Science Round-up, 2023

The James Webb Telescope continues to bring the universe closer to us, but there have been other and even bigger science stories this year. Click below for a few of these. They’re more hopeful than much of the rest of the news.

Long-term, I suspect the big story will be that, after decades of research and billions of dollars, we have proof-of-concept for nuclear fusion as a source of power. The promise is incredible: theoretically clean and (for all practical purposes) unlimited energy.

Of course, many challenges remain, and actual workaday fusion is, at best, a long way off.

Around the same time, an unoccupied Orion Spacecraft made it around the moon and safely back, heralding a possible return to human spaceflight

The Japanese intend to play a role in renewed space exploration. Japan hopes to finally launch its H3 Rocket in February.

As for dangers from space, NASA had its first test this past autumn at throwing a dart, so to speak, to redirect an asteroid. The technology could be used if an asteroid or comet ever threatened the earth.

Here on earth, DNA evidence established that one group of Neanderthal fossils represents a related family.

mRNA technology, of the kind used in the most common COVID vaccinations, have a number of potential applications. Earlier in December, Moderna and Merck announced its application in a possible skin cancer vaccine.

Pfizer, meanwhile, has tested a vaccine against reduce respiratory syncytial virus, which can be quite serious in infants and other susceptible groups.

In other energy news, Swiss researchers at EPFL’s Photovoltaics Laboratory and CSEM’s Sustainable Energy Center have developed two different solar cells that have better than 30% efficiency, suggesting that solar energy may have a brighter future.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, meanwhile, developed a “hibernating” battery that can store energy for months when not in use.

Of course, the rapidly expanding use of AI to generate images, stories, essays, and other artistic endeavors means that loads of people won’t believe the news, anyway. Hey, it’s just more computer-generated fakery, man.

I myself have been playing with several of these AI programs, and am developing a panel with the artist D.S. Barrick, with input from the composer, Shaun Chasin, on the implications: practical, ethical, and prognosticative, of the “AI” algorithms. I don’t know if I’m inadvertently creating a future where artists and writers won’t have jobs, the one where we all disappear in the holodeck, or the one where the machines finally, actually start thinking.

Who knows what the future will bring?

An image of the future I generated with Midjourney and its ability to reshape the internet.

(Generated with Midjourney)

Happy 2023!