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Top Scientific Breakthroughs of 2009

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 3 years ago | from the still-can't-cure-stupid dept.

Science 57

Wired has posted their favorite scientific breakthroughs of the past year. The feats include things like the confirmation of element 114, a cancer-detecting breathalyzer, the power of jellyfish and more. What other discoveries should have made the list and what might we look forward to in 2010? "Also this year, researchers at the University of Washington cured two adult monkeys of colorblindness by giving them injections of a gene that produces pigments necessary for color vision. After the treatment, the animals scored higher on a computerized color blindness test. In the coming years, gene therapy will be tested as a remedy for all sorts of inherited diseases, cancer, viral infections and even high cholesterol."

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Non-reversing mirrors! (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30614500)

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (4, Insightful)

Feminist-Mom (816033) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614522)

The non-reversing mirror is cute, but the driver-side mirror with no blindspot actually has applications. I'd buy one now if they were selling them.

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (4, Interesting)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614786)


According to the article, he can't sell the wing-mirror in the USA because leglislation bans curved wing-mirrors, so he's going to have to try selling them in the EU instead. Why is there such legislation, anyone?

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (2, Informative)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615018)

The US has had a long history of being overly conservative on automotive equipment. A classic example is the amount of time that passed before aerodynamically shaped headlights were allowed on cars in place of flat faced sealed beams. Ever wonder why the headlights on a car such as this Mustang SVO [wikipedia.org] or this Mercedes S-Class [wikipedia.org] don't blend into the rest of the front end? Silly laws are why.

The fact that these aerodynamic lights performed their function correctly was irrelevant... they were different in form, and therefore banned in the US for many years after their first appearance.

Another good example can be found with catalytic converters. It's illegal for a muffler shop to remove it from your car, but it's perfectly fine to drive around with a totally inactive and rusted out one, or to buy a cheap made-in-Taiwan replacement that most likely does very little exhaust scrubbing compared to the (often pricey due to the exotic metal content) factory spec model. Catalytic converters are supposed to be about pollution control, but the actual laws regarding them have nothing to do with their functionality, and only with their apparent presence or lack thereof on a vehicle.

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615052)

I should qualify the catalytic converter rant as being applicable in states without systematic vehicle exhaust inspections.

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (3, Informative)

Bluesman (104513) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615048)

I don't know the original intention of the legislation, but I use the driver side mirror for its intended purpose -- to remove the blind spot when changing lanes or turning right. I position it so that if a car is passing me on the left, I can see it leave the view of the rear-view mirror and enter the driver side mirror, until I can see it with peripheral vision. I usually have the driver side mirror angled way out.

There isn't a reason (to me) to see more with that mirror; if I could see cars further to the left of me, it would only be confusing when trying to switch lanes quickly. (Is that car immediately left of me, or is it two lanes over?)

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30615212)

A somewhat useful gauge to tell if someone is a clueless driver or not is when you are sitting behind them at a stop light, can you see their face in their driver side-view mirror. If so, they have no idea how to adjust their mirrors correctly and probably shouldn't be behind the wheel of a car.

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (1)

buzz_mccool (549976) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615306)

Or their spouse normally drives that vehicle and gets annoyed when the mirrors are moved and therefore the current driver just looks over their shoulder before lane changes etc.

Side mirrors are used for reversing too (1)

gundersd (787946) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615876)

... as a driver who started driving utility vehicles shortly after getting his licence, I can attest to the fact that the side mirrors are invaluable for reversing a loaded ute (or car/truck for that matter) into tight spaces. Perhaps the intention is not to distort the field-of-view when they are used for this purpose?

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 3 years ago | (#30616342)

There isn't a reason (to me) to see more with that mirror; if I could see cars further to the left of me, it would only be confusing when trying to switch lanes quickly. (Is that car immediately left of me, or is it two lanes over?)

With a mirror in TFA, you see more of the road surface as well, which means you see the lanes.

Also, curved mirrors aren't usually used for driver-side - as you point out, driver-side mirrors are generally good enough as it is. But on the other side, it can be handy to see more, especially to spot those pesky bicyclists who love to charge past cars on the right, and when parking.

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (2, Informative)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615460)

Convex mirrors make objects appear further away.

The passenger side mirror is generally a convex, wide field of view mirror, inscribed with the famous warning "objects in mirror are closer than they appear."

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (1)

clive_p (547409) | more than 4 years ago | (#30622066)

I didn't know that the USA prohibited curved wing/door mirrors - that explains a lot. Every time I've rented a car in the USA I have found it very hard to set the mirrors so I can see vehicles which are nearly alongside - a few times I've nearly pulled out in front of them. In Europe I don't have the same problem. It seems a very dangerous law.

