies through external holes called spiracles. Then passes through a complex network of tracheal tubes that deliver it to all cells of the body. Wings, however, are composed almost entirely of dead tissue, which dries up and either becomes translucent, or covered with colored patterns. The areas of dead tissue are limited to veins, which remain the only components of the wing that are part of the respiratory system.
However, when entomologist Rainer Guillermo Ferreira looked at the wing of a male dragonfly Zenithoptera through an electron microscope, he saw tiny branching tracheal tubes. This is the first such observation on the wing of an insect. It will take many tests to determine whether this physiological feature is specific to this species, or is common in dragonflies and other insects. It may even be a mutation that was accidentally discovered in one individual, but experts doubt it. The presence of excess oxygen supply can explain the bright and intense blue colors found in these dragonflies that do not contain blue pigment.
Ancient mite filled with dinosaur blood
We found many interesting things sealed in amber, but this year's findings can surpass them all. Scientists from Myanmar found pieces of amber, dated 99 million years, which contained parasites similar to modern mites. One of them became entangled in a reindeer, two others found in the nests of a dinosaur, and the fourth was filled with blood.
Of course, this immediately led to thoughts about the Jurassic Park, because we could use this blood to revive the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, this will not happen in the near future, because it is almost impossible to extract DNA samples from these fossils in amber. Disputes about how long a DNA molecule can survive have not yet reached a consensus, but even the most optimistic estimates point to several million years in ideal conditions.
Even if it does not return the dinosaurs, Deinocroton draculi (which translates as "a terrible tick" Dracula ") became an unusual find, which provided us with new information. Now we know not only that ancient mites bitten feathered dinosaurs, but also that they infected the nests of dinosaurs.
An adult man went through a modification of genes
Today the top of gene therapy is presented by CRISPR. This is a family of DNA sequences that laid the foundation for CRISPR / Cas9 technology, which, theoretically, can forever change human DNA.
In 2017, this gene editing tool took a step forward after the team from the Proteom Research Center in Beijing announced , which successfully used CRISPR / Cas9 to eliminate pathogenic mutations in viable human embryos. Another team from the London Institute of Francis Crick went the opposite way and used technology to deliberately create mutations in human embryos for the first time. (In particular, they "cut off" the gene, preventing the embryo from developing to the blastocyst.)
This study showed that CRISPR / Cas9 works relatively simple. However, it also sparked an active ethical debate about how far the use of this technology could go. Theoretically, this can lead to the appearance of "designer babies" who may have the intellectual, sporting and physical characteristics assigned by their parents.
If we take ethics aside, there was another breakthrough in November: CRISPR / Cas9 was first used on an adult man. 44-year-old Brad Mado from California suffers from Hunter syndrome, an incurable disease that can eventually chain him to a wheelchair. He was given billions of copies of the corrective gene and used a genetic tool for cutting DNA, inserting a gene, and stitching. It will be several months before we can determine whether the procedure was successful or not.
What appeared before: sponge or comb jelly?
The new work of scientists, published this year, sets itself the task once and for all to resolve long-standing disputes about the origin of animals. According to the research, sponges are the "sisters" of all other animals in the world. This stems from the fact that the sponges were the first group to branch off from the evolutionary tree, which at that time contained only a primitive common ancestor for all animals. This happened about 750 million years ago.
Prior to this story, heated debates boiled down to two candidates: the aforementioned sponges and marine invertebrates – ctenophores. While the sponges are simple animals that sit on the bottom of the sea and filter the water, what they eat, the comb combs are much more complicated. They look like jellyfish, can push themselves in the water, glow, and they have a simple nervous system. Find out who appeared first, also means to find out what our first common ancestor looked like. This is an important step in tracking our evolution.
Although the study boldly states that the issue is resolved, just a few months before that, another study was published in which the choice was already made in favor of the ctenophora. Doubts remain.
Raccoons have passed the test for the ancient intellect
Around the 6th century BC Ancient Greek narrator Aesop wrote or collected a collection of fables, known today as "Aesop's Fables". Among them was the fable "The Crow and the Jug", which described a thirsty crow who drank from a jug, throwing stones at him until the water level reached the top.
A few thousand years later, scientists realized that this story offers a great way checking animal intelligence. Such an experiment would show that the test subject understands the cause and effect. Crows, rooks and jays have succeeded in this experiment. The higher primates also passed the test, and this year another raccoon was added to the list.
