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Year roundup: Five major scientific breakthroughs of 2018

by TR Pakistan

The pace of technological development continued to accelerate over the past year. Numerous discoveries and breakthroughs were made in every major scientific field from biology to space travel. Some of these can prove to be major game-changers for humanity in the coming years. Here are five of the biggest scientific and technological landmarks of 2018.


Bioprinted organs


In January 2018, researchers from Imperial College London (ICL) published a study revealing they had developed a new 3D printing technique to replicate biological structures. The ICL researchers used cryogenics (freezing) in a combination with 3D printing techniques to create structures which could mimic biological tissue. These structures could be used in medical procedures to form scaffolds that can act as a template for tissue regeneration, where damaged tissues are encouraged to regrow.

These 3D printed structures were successfully tested by seeding them with dermal fibroblast cells, which generate connective tissue in the skin.

In future, this technology could be used to replicate entire organs and even other body parts like limbs.

Antarctic greenhouse proves successful

(Source:IFL Science)

In a first, scientists successfully grew and harvested vegetables in the Ekstrom ice shelf in the Antarctic without any sunlight, soil or pesticides in subzero temperatures using the EDEN-ISS greenhouse.

The crop included 3.6 kilograms of salad greens, 18 cucumbers, and 70 radishes.

Read more: Year Roundup: TR Pakistan’s Top Five Stories in 2017

The greenhouse used a combination of lamps, artificial water supply and air filters to defy outside temperatures. Large water tanks installed in the floor are filled with melted, filtered, and purified ice from the station. Water is added to a “special nutrient solution” that is automatically sprayed on the plants every five to 10 minutes. Carbon dioxide was shipped along with the container to provide the plants with ideal air. The air is then filtered by a UV radiation system similar to the closed-circuit system onboard the International Space Station.

This technology could be used to feed astronauts in future space travel missions.

China creates artificial star

(Source: Business insider)

In a development straight out of science fiction, Chinese scientists built a fusion reactor device that reached temperatures seven times our own Sun’s. During a four month long experiment, the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), nicknamed the “Chinese artificial sun”, achieved an electron temperature of over 100 million degrees in its core plasma, which is seven times hotter than the sun.

This experiment is a follow up to the milestone the EAST team achieved in 2017 when it set a new world record in “long-pulse H mode operation”. The team explained that highlight as “achieving a stable 101.2-second steady-state high confinement plasma.” The next step was raising the temperature of the plasma to star-like levels, which the EAST team accomplished in mid-December. This could go a long way towards helping humanity create an almost unlimited supply of clean energy through nuclear fusion.

The X-Ray of tomorrow

(Source: Marsbioimaging)

By using Hybrid Pixel Detector technology that was initially used to find the ‘God Particle’, Professor Phil Butler of the University of Canterbury and his son Anthony Butler of the University of Otago and Canterbury created a new medical imaging tool that can create colored, highly detailed images. They have named the device the MARS spectral x-ray scanner.

Small versions of the scanner that can house tissue samples are already in use at several research institutions. Furthermore, the first human test subject — Phil Butler himself — was scanned through a larger form of the scanner in July. His ankle and wrist were imaged in vivid detail that made it easy to distinguish between bone, cartilage and flesh.

Researchers are currently using the MARS spectral x-ray scanner to study bone and joint health as well as various forms of cancer.

Organic matter on Mars


In June, NASA’s Curiosity Rover found organic molecules trapped in three-billion year old sedimentary rocks. This may seem like a sign that Mars once hosted life to laypersons, however, experts have pointed out that organic molecules can be formed through non-biological processes. However, this is still a major landmark in space exploration as it is a significant clue offering new insights into the planet’s chemical conditions and processes.

“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”

Some of the molecules identified include thiophenes, benzene, toluene, and small carbon chains, such as propane or butene.