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30614820)

The non-reversing mirror is cute, but the driver-side mirror with no blindspot actually has applications. I'd buy one now if they were selling them.

There's just no substitute for the shoulder-check.

or

The Shoulder Check: for when you really, really don't want to cause a stupid and preventable accident by changing lanes.

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615446)

That one appears to just be a convex mirror. You can easily get one. In fact, there's probably one on the passenger side of your car right now.

As the article says, curved drivers side mirrors are illegal in the US though.

My Dick Is Only Three Inches ... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30614604)

... from the ground.

Re:My Dick Is Only Three Inches ... (1, Funny)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614748)

So, that makes you 9 inches tall?

Re:My Dick Is Only Three Inches ... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615262)

No, he's just really bad at press-ups.

Normal mirrors do not reverse! (5, Informative)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614746)

Mirrors do not reverse left-right as was explained most clearly by Richard Feynman. If you turn a book round and then look at it in a mirror, the actual text you see in the mirror is the same way round as it currently is in the book (you can prove this very easily - write in felt tip on a plastic bag and try that. You will see that the mirror writing, and the writing seen through the back of the bag are exactly the same way round

The answer to the question, why do mirrors reverse left/right and not up/down is simple: they do neither. A few seconds of ray tracing show that they reverse front to back.

Re:Normal mirrors do not reverse! (1)

Katchu (1036242) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614864)

Mirrors do not reverse left-right as was explained most clearly by Richard Feynman. ... A few seconds of ray tracing show that they reverse front to back.

I use this feature to comb the hair on the back of my head.

Re:Normal mirrors do not reverse! (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615472)

Funny. But if mirrors didn't reverse front and back, you WOULD be staring at the back of your head in the mirror.

Re:Normal mirrors do not reverse! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30614966)

Well, sure, what ever you want to call it, this mirror in the link makes it so that text appears normal. It doesn't appear "normal" in a regular mirror, to the observer. Do you, or do you not have trouble reading text that appears reflected in a conventional mirror?

Re:Normal mirrors do not reverse! (1)

argent (18001) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615514)

Do you, or do you not have trouble reading text that appears reflected in a conventional mirror?

Somewhat, but not the way many people seem to. The first time someone pointed out that "ambulance" was written backwards on the front of an ambulance, so that people could read it in the rear view mirror, I thought they were joshing me... even while I was looking at it.

Depends on how you turn around to see the image (1)

Derling Whirvish (636322) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615970)

The direction it reverses is based on how you turn around to see the image. George Gamow explained this. Rotate a book around the vertical axis (yaw) and the text is correct top-to-bottom but reversed right-to-left. Rotate it around the horizontal axis (pitch) and the text is correct left-to-right but reversed bottom-to-top. This applies to how the observer turns around to see his/her image as well -- either by rotating around on your feet or by flipping over and standing on your head.

Re:Normal mirrors do not reverse! (1)

rkinch (608630) | more than 4 years ago | (#30619210)

Like Polaroid vs 35mm film.

Re:Non-reversing mirrors! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30620160)

Those have been available for many years:
http://www.truemirror.com/default.asp
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-reversing_mirror

Cure for niggers (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30614506)

Tis' what I'm hoping for in 2010.

What an amazing breakthrough! (3, Funny)

rbcd (1518507) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614550)

Who'd have guessed that element 114 would turn out to be a cancer-detecting breathalyzer?

Re:What an amazing breakthrough! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30614576)

Holy shit it’s bismuth!
That’s right you cockbags
-this shit is so awesome it fucking hurts to look at
-fuck diamonds, fuck ploybenium, fuck carbon, they’re fucking posers
-this is serious bismuth bitches godamn
Jesus Christ look at this shit man, you better fucking believe it’s some bismuth

Re:What an amazing breakthrough! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30614578)

It's also the power of jellyfish, and more! It's great!

Re:What an amazing breakthrough! (1)

kabaju42 (959652) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614720)

I know, I was just a shocked. I wonder what wonders the 115th element will hold

Re:What an amazing breakthrough! (2, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614744)

Unfavorable reviews to the original classic

Re:What an amazing breakthrough! (3, Funny)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614826)


Well the Fifth Element was love. I guess by the 115th we're down to, I don't know, petulance or something.

Re:What an amazing breakthrough! (2, Insightful)

Telecommando (513768) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614944)

Petulance is far too abundant to be a rare element like #115.

It's more likely to be something extremely rare like peace, reason or sarcasm-detection.

Re:What an amazing breakthrough! (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615596)

Oh, a sarcasm-detecting element. That's real useful.

Re:What an amazing breakthrough! (1)

d36 (1442889) | more than 3 years ago | (#30616162)

Why did my desk just light up?