During the trial, eight raccoons collided with a cylinder in which marshmallows were swimming. But he swam too far to get it. Two raccoons decided to throw stones at the cylinder, thereby raising the water level and obtaining a reward.
Other subjects found their own creative solutions that the testers did not expect. Using his experience of a garbage-drainer, one raccoon jumped on the cylinder and began to swing it from side to side until it knocked. In another experiment, in which there were floating and sinking balls instead of stones, scientists hoped that raccoons would take out floating balls and throw into the water sinking. Instead, some animals repeatedly dipped the floating ball until the marshmallow pieces stuck to the wall of the cylinder or to the ball itself.
Physicists created the first topological laser
Physicists at the University of California at San Diego claim to have created a new type of "topological" laser that can take any shape, snaking around a cavity without scattering light. The device is based on the concept of topological insulators (materials that are carried out only on the surface but are isolated in volume), which brought the creators of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2016.
Usually the laser cavity, reinforced with light, has the form of a ring. It is more efficient than forms with sharp corners, but there are empty spaces between the rings. Scientists have overcome this obstacle by creating a topological cavity using a photonic crystal as a mirror. In particular, they used two photonic crystals with different topologies, one of which was a star-shaped cell in a square lattice and the other a triangular lattice with cylindrical air holes. Bubakar Kante, a member of the team of scientists, compared them to a bagel and pretzel: both bread products with holes, but a different number of holes give them a characteristic shape.
Once the crystals are in place and the interface takes the desired form, the system turns on by activating the magnetic field. This changes the direction in which the light is emitted, that is, it allows you to direct the stream of light. The first application was the deployment of a larger number of lasers on a chip, which should increase the speed of optical communications. However, in the general scheme of things, this seems like a step forward in the direction of optical computations.
Scientists stirred up excitonium
Physicists all over the world are excited about the discovery of a new form of matter – excitonium. It is made of strange particles called "excitons", which are the bound state of the escaped electron and the hole from which it has just escaped, attracted by Coulomb force. Harvard theoretical physicist Bert Halperin suggested the existence of excitonism in the 1960s, and since then scientists have tried to prove or disprove his assumptions.
As with many large scientific discoveries, the discovery of exciton was checked with the utmost care. The team responsible for the discovery from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has in fact developed a new M-EELS spectroscopy method specifically for exciton search. However, their moment of triumph came, when scientists conducted calibration tests of their new method. One member of the team entered the room, and everyone else looked at the board and said they had just measured the "soft plasmon", the precursor of exciton condensation.
The lead researcher, Professor Peter Abbamont, compared this discovery to the Higgs boson – he will not have an application in real world, but it shows that our current understanding of quantum mechanics is extremely true.
Nanomachines that kill cancer have been created
Scientists from the University of Durham said they had created nanomachines capable of drilling into cancer cells and killing them in as little as 60 seconds. In a successful test conducted by the university, tiny machines penetrated and destroyed the outer membrane of the cancer cell of the prostate in just 1-3 minutes
These nanomachines are 50,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. They are activated by light and rotate two to three million times per second to be able to break through the cell walls. Reaching their goal, they either blow it up, or deliver a valuable cargo in the form of medicines.
So far, these nanomachines have been used on one type of cell, but the results encourage scientists to move towards microorganisms and small fish. Then they will go to the rodents and eventually to humans.
The interstellar asteroid could be an alien spaceship
It's only been a couple of months since astronomers happily announced the opening of our first interstellar visitor, an asteroid named "Umuamua." Since then, they have observed many strange things in his behavior, and some even decided that he was not from our solar system. Moreover, he was so strange that an alien spaceship was suspected.
First of all, form. Umuamua has the shape of a cigar with a ratio of length to width of 10: 1, it's amazing. At first we decided that it was a comet, but when the tail did not melt when approaching the Sun, it became clear that it was not a comet. Some experts argue that the speed at which this object rotates would break an ordinary asteroid. It seems that it is specifically designed to survive in an interstellar journey.
Can it be of an artificial origin? Some believe that this is an alien probe, others are a spaceship with a broken engine that is drifting in space. SETI has already aimed its telescopes on the asteroid, so we will soon find out.