WASHINGTON – Rosetta, the European space mission, and its Philae probe have been named one of the 10 scientific breakthroughs of 2014 by the U.S. scientific journal Science.
The list of the 10 main scientific discoveries this year which includes advances in medicine, robotics, synthetic biology and paleontology, will be published in this week’s issue of the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
After a 10-year-long journey, Rosetta arrived at the comet known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August with the objective of studying, for the first time, the surface of a comet and shed some light on the formation of the universe.
In November, the mission’s Philae probe touched down on the comet after a bumpy landing. Since then it has begun to transmit scientific information about the conditions of the comet’s surface and its composition.
“Philae’s landing was an amazing feat and got the world’s attention. But the whole Rosetta mission is the breakthrough. It’s giving scientists a ringside seat as a comet warms up, breathes, and evolves,” said Science’s Tim Appenzeller.
The paleontological discovery of the year was the correct calculation of some animal paintings in a cave in Indonesia thought to 10,000 years old but which were found to actually date back to between 35,000 and 40,000 years.
The discovery suggests that humans in Asia were producing symbolic art as early as their European counterparts.
The publication also recognized a series of papers comparing the fossils of dinosaurs and primitive birds with modern birds to reveal the genetic evolution of different species of birds.
Also on the list was an experiment that showed that the GDF11 factor in the blood of young mice could rejuvenate the muscles and brains of older mice. These findings have led to a clinic trial in which Alzheimer’s patients are receiving plasma from younger donors.
A study by Harvard University that created termite-inspired interactive robots capable of creating structures without human supervision has also found a mention in the list.
The list also includes research that is using optogenetics – a technique that manipulates neuronal activity with rays of light – which has shown that it is possible to manipulate specific memories in mice.
In the area of neuroscience the journal applauded the first “neuromorphic” chips which mimic the architecture of the human brain and are designed to process information in a way similar to living brains.
Two pioneering researches that developed different methods of growing cells that resemble beta cells – insulin-producing cells of the pancreas – were also acknowledged for giving researchers an “unprecedented” opportunity to study diabetes.
In the area of technology, Science highlighted the small satellites known as CubeSats, while in genetics, it recognized research in which E. coli synthetic bacteria has been engineered so that it may be used to create proteins with “unnatural” amino acids.