Re:What an amazing breakthrough! (1)

spedrosa (44674) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615838)

Gravitic propulsion, allowing us to build UFOs.

I predict it will be called Elerium.

Re:What an amazing breakthrough! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30614758)

Ever since I was diagnosed for prostate cancer, I've had to drive extra slowly so as not to risk getting pulled over. Bad enough to have cancer, but I can't afford to get busted for it.

Streaming Porn (0)

masmullin (1479239) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614552)

Obviously the most important breakthrough of the decade.

Re:Streaming Porn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30614584)

That's what the Internet was made for!

Spam (2, Funny)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614554)

I like the way spam was eliminated.

Re:Spam (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615208)

The scary thing about Spam is that gmail actually manages to filter it with very few ( any ? ) false positives.

Seriously if you want to get an idea of just how horrifyingly good google is at data mining and pattern recognition create a gmail account and observe how little spam you get. Then check the spam folder and search it for false positives.

The only spam I get nowadays is things I have deliberately signed up to but neglected to unsubscribe from because I'm too lazy.

Re:Spam (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615296)

The scary thing about Spam is that gmail actually manages to filter it with very few ( any ? ) false positives.

The scary thing about spam is that gmail insists on bouncing it to whoever is in the From: field, ignoring SPF, and resulting in you getting a few hundred spam emails courtesy of Google whenever a spammer spoofs your address.

global (warming/cooling/neither) for $100 Alex (1)

OffTheLip (636691) | more than 3 years ago | (#30614712)

Depending on your perspective this was a breakthrough, perhaps financially, perhaps scientifically, perhaps ecologically, etc...

Prebiotic Ribonucleotides (5, Interesting)

drooling-dog (189103) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615124)

With all due respect to the achievements heralded in the Wired article, the scientific paper that most blew me away in 2009 was Synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions by Powner et.al. in the 14 May 2009 issue of Nature. The authors demonstrated an efficient synthesis of a phosphorylated ribonucleotide under mild conditions using only a small number of simple molecules likely to have been present in the "pre-biotic soup" of early Earth. The reaction is so facile that it would be surprising if it didn't occur given the presence of these molecules (cyanimide, cyanoacetylene, glycolaldehyde, glyceraldehyde, and inorganic phosphate). Because the products are activated ribonucleotides, they would have readily polymerized into something like RNA and quite probably the first self-replicating molecule.

To me this was one of the biggest "missing links" in the story of how life might have arisen from simple organic molecules, and that scenario now seems like a slam-dunk. The rest, as they say, is history...

Re:Prebiotic Ribonucleotides (0)

MotorMachineMercenar (124135) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615932)

The reaction is so facile that it would be surprising if it didn't occur given the present in the presence of the pre-biotic soup of simple molecules likely to have been pre-biotic soup of early Earth. The authors demonstrated an efficient synthesis of a phosphorylated ribonucleotide under mild conditions using if it didn't occur given these molecules. The reactions using only a small number of simple molecules likely to have been present synthesis of simple molecules. [courtesy of the Gibberish Generator: I ran your gibberish through their Physics generator which might as well be whatever the fuck you were blathering about.]

Re:Prebiotic Ribonucleotides (1)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 3 years ago | (#30616006)

Did somebody say soup?

Re:Prebiotic Ribonucleotides (2, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#30616672)

MMM, how dare they use long words on YOUR internet! Long live Finland!

Re:Prebiotic Ribonucleotides (1)

drooling-dog (189103) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617522)

[courtesy of the Gibberish Generator: I ran your gibberish through their Physics generator which might as well be whatever the fuck you were blathering about.]

Heh heh... Sorry. I guess I shouldn't have said "ribonucleotide" in a science thread?

Re:Prebiotic Ribonucleotides (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 4 years ago | (#30637066)

Heh heh... Sorry. I guess I shouldn't have said "ribonucleotide" in a science thread?

It's OK, the GP has been flogged by the Slashdot idiot detector.

Re:Prebiotic Ribonucleotides (1)

d34dluk3 (1659991) | more than 4 years ago | (#30620448)

Good to hear from you too, Mr. Powner.

Innune Deficiencies (0, Offtopic)

wwphx (225607) | more than 3 years ago | (#30615254)

I'll be really happy if they can find a cure or longer-lasting treatment for immune disorders. I have CVID, which costs approximately $10,000 a month (thank ghod for insurance!) and requires four needles in my abdomen for 90 minutes or so twice a week. I met a fellow geek at a sci fi convention in Dallas last year with a similar condition, he's been getting IV treatments monthly since he was an infant.

This would be a tremendous return on the dollar, not to mention the possibility of curing AIDS.

