Here are some of the biggest scientific advances that took place in 2022, including a breakthrough in nuclear fission energy technology and the “revival” of dead pigs.
We recently caught a glimpse of a future in which a clean, renewable, and nearly infinite source of energy might just be feasible thanks to a significant US advance in nuclear fusion technology. This discovery brought to a close an exciting year for science that saw a number of discoveries that have the potential to change both the trajectory of human history and our understanding of the cosmos. Five of the most important scientific advancements from this year are compiled here.
Future of clean energy promised by fusion energy breakthrough
Scientists reported on Tuesday (December 13) that experiments at the Lawrence National Laboratory in California produced more energy than was necessary to spark the nuclear fission process. This is a significant advance in the field. Nuclear fusion energy provides almost all of the energy used on the world. Numerous energy sources, ranging from the food we consume to the fossil fuels we burn, have their origins in the nuclear fission events that take place in the Sun. However, we still have years, if not decades, to go before we can perfect the process on our own.
The nuclear fission process—in which the nucleus of an atom, typically uranium, is split into two separate nuclei—is what gives conventional nuclear electric plants and nuclear weapons their power.
Nuclear fusion occurs when two nuclei combine to create a single, heavier nucleus in a nearly opposite process. When this occurs, a small amount of mass is lost because the mass of the new, heavier nucleus is less than the combined mass of the individual nuclei. The most well-known equation of Einstein, E=MC2, shows how this mass is changed into a significant amount of energy.
Both fission and fusion reactions release a lot of energy, however fusion produces a lot more energy than fission. As an illustration, the nuclear fusion of two heavier hydrogen isotope nuclei will result in the production of four times as much energy as the fission of a uranium atom.
If nuclear fission energy were to be made commercially available, it would provide a clean, renewable source of energy that will aid in the battle against climate change and avoid producing the wide range of radioactive waste that fission energy reactors are renowned for. Due to the difficulties in maintaining the conditions necessary for the reactions to occur, the technology still has a long way to go before it can be used as a reliable energy source. Currently being tested fusion reactions only last a few minutes.
Resuming operations, the large hadron collider produces findings nearly immediately.
The massive hadron collider (LHC), the largest particle accelerator in the world, resumed operations in April of this year after a break of more than three years for upkeep and improvements. This marked the start of the LHC’s third run, during which time researchers will gather information from an unprecedented volume of particle collisions taking place at an unprecedented level of energy.
After restarting, the LHC quickly produced significant new scientific findings. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced the finding of three new unusual particles using its particle accelerator in July of this year: a new pentaquark and two new tetraquarks.
“The recently found pentaquark is still a baryon, but in addition to the three quarks, it now contains an additional pair of quark and antiquark particles. The two tetraquarks are members of the meson family, however they have two pairs of quarks rather than pairs of quarks and antiquarks. According to Nicola Neri, a senior member of the LHCb experiment, at the time, “These states were predicted in the nominal quark model introduced in the 1960s, but these states were not found till now.”
Scientists from all over the world will be able to investigate the Higgs boson particle in great detail during the LHC’s third run, while simultaneously subjecting the “Standard model of particle physics” to the most demanding tests possible.
A quantum computer’s simulation of a “baby wormhole”
Wormholes have remained the subject of science fiction since they were first theorised by Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen in 1935. Wormholes, also known as Einstein-Rosen bridges, are hypothetical constructions that can be thought of as a tunnel with two ends located at various locations throughout space-time. This tunnel might link two locations that are far apart or close together, or even two periods in time.
Wormholes have now been introduced into our world by scientists from the fictional universes of “Star Trek” and “Interstellar.” I guess, sort of. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) used a quantum computer to mimic two black holes, then sent a message between them to effectively build a space-time tunnel.
Even while the scientists did not actually cause a rift in space and time, it looked that one did form based on quantum information that was “teleported” using quantum codes on the quantum computer.
“There is a distinction between something being possible in theory and being possible in practise. Don’t expect to send your dog through the wormhole any time soon. However, you must begin somewhere. Joseph Lykken, a physicist at Fermilab and a co-author of the paper, told Reuters at the time, “I think it’s wonderful that we can get our hands on this at all.
Even though it might be some time before we can send a person—or even their dog—through a wormhole, this research nonetheless marks a significant advance. The new research will aid in the advancement of the long-standing scientific quest to comprehend these wormholes better.
Reviving pig cells and “reversing death”
The pursuit of immortality has long been a popular theme in mythology, with examples ranging from the Greek hero Achilles to the Hindu hero Hiranyakashipu, who was killed by Narasimha. But recent data from Yale scientists that was published in the journal Nature this August challenges the idea of immortality.
The New York Times described how scientists utilised a system similar to the heart-lung machines used in hospitals to pump a specially produced solution called OrganEx into the bodies of dead pigs. The brain, heart, liver, and kidney cells of the cadavers began to work once again when the machine started pumping the solution into their veins and arteries. Also, unlike usual dead bodies, the cadavers never became stiff.
The pigs weren’t awake despite the fact that the presumably dead cells appeared to have been rejuvenated. Even though this experiment fell well short of reversing death and achieving immortality, it raises significant issues regarding the distinction between life and death in the scientific community.
The researchers want to make it possible for doctors to collect viable organs long after a patient has passed away in order to enhance the supply of human organs available for transplant in the future. Additionally, they are hopeful that this technology will be able to stop serious injury to organs like the heart after a serious heart attack or the brain after a stroke.
Researchers employed an OrganEx solution that contained nutrition, anti-inflammatory treatments, cell-death-preventing medications, and, intriguingly, nerve blockers, which slow down neuronal activity and prevent the likelihood of the pigs regaining awareness.
But what if the remedy lacked nerve blockers? Would the pigs’ brains be rejuvenated, ultimately bringing them back to life? The truth is that the researchers have not yet provided answers to these queries. But in addition to the scientific difficulties, any research in this path will be hampered by numerous ethical issues.
An artificial mouse embryo grows a heartbeat.
The University of Cambridge and Caltech developed an artificial embryo without utilising any sperm or egg cells in a technological advance that will make you wonder what life is all about. According to the University of Cambridge, the embryo made from mouse stem cells grew a brain, a beating heart, and the building blocks for every other organ in the body.
The master cells in the body, or stem cells, can differentiate into practically any form of cell. The scientists controlled three different types of stem cells seen in early mammalian development until they started interacting, simulating the natural processes that take place at conception. They managed to get the stem cells to communicate with one another by creating a special environment for their interactions.
As a result, the stem cells organised themselves into structures and advanced through developmental stages so that the embryos had beating hearts, the brain’s building blocks, and the yolk sac, which provides nutrition to the embryos in the first few weeks. The embryos created by the researchers reached the stage where the full brain started to develop, unlike other synthetic embryos created in the past.
“All of the body’s components, including a beating heart, develop in our mouse embryo model in addition to the brain. The fact that we’ve come this far is incredible. This has been our community’s long-held goal, and after ten years of hard effort, we’ve finally achieved it, according to Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, co-author of a study that was recently published in the journal Nature.
Although the research was done on mice, the researchers believe the technology can be used to the development of certain human organ types. They are better able to comprehend vital organ development processes thanks to this research, which is not possible with actual human embryos. In the UK and other nations, the “14-day rule” prohibits the study of human embryos under laboratory conditions.
But more research into this field might eventually enable the development of particular human organs that can be generated in labs using stem cells and then transplanted into patients.