Posted on December 24th, 2014 by Lavanya Bathwal

'The process of scientific discovery is, in effect, a continual flight from wonder.'

- Albert Einstein

20th September, 1969: Churyumov–Gerasimenko, a comet popularly known as 67P was discovered by Klim Ivanovych Churyumov of the Kiev University's Astronomical Observatory.

12th November, 2014: Rosetta, a robotic space probe was launched by the European Space Agency lands on the 67P.

If this isn’t your definition of breakthroughs, we are not sure what is! The first ever spacecraft to land on a comet. 45 years! Well it has certainly raised eyebrows in the scientific all over the world. It's another feather in the cap of astronomical and aerospace research.

2014 has witnessed some amazing tangible advancements in science and technology. This is a sentence oft-repeated in articles published every year. What's so special about this year, you would ask. If the above data doesn't convince you, then I have nuggets from 2014 that will certainly change your minds.

For the robo-fans there is some absolutely intriguing news for you. Co-operation among robots! Quite unheard of? Not so this year! Experiments conducted on tiny robots have revealed them to be working in coordination forming 2D patterns. Imagine where this discovery could lead to. Could this trigger a robotic revolution? This breakthrough has certainly added new dimensions to the field.

Coming to the eternal desire of every human being; agelessness! We all want to be ’17 again’. But ageing is irreversible. Or is it? Can we gain back those precious years which are no longer but history? Can we achieve what long seemed impossible? 2014 has definitely shown us a ray of hope, and a bright one! I am not hinting at those anti-ageing creams which claim to make us appear young. We are talking of internal change-more on a cellular level. How did the scientists discover this? Appears that, when scientists sewed an old rat with a younger one, the rat showed better regeneration of muscles by the stem cell. Scientists found that GDF11 found in young blood can bring about rejuvenation. Now, wouldn’t you want to unfriend the old man’s pet, the dreaded Alzheimer’s?

Talking of biology it is hard to miss the news pertaining to the probable cure of diabetes. The silent killer which has long evaded cure might now be shown the door. Scientists have toiled for years trying to use human embryonic stem cells to generate beta-cells (pancreatic cells). This year, the research has revealed more positive results than ever. It says that it takes about 7 weeks to produce the insulin producing cells. The problem, however, is in preserving them. Nevertheless, seems like we are approaching dawn!

Mimicry is an interesting art. What if this art is taken to another level? Chips that can mimic the brain, any takers? That's what 2014 has broken through with. Thanks to IBM that manufactured TrueNorth chip, the world’s first “neuron-synaptic” computer chip. With one million programmable “neurons” and 256 million “synapses, “ it is no less than a mammoth processor when the human comes to performance, so the researchers say. Although it cannot match it toe to toe, it may lead to the invention of one in days to come. Artificial intelligence coupled with cognitive sciences is what, we expect, will pave the way for the future, certainly a way smarter one.

“A-T-G-C”, the programming language for the human brain, is on its way to get an update. The field of genetic engineering has always been at the helm of scientific breakthroughs. Genetically modified plants and insects are quite commonplace with even the sabjiwalas selling ‘hybrid’ apples. Genetic modifications have always had to do with altering the “A-T-G-C” sequence. But, this year, the researchers in south California have up the ante. They have added two more alphabets denoted by X and its complement Y to the gene of an Escherichia coli bacteria. While it sounds cool, I can bet it is about to get a lot cooler.

Memory, from a psychological point of view, is an essential part of our persona. It moulds our character. You may choose to run from anything but your memories are all-pervasive. But, what if you can delete the embarrassing memory of you almost drowning in knee level water, not to mention the cynical sympathy of the onlookers! What if you can manipulate and delete the scars of time, etched deep into your memory? We’ve certainly had glimpses of it in the MIB series, where they had this weirdly cool device that deletes a short part of the memory of the person it operates on.

Optogenetics is the ultra-scientific word for memory engineering! Laser beams used on the brains of mice-popular animal for research, appear to be able to trigger their nerve cells, thus altering their memories. This could as well be soon applied on humans. Rest assured, it's not one of those electrodes that is put on lunatics. PETA wouldn't have allowed that on mice.

Though the list of discoveries isn’t over yet, it is pretty evident that 2014 has indeed been special. The year has seen great glory in the field and promised great hope for the future. Be it genetics or robotics or astronomy, 2014 has had its fair share of everything.

Nevertheless, in this journey we cannot compromise the safety of the planet and its people. For the future to exist, there is a great need to research technologies that would eventually control environmental and social crisis.

I guess, this is where you celebrate the new year’s promise of new hope!

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