Mad About Science: The science of 2022

By Brenden Bobby
Reader Columnist

It’s the final Thursday of 2022, which seems like a great time to take a look back at the science that happened this year. Due to the cutting-edge nature of much of this, I might not have a lot of information available in the article, but if you’re really curious you should be able to find a lot of the information fairly easily online.

Scientists discovered applying a hydrophilic hydrogel to the bottom of solar panels attracted atmospheric water that would condense to cool the panel, improve its performance, and also drain into a collector to hydrate plants enclosed beneath the panels. This hydrogel could have really interesting applications in greenhouses to help maintain stable temperatures and waste less water.

Sagittarius A, a black hole at the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy. Photo courtesy International Gemini Observatory.

Scientists used 3D-printed electrodes stacked vertically to extract energy from cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria, which in vast quantities creates algae, uses photosynthesis with light from the sun to produce energy. In some cases, scientists will farm them in big vats with electrodes to capture electrical energy released by the individual cells when they produce energy from the sun. Scientists also breed different types of algae that can be converted into biofuels and burned for energy. Cyanobacteria and algae are the source of all petroleum from many hundreds of millions of years ago.

Scientists linked a dinosaur fossil to the very day of the impact that left the Chicxulub crater and triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs. This was the first time in history that scientists were able to pinpoint a fossil to the very day of the event.

Sagittarius A, the supermassive blackhole at the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy, was photographed for the first time. Projected to be 4.1 million times more massive than our sun, it acts like the engine under the hood of our galaxy, which is likely home to at least 100 billion stars.

A plant was grown in lunar soil for the first time. To be fair, the soil and plant were on Earth, brought back by the astronauts during the Apollo missions in the late 60s and early 70s. All of the moon dust from those missions, once vacuum sealed, has been contaminated by Earth’s air and humidity and the iron in the soil has begun to rust, changing its color. Moon dust is extremely abrasive and is likely at fault for the destruction of the vacuum seal. Don’t worry, we’re going back to get more in a couple of years.

Lab-grown wood was 3D printed for the first time. Scientists extracted cells from the common zinnia and squirted them into water for some time to let them grow. They were transferred to a nutrient-rich gel and then left to incubate in the dark for several weeks before the gel, cells and all were extruded into the shape of a tree and dehydrated. The end result was an artificial wood shaped like a tree. Future applications could be lab growing furniture or even fuel sources without having to contribute to deforestation.

Remaining on the topic of 3D printing, 2022 marked a success in 3D bioprinting technology when doctors bioprinted an external ear and transplanted it onto a patient. This works very similarly to the library’s 3D printer, except doctors and scientists use living cells instead of polymers to build up an object. While 3D bioprinting functional core organs are still a ways out, this marks an important step in biomedical science.

Similar to 3D bioprinting, scientists developed a hydrogel-based tactile skin in 2022 that is covered with electrodes and then wrapped around a robotic hand. This artificial skin is able to detect things our hands can, like temperature, pain and feeling, which can be translated by a machine or sent back to a human operator. If you’re getting Terminator T-800 vibes, this is actually being developed to help people perform dangerous remote tasks without having to use clunky joysticks or controls. Things like defusing bombs or manipulating hazardous waste in a careful and controlled manner could be much easier if it “feels” like we’re right there. Also, Terminators.

Earlier this year, scientists demonstrated necrobiotics, where a robot used the carcass of a spider as a mechanical gripper for picking up objects. This was achieved by securing the carcass to the robot, and allowing the robot to push pressurized air into it to make it close its legs around an object. Just in case you’re a workaholic that says you’ll sleep when you’re dead, it might be time to rethink your life philosophy!

This is just a glimpse of some of the science that happened this year. Other major developments have been steps towards a pan-Coronavirus vaccine, the Artemis Program’s maiden launch, the launching and deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope and so much more, especially in the fields of biomedical engineering. Just days ago, a major breakthrough in fusion energy was announced where scientists and engineers surpassed the breakeven point for fusion, which means they generated more energy than they used to start it. This alone could completely revolutionize energy, climate science and even waste recycling if utilized creatively.

Despite what the news cycle may have you believe, it’s a very exciting time to be alive!

Stay curious, 7B, and have a happy new year.

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