Sure, you may not be zooming around in a flying car and moving objects with your mind, but the last decade has proven to be an incredible time for scientific and technological progression. From studying the edges of our visible universe to the make up of our own DNA, we now know more than ever.
Now is the perfect time to observe both the discoveries and the brilliant scientists responsible for them as we usher in a a brand new decade. Who knows, maybe by the end of 2020 your flying car will arrive. In the mean time, here are the 20 most important scientific breakthroughs of this decade.
1. Gravitational Waves: Yes, Newton told us about gravity ages ago. But in 2017, the first celestial event recorded in light and gravitational waves was detected by LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and gave some tangible proof to the theory of gravity.
2. DNA Discovery: In 2010, researchers revealed a near-complete genome from an ancient Homo sapien. Focusing on ancestral DNA led to increased knowledge of our genetic code. DNA researchers have also promoted the ethical treatment of the remains of indigenous people.
3. Exoplanets: Between 2009-2018, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope found 2,700 exoplanets. These are planets just outside our own solar system and knowledge of them broadens our galactic understanding.
4. Ancient art: In 2018, researchers located the world’s oldest figurative cave painting in Indonesia at 44,000 years old. Then, they found the first evidence of an artistic doodle in South Africa dated at over 70,000 years old.
5. Interstellar decade: In the 2010s, human spacecraft surpassed the area between the sun and interstellar space as NASA’s Voyager 1 successfully crossed the boundary of the heliosphere. Astronomers also located the first object in our system that was created in another — the comet “Oumuamua.”
6. Tomb of Christ: In 2015, Researchers confirmed that Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre dates back to Rome’s first Christian emperor. This suggests that it was built atop the site Rome claims is the burial place of Christ.
7. King Richard III: Another important person was finally discovered. The missing body of King Richard of Shakespearean fame was located underneath what is now a parking lot. Researchers at the University of Leicester nabbed the illusive king.
Channel 4 News
8. The three-parent baby: In 2016, a baby grown from a father’s sperm, a mother’s cell nucleus, and a third person’s egg sans nucleus was created. As gene editing was a common endeavor this decade, two macaques were also successfully cloned in 2018.
9. Space travel: In 2019, astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch participated in the first-ever all-female spacewalk. Private companies like SpaceX took over following the last space shuttle mission, opening up commercial space travel as an option.
10. Dinosaur decade: The discovery of fossilized pigments allowed the first-ever full color recreation of a dinosaur to be published in National Geographic in 2010. This gave way to the discovery of many dino accouterments, including rainbow iridescent feathers.
11. Climate crisis: Sadly, this decade brought the first ever mammal lost to climate change, the Bramble Cay melomy was declared extinct from rising sea levels. Continuous scientific literature confirms the existence of climate change caused by humans.
Cameron De Jong
12. New species: Multiple new species were discovered in the 2010s, including the Myanmar snub nosed monkey and the Vangunu giant rat. Another giant creature was discovered, dubbed the giant Florida salamander.
13. Dangers of extinction: In 2019, scientists confirmed that a quarter of worldwide plant and animal species are at risk of dying out within decades. This is due to the widely unchecked and irresponsible behavior of humans in the environment.
14. Higgs boson detected: After decades of searching for this integral puzzle piece, it was finally detected in 2012. This solidified the Standard Model of belief that describes how matter gets its mass. So, kind of a big deal.
NYC Data Science
15. Unknowns of the animal kingdom: In 2015, David Gruber discovered the first biofluorescence in a reptile through the hawksbill sea turtle. In 2016, researchers proved the Greenland shark can live up to 272 years, making it the longest-known living vertebrate.
16. Evolutionary revolutions: Tons of different discoveries were made to help flesh out our human timeline. New fossils from the species Homo naledi were found; their DNA is a hybrid of modern humans and ancient relatives.
17. Crispr-Cas9 system: You may not know the system by name, but it has created accessible ways to edit human DNA. Although controversial, in 2018 Chinese researcher He Jiankui facilitated the birth of two girls whose genes had been edited with the system.
18. Gaia: This spacecraft created by the European Space Agency collects data measurements of the Milky Way, which resulted in an unprecedented data set of our galaxy. With the knowledge, scientists created a 3D movie of our galactic neighborhood.
19. Black hole spotted: In 2019, scientists utilized the Event Horizon Telescope to capture the first-ever image of a black hole’s silhouette. Given the nature of these mysterious and dangerous entities, it was a major development.
