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6 Incredible Science Stories from 2020

Feb 10,2021 by Edulab

2020, for many of us, proved to be an unforgettable year – for reasons good and (mostly) bad. But for all the isolation and disruption in our day-to-day lives, there were still some outstanding advances in science and some truly captivating stories that made headlines all over the world.

All the way from witnessing a healthier environment due to limited human activity to significant biological discoveries, from learning new details about our solar system to simply learning about the working of a beehive, these were just a few of our favourite science stories from 2020.

Unique Vaccines Developed in Record Time

We don’t need to introduce COVID-19 or the effects of the global pandemic to you. You’re probably fully aware of 2020’s dominating news. Having said that, there are still one or two groups that will claim they don’t know what you’re talking about.

Yes, there were incredible gains in virology (the study of viruses) and we all learnt a thing or two about how easily viruses spread, our immune system, and the effect an infection has on the body.

This has meant that pretty much everyone, from hospitals and offices to schools have had to learn and improve not just their knowledge, but also their stock of vital products that help to combat the spread. Check out our recent blog on infection prevention and control in schools for further information on how you can keep your environment cleaner and safer.

Not only that, but several companies were able to develop effective vaccines in record time. This was an incredible achievement. When the pressure was on and we needed a solution, Moderna and Pfizer (working with BioNTech) were able to develop a world-first mRNA vaccine.

Thought to be more than 90% effective, this was truly groundbreaking science.

Asteroid Samples, Come on Down

Have you ever heard somebody tell you a simple task ‘isn’t rocket science?’ Well, nothing displays the mind-boggling complexity of rock science more literally than this incredible news piece.

NASA sent a rocket more than 200 million miles away from our planet and in October of last year, it met the precise orbit of an ancient asteroid called Bennu. This marked the first and only time a spacecraft has reached out and touched an asteroid.

A robotic arm snatched a sample from the asteroid and storied it within a chamber. The spacecraft will touch back down on planet Earth in around three years’ time, where there are high hopes that the sample will contain clues to how life on our planet began.

Busy Bees and Job Vacancies

In something a little closer to home, scientists made great progress in understanding the intricate roles within a bee colony. Bees have all kinds of roles to play within a hive depending on the hierarchy.

For instance, there are hunters, feeders, and even bouncers! Honeybees can find themselves drunk on fermented tree sap, and bouncers stand guard to refuse them entry. Who knows what damage a drunk bee could cause once inside!

But in 2020, scientists also discovered that there are bee undertakers. These bees are tasked with searching the hive for deceased workers and removing their corpses. In a fascinating process, we learned about the different ways that insects use their sense of smell.

An Underwater Monster?

A new underwater creature was discovered in 2020. At an astonishing 45 metres long, is this huge, bloodthirsty animal a new super villain in the making?

Not quite. While it is indeed 45 metres long and thought to be the largest animal ever discovered, the siphonophore is a string-like creature, made up of tiny critters (similar to coral). It’s translucent and was discovered swimming in an underwater canyon off the coast of Australia.

Clear Your Throat

How well do you know your body? Think you could list all of the bones, tissues, and organs that make up the human body? Even the experts can’t – turns out, they’re discovering new things all the time, and that includes a new human organ.

Drumroll please! 2020 welcomed a new set of salivary glands that sit hidden in the upper part of our throat. Tubarial salivary glands, just under 4 centimetres long, moisten the area behind the mouth and nose. Who knew? Looks like we’ll have to update our own previous post about taste senses!

The Robots Are Taking Over

Does a real-life Terminator need to make an appearance in 2021? Not quite, but there were some amazing advances with artificial intelligence in science. For a start, AI tools were used to finally crack a famous dilemma in biology.

Researchers have been attempting to dissect the makeup of protein structures for more than 50 years. In 2020, Google’s AI company, DeepMind, developed a deep-learning tool that cracked it. This new data will help scientists learn about viruses and break down cellular composition.

But in more dramatic news, an AI tool learned how to, uhm…programme itself. A new AI software was developed to follow a Darwinian model, improving generation after generation. With no human input required, could this AI one day create its own AI? Only time will tell.