EY's top 6 from Science's top 10

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (sentience@pobox.com)
Thu, 16 Dec 1999 16:41:30 -0600


_Science_'s list of the top 10 discoveries for 1999 includes four items I didn't even hear about, which I've marked with asterisks (*). I've also included two other items I found interesting.

> Blueprints for the Protein Factory: A grueling,
> decades-long attempt to solve one of biology's most
> frustrating puzzles had a eureka moment this year with
> the creation of the first complete molecular map of the
> ribosome, the cell's essential protein factory. Several
> groups of researchers had a hand in sorting out the
> details of the ribosome's dauntingly complex structure.
> Energized by this flurry of success, scientists are now
> hoping to catch a glimpse of the ribosome as it
> operates its protein assembly line, engaging in the
> most basic activity performed by all living things.
> *The Weird World of Quantum Matter: This year
> scientists created a bizarre new kind of gas that may
> one day help them probe the basic nature of matter and
> build the next generation of atomic clocks and lasers.
> The gas consists of atoms that fall into the category of
> fermions, one of nature's two types of elementary
> particles, which by definition are antisocial particles
> that refuse to occupy the same energy state. Now a
> team of scientists has coaxed a swarm of fermions
> into a state where they are precisely arranged in a
> ladder of energies. This achievement clears the way for
> the creation of a completely new type of quantum
> matter-a counterpart to the famous Bose-Einstein
> condensate (Science's Top Advance of 1995) made
> from the other type of elementary particle, the boson.
> *Complex Life Gets a Billion Years Older: This
> year researchers pushed back the beginnings of
> complex life by a billion years after finding telltale
> signs of eukaryotic cells (which contain a nucleus) in
> 2.7 billion-year old Australian rocks. These primitive
> inklings of life were unearthed with the help of a
> technique that searches for the residue of molecules
> produced by cells. The chemical signatures left by the
> Australian ancestors indicate that this ancient world
> was populated by eukaryotes much earlier than
> scientists had thought.
> *A Flat Universe: The universe's tally of matter and
> energy finally added up in 1999 as researchers
> confirmed their hunch that the cosmos was born in a
> burst that stretched space flat. A flat universe
> requires just the right density of matter, and up until
> this year scientists had searched in vain for enough
> matter to fit the bill. But last year's discovery (which
> was Science's Top Advance of 1998) suggested that a
> mysterious energy pushing the universe's expansion
> might fill in the missing matter. This year, new
> information from a variety of locations showed ripples
> in the microwave background, the afterglow of the Big
> Bang, that are exactly the right size to imply a flat
> universe.
> Molecules Make a Memory: A series of findings this
> year has made it easier to comprehend how memories,
> the most intangible of human experiences, are formed
> by concrete molecular activities in the brain.
> Scientists used new methods to film neurons laying the
> groundwork for memories and gained new insight into
> the molecules and steps involved in the process. *The
> power of these interactions was dramatically
> demonstrated when scientists genetically engineered a
> strain of mice that produced an abundance of one such
> molecule and were unusually successful at learning
> mazes.


> A Plethora of New Planets: Reports of new planets
> in neighboring solar systems poured in throughout
> 1999, increasing the tally of known extra-solar
> planets to almost 30. And while previous sightings
> were indirect, this year, astronomers actually caught
> one crossing the face of its star, confirming the
> existence of exoplanets. The latest batch of exoplanets
> even contains worlds that orbit in the habitable zone of
> their parent stars, where liquid water and life could
> exist. While none of the planets discovered so far
> actually has what it takes to support life, theorists
> think that the universe should be teeming with more
> planets that await discovery.

           sentience@pobox.com          Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Running on BeOS           Typing in Dvorak          Programming with Patterns
Voting for Libertarians   Heading for Singularity   There Is A Better Way