Welcome to the first annual Wired News rundown of the year's 10 most important scientific breakthroughs. 2007 was an amazing year for science. Unlike recent years, there were no high-profile cases of scientific fraud -- none that went uncovered, anyway. Journal publishers took extra care, requiring scientists to duplicate results in an effort to avoid scientific, not to mention public relations, fiascoes. And while those are entertaining, we'll take solid science over Sturm und Drang any day. Here we count down the top 10 scientific discoveries that rocked our Wired world the hardest this year.
10. Transistors Get Way Smaller
In the race to make computers faster, chipmakers rely on exotic new materials. In January, Intel announced that the element hafnium and some new metal alloys will allow them to make the millions of switches on their microprocessors far smaller. Gordon Moore, co-founder of the company and father of the law that bears his name, called it the biggest change in transistor technology since the 1960s. The tremendous accomplishment allows Intel to squeeze features on each chip down to 45 nanometers from the current standard of 65 nanometers. But the greatest benefit may be an increase in energy efficiency. That improvement comes along with the hafnium alloys that will prevent electricity from leaking across the tiny switches.
Intel started using the technology, codenamed Penryn, in November in high-end servers. Home users can expect the chips in early 2008.
9. Scientists Clone Rhesus Monkey to Produce Stem Cells
At Oregon Health and Science University, Shoukhrat Mitalipov and his team cloned a Rhesus Monkey and used the resulting embryo to create stem cells. Until then, the impressive feat had been performed only with mice.
In November, the team reported in Nature a surprising key to their success: avoiding ultraviolet light and dyes -- tools that are almost always used in cloning experiments -- because they can damage delicate cells.
Stem cells could be used to repair nearly any damaged organ, but they are useless if they upset the immune system. By cloning sick patients and using cells derived from their own bodies, doctors could skirt problems similar to those experienced by people with organ transplants. But some say the No. 1 discovery on our list makes cloning unnecessary. Nonetheless, some scientists, including stem-cell researchers at Harvard, say cloning is still necessary.
8. Planet Discovered That Could Harbor Life
Astrobiology enthusiasts have had many reasons to rejoice this year, but one of them has been somewhat controversial. After Stéphane Udry and his colleagues found a pair of planets that they believed could harbor life, other researchers disputed which of the two is most habitable, but agreed that the distant solar system is worthy of further study.
Using a Canadian space telescope and the European Southern Observatory in Chile, Udry inferred that the most promising object is slightly larger than earth, circles its sun in 18 days, and may be rocky. In a late April issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the University of Geneva professor provided details about his sophisticated search. Both of the celestial bodies orbit the red dwarf star Gliese 581, which is only 20 light years from earth. Although prospects for the two planets may be less hopeful than Udry and his associates projected, the methods that they used to locate the small planet could be used to make many more discoveries.