Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Science's top 10 "breakthroughs" of 2006

Science Magazine's selection of the top scientific developments of the year is basically the grand prix of scientific competition. And the editors usually make pretty good calls, though in truth there are many, many important scientific developments over the course of a year. Recognizing only 10 just leaves out too much. But it seems like a limitation we have to live with. Fortunately, there are other, if less prestigious, commentators who offer similar lists on science in general or on specfic fields. Taken all together, we get a more comprehensive picture of what happened during the year.

Anyhow, you can find an index of Science's articles on the top 10 (from the December 22 issue) here. (Access is free, though you will have to register at the site.)

Their choice for top breakthrough of 2006? It's the proof of the Poincaré conjecture. It is rather unusual for a development in mathematics to rate so much attention, but then this is no ordinary breakthrough. Something like this comes along in mathematics only every 10 or 20 years. It was written about on this blog here, here and here. (And in a few other articles besides, which you can find by searching the archives.)

Science's choices for runners-up were interesting too, of course. Among those are some that have been discussed here, such as macular degeneration (this), memory (this, this, and this), and small RNA (this). There's a steady stream of developments in the latter two areas, in particular, so stay tuned for more.

Just as interesting as the list of this year's breakthroughts were Science's list of areas to watch in 2007. Prominent in this list are the areas of planetary science (both our own solar system and others) and genome mapping and comparison.

It's also interesting to note areas that are not on the list, for either this year or next. Where, for instance, are topics in cosmology, astrophysics, and extragalactic astromomy – such as dark matter, dark energy, black holes, the cosmic microwave background, and gamma-ray bursts? Some very fundamental results have been obtained this year, with more surely to come in 2007. They've been discussed extensively here – search the archives for plenty of examples. Just goes to show how much has to be left out of a "top 10" list.

Additional references:

Maths solution tops science class – from the BBC


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Blogger L. Riofrio said...

The Poincare conjecture was a huge achievement. One certainly has reason to identify with Perelman and his desire to avoid the limelight.

Concerning cosmology, if the best that scientists can come up with is "dark energy" then they need to go back to the drawing board.

12/26/2006 01:56:00 AM  
Blogger Charles Daney said...


I'm still waiting to hear what prediction your theory gives for the age of the universe. Did I miss it?

12/26/2006 02:17:00 AM  

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