20. Laser Power: In 2018, Guatemalan scientists used the power of airborne lasers to uncover over 60,000 previously unknown ancient Maya buildings. This opens up the potential of many more discoveries with the same technology.
Marcello Canuto & Luke Auld-Thomas
Not all scientific discoveries or inventions have proven to be as useful or epic as the ones above. Here are some that probably shouldn’t have been created. Like, the bed piano: In 1935, you pulled out your bed piano and knocked out a few bedtime symphonies.
2. Television Glasses: Hugo Gernsback, the man known today as “The Father of Science Fiction,” dared to dream of strapping a television set to his face in 1963 — so he made it happen (and later inspired future 3D glasses, too).
3. Man from Mars Radio Hat: Speaking of entertainment on your head, in 1949, Victor T. Hoeflinch created this hat, which allowed wearers to listen to the radio on the go, so long as they didn’t mind wearing a hat that wasn’t exactly a fashion statement.
4. Dimple Maker: In the ’30s, a smile was nothing without a set of dimples to go with it. But the dimple-less were not the hopeless: the Dimple Maker could force dimples onto their smiles by digging into their cheekbones. It did not work well.
5. The First PET Scan Device: As if going in for a PET scan wasn’t scary enough, the first machine capable of performing one was this wire-wrapped monstrosity, developed at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.
6. Portable Sauna: Back in 1962, a Finnish inventor realized that being unable to step into a sauna wherever he went was comparable to actual torture. So he created the portable sauna so he could live every moment in hot, steamy bliss.
7. Sunscreen Vending Machine: Tennis courts, swimming pools, and beaches of the 1940s offered this vending machine, which dispensed little globs of sunscreen right into your hands. Honestly, weird as this was, it could come in handy today!
8. Cone Mask: The inventor of these masks wanted to protect the wearers’ faces from things like hail and rain. Somehow, getting pelted with rain was a big enough problem that he couldn’t just, you know, tilt his head down like three inches
9. Pedal Skates: In 1913, Charles A. Nordling understood people look for any excuse possible not to walk, so he created the pedal skates. A bit cumbersome, yeah, but unlike many other items on this list, they nobly served their purpose for a while.
Online Bike Museum
10. Cigarette Pack Holder: Because smoking one cigarette at a time was totally inefficient (and totally lame by 1950’s standards), this 1955 invention allowed smokers to stop dreaming about chain smoking an entire pack and start doing it.
11. All-Terrain Car: Invented in 1936, this English automobile ascended and descended slopes as steep as 65 degrees. With, what, 12 tires, it must have cost an absolute fortune to manufacture. Speaking of all-terrain…
12. Cyclomer: With six flotation devices, the cyclomer — also called “The Amphibious Bike — was designed to function on land and in water. In practice, it was clunky on dry land, borderline deadly in the water, and no one liked it much.
13. Goofybike: So the cyclomer didn’t catch on, but that wasn’t the end of all bike-alteration efforts. The Goofybike — seen in Chicago, 1939 — sat four people, one of which worked a sewing machine that kept the bike’s weight evenly distributed.
14. Pedestrian Shield: To reduce fatalities, inventors drummed up a shield reminiscent of a train’s cowcatcher to slap on the front of automobiles. It doesn’t look like a much better alternative to the front of a car.
15. Fax Newspaper: Imagine just wanting to catch up on your daily news and waiting (and waiting) for the darn newspaper fax to show up! Cool, but a paperboy standing on the corner was probably more efficient.
16. Shower Hood: Marketed as a way to keep your makeup intact, the shower hood prevented water from hitting your hair or face, which kind of defeated the major purpose of taking a shower altogether.
17. The Baby Dangler: Today, naming your device “The Baby Dangler” would make your peers mock you at best and land you in prison at worst; but back in the day, it was the perfect name for a device that strung up a baby between mom and dad.
18. A Radio-Controlled Lawn Mower: The lawn’s not going to mow itself, so why not invent a small mower operated with a remote control? Developed in the 1950s — and later celebrated by British royalty — the device survived time and still exists!
19. Ice Mask: There were plenty of reasons to drink in the 1940s, and inventors knew it. That’s why one developed the ice mask, which advertisers touted as a cure for the morning hangover.
20. Wooden Bathing Suits: These barrel-like suits were invented in 1929 and, allegedly, acted like flotation devices for swimming (wood floats, after all). But they must have been restrictive!