The Science Events that Shaped 2015

As we enter a brand new year, not knowing what the chemical sciences might throw at us, it’s a good time to look back over the last year and see what the key science moments were in 2015.

Luckily, the Nature News website has put together a list of the major events which have taken place during the past 365 days for us to peruse.

Our most recent big event was of course the Climate Change Summit in Paris. The meeting was a great success, with more nations than ever before pledging to cut carbon emissions and keep global warming “well below” the 2 degrees previously predicted.

I’m sure we all remember when the New Horizon spacecraft flew close to Pluto back in July, revealing never-before-seen close-ups of the ex-planet’s surface. The complexity of the surfaces astounded scientists, and members of the public were dazzled by its beauty.

The CRISPR genome-editing system became big news in 2015, as it was used to edit non-viable human embryos by China. This spurred a huge amount of debate in the area, culminating in the International Summit on Human Gene Editing in December, which didn’t outran ban the use of CRISPR on human embryos, but decided it is not yet ready for this application. CRISPR has become increasingly popular throughout the year, as scientists try to use it to enhance crops and livestock and even cure human disease.

Ebola has been hitting the headlines since 2014, and this year a new vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV,  was developed which offered near total protection against the disease. Further vaccines have been developed, including one for malaria which so far only offers 30% protection, and the first ever vaccine for the dengue virus was approved in Mexico. Polio vaccinations have proven to be more effective than ever, with the disease now being close to eradication.

In the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, headlines were hit when physicists published the most convincing proof yet that two objects, such as subatomic particles, could be linked. Einstein famously disliked this theory, as it breaks the golden rule that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, but it could one day be used to build highly secure quantum internet.

In line with one of my previous posts, reproducibility has been a big topic in 2015. Many teams around the globe have been attempting to study the matter, with one study showing that two thirds of attempts to replicate psychology studies fail. Actions began to be taken throughout the year, such as the Wellcome Trust putting forwards its strategies to improve reproducibility.

The issue of sexism in science became a hotter topic than ever before this year, and the spotlight was shone on the issue as Tim Hunt made his controversial statement about sharing laboratories with women. His comments sent shockwaves throughout the globe, and thousands of female scientists took to social media to declare their outrage. There was also the shocking incident of UK evolutionary geneticist Fiona Ingleby being rejected for her paper by PLos ONE, as she needed “one or two” male co-authors to strengthen the article.

It’s been great to see science be so prominently in the public eye this past year, whether positively or negatively, and let’s hope 2016 gets more people talking about scientific issues.

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