STEMming the future: discoveries of 2016

Breanna de Vera, Staff Writer

Every day is full of advancements and discoveries. But 2016 as a whole has proven filled to the brim, in every field and practice.

This year has been very interesting in terms of organs and stem cells. Early this Nov., researchers at the University of Michigan successfully transplanted lab-grown lungs into mice. This provides more opportunity for research and observation of respiratory function and diseases. Human-sized organs have been grown as well.Through the use of pluripotent stem cells, which are genetically modified to act like embryonic cells and capable of becoming any type of adult cells, Tokyo and Kyoto University researchers have grown a full sized human ear on the back of a rat. After twelve weeks of development, the lab grown cartilage resembled an ear. This cartilage will be useful for facial reconstruction. Both of these discoveries have furthered our knowledge and understanding of stem cells and their development, to be used in medicine. There have also been several other medical advancements this year.

Thanks to 3D printing, an electronic sleeve that could potentially keep hearts beating forever has been created. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis were able to fit this silicon sleeve to a rabbit’s heart, and predict it will eventually be made to replace pacemakers. The brain is another area of interest. In Apr., previously paralyzed Ian Burkhart regained some arm function. He can now pick up a credit card and swipe it. Burkhart now has brain implants and a neural bypass that redirects signals to motor neurons, allowing him to move his arms.

Beyond the human body, new discoveries in space and space travel have taken off. Last year SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, made history by landing the first rocket in a vertical position. With this method, waste is minimal, and rockets can be reused. This year, SpaceX took it a step further. In Apr., they had their first successful ocean landing  on a drone barge. This technique allows recovery and reuse of rockets in both land and ocean landings, saving SpaceX countless of dollars. With new space travel techniques, scientist have discovered a new planet as well. “Planet Nine” has been speculated to exist, due to perceived gravitational effects on Neptune, but Pluto lost its status as the famed planet, now only a dwarf planet. Now CalTech researchers report a body 4,500 times the mass of Pluto beyond Neptune, and are eager to finally cement its identity.

Science and math textbooks are also due to be changed because of discoveries this year. The International Union of Applied and Pure Chemistry have named elements of the atomic numbers 113, 115,117, and 118 this year. They are nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson, respectively. In Jan. a new prime number was discovered as well, (2^74,207,281−1.)
2016 has proven to be a great year for science, technology, engineering, and math. Researchers all hope to build on their discoveries next year, and advance humanity as a whole.