Re:Immune Deficiencies (0, Offtopic)

Velex (120469) | more than 3 years ago | (#30616860)

I'll be really happy if they can find a cure or longer-lasting treatment for immune disorders. I have CVID, which costs approximately $10,000 a month (thank ghod for insurance!) and requires four needles in my abdomen for 90 minutes or so twice a week. I met a fellow geek at a sci fi convention in Dallas last year with a similar condition, he's been getting IV treatments monthly since he was an infant. This would be a tremendous return on the dollar, not to mention the possibility of curing AIDS.

(Disclaimer: I try to not be an asshole, but I couldn't resist. Moderators: try to keep your knees from jerking. There's no -1, "tl;dr but that other guy's dying and you're a vain, self-centered, mentally ill, delusional pervert.")

I'd be really happy if the medical community would follow up on studies that show the biological basis for transsexualism (such as brain imaging, which was mildly successful at predicting whether a person would be a transsexual or not). I have transsexualism, which, if treated before/at puberty costs approximately $10,000 for a genital surgery (mostly cosmetic, but required by law to get the documents correct) and $1 per day in artificial hormones. I met a fellow geek at a sci-fi/anime convention in Detriot a while back with a similar condition. She didn't even know that brain sex could be measured using existing brain imaging techniques.

I just wanted to point out that it's interesting that insurance will pay $120,000 per year to keep you alive and well, but insurance is completely unwilling to part with one of your monthly payments to give me a normal life as the gender my brain is wired for, thus curing me completely. But no, I'm not dying (although psychologists who believe that transsexualism is a mental illness to be cured with electroshock cost me my family, since I wasn't going to agree to have my brain fried just to prove myself right. My only present neurological issue is being a woman [which i understand is something that affects 50%-51% of the population]; I'd hate to get a few actual neurological problems that would affect my software development work such as long term/short term memory problems that electroshock can cause.)

Now, if there were some real science instead of pseudoscience in the treatment of transsexualism, I could have been diagnosed before puberty, I'd look and sound exactly like a normal girl, to the point where I probably wouldn't even care about "transgender issues" more than remembering to take a pill every morning and get a yearly checkup at an endocrinologist. (Of course, having an almost completely normal female body sans menstruation, there probably wouldn't be transgender issues to worry about as long as one steers clear of feminists and other bigots.)

C'est la vie. Didn't mean to say I've got it worse, quite the opposite really. I've got it pretty good for a transsexual, even. I probably won't be one of the 50% of transsexuals who turns to suicide.

Re:Immune Deficiencies (0, Offtopic)

wwphx (225607) | more than 3 years ago | (#30617170)

My wife's college roomie was a complete dual-gender hermaphrodite, and while in college, went through the surgery to go straight female. She has major endocrine problems and is legally blind.

I agree fully re: your science vs pseudoscience remark. I think one of the biggest failings of the USA has been our being dominated by Puritan thought. It's amazing how backwards we are compared to some countries, yet we try to spread our way of life to others.

My condition falls in to the category of potentially fatal, probably not directly fatal. I had pneumonia four times this year from February to June, it took my wife demanding that a specific test be run for me to get diagnosed. It's common for people with my condition, CVID (Common Variable Immune Deficiency), to go six years before diagnosis. That was on top of two operations for carpal tunnel. I was fortunate in that I never had to be hospitalized for my pneumonias.

If I didn't get my Vivaglobin, I'd probably be an almost total shut-in. As it is, my immunologist has released me to return to school. It did cost me my full-time job: we decided it was best for my health to go to part-time telecommuting and avoid all of the people who go in to work sick, also to reduce my stress level and to try and improve my mental health.

The thing that makes my treatment so expensive is that it takes 1,000 blood donations to make one treatment, and I need it weekly. And it's quite possible that I'm about to get screwed: some health insurance companies have been changing the tier that primary immunodeficiency falls in to, making the patient pay 10-30% of the costs. We have no idea what will happen if that takes place, probably see how low we can go in treatment dosage and still maintain my health.

Health problems suck. Good luck to you, V.

You both are off topic (1)

jotaeleemeese (303437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617680)

The article is asking which other discoveries are worth considering, and you both are turning the discussion into a wish-list of what we would like to be discovered.

All very worthy, since I agree all medical conditions should be treated, but completely irrelevant to the original article (so the Moderators should let their knees jerk freely).

Genetic Therapy (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 4 years ago | (#30618356)

Adding genes to fix color blindness really caught my attention. If that can be done, it should be possible to turn anyone into a tetrachromat or better.

Wired Heads (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 4 years ago | (#30619516)

I'd put this at top 10 of a decade, much less a year. Someplace or other http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=10/01/01/0945239 [slashdot.org] carried a story about the first real advance in neural/machine interface technology in years.

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