Coming in 2012
Image Source: http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=2458704&searchId=2bb8d809d871a7c1a392fec36563a8f7&npos=25
As we mentioned in our Best of 2011 article, it’s hard to pin an exact moment on a lot of scientific and technological discovery. Which means that 2012 is likely to feature plenty of breakthroughs that are currently under wraps in R&D labs and in the fevered minds of their creators, still hidden from the public eye.
That doesn’t mean that we are completely blind to the future, however. There is plenty of innovation both in the pipeline and on our radar. Here are five of our top tips on scientific advancement to watch out for in the months to come.
The Future of Physics
After several promising rounds of tests using the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN research facility on the France-Switzerland border, signs of the elusive Higgs Boson have been detected and physicists fully expect to be able to conclusively prove or deny its existence by the end of 2012. The mysterious Higgs boson was postulated in the 1960s as a way of explaining how elementary particles develop mass, and is a crucial missing link in the Standard Model of particle physics, the theory on which much of our knowledge of the universe is based.
Current tests at CERN have shown that the boson may exist at a mass approximately 130 times that of a proton: once the LHC fires up again in March (after its winter recess), researchers should be able to further narrow their search as they try to corner the elusive Higgs Boson. If proof of its existence is discovered, science not only comes closer to adopting the Standard Model as fact, it will also open new areas of exploration as astrophysics pushes into brand new territory.
Drought Proof Crops
With local climates shifting across the world and rainfall patterns changing, new cereal and other crop variants that protect vital food and agricultural output have become a priority. The year 2012 should see the first widespread trials of a new variety of maize pioneered by BASF and Monsanto across the Midwest of the United States following approval from its Food and Drug Administration.
Known as MON 87460, the crop could be used to increase yields and reduce irrigation in dry and arid regions from North America to Africa.
Cars to Mars
After taking off aboard an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral on November 26, the Mars Science Laboratory is set to land on Mars on 12th August 2012. On-boardOn-board the rocket is a robotic surface rover known as Curiosity which is programmed to roam across the planet for almost two years, sending back data on the hospitability of the planet and helping us to understand whether the famed red planet ever supported life.
Packed full of cutting edge gadgetry that includes lasers and drills, Curiosity will analyse soil and rock samples on the spot, beaming the data back to its NASA control team in Pasadena, California. As well as being the most advanced rover to land on Mars, it’s also the biggest almost ten times the size of previous Mars adventurers – like a six-wheeled Mini Cooper – and forms the crucial next stage in assessing the viability of manned missions to Mars in the future.
Super-computing power is set to double in 2012 when IBM’s incredibly powerful Sequoia supercomputer opens at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California in May. At 20 petaflops it eclipses the power of the K computer unveiled in Japan in November 2011 and it will use one of the most energy efficient series of chip cores in the industry.
While it could probably turn in some serious performances at Angry Birds, the Sequoia will have bigger things on its mind. As well as performing simulations on nuclear explosions and plotting the paths and effects of hurricanes and other weather effects, it will also be used in gas, oil and other mineral explorations and surveys.
Until now space flight has largely been a serious business. ‘Space tourists’ have been able to pay their way onto some Russian rockets flights but by large most people have needed proper reasons to go ‘off-planet’. That all looks set to change in 2012 when both Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are scheduled to commence suborbital space flights for paying passengers, albeit for hundreds of thousands of dollars per seat.
They’re not the only ones. A new outfit called Copenhagen Suborbitals launched a rocket to a height of around 3km in June 2011 on a budget of only US$100,000 and is set to break atmospheric barriers on its next test in mid-2012. And there are a whole raft of so-called ‘garage rocketeers’ competing for the Carmack 100kft Micro Prize, with a prize fund of US$10,000 for the first person to document (with GPS data) a successful attempt at launching a rocket to an altitude of 100,000 feet (30,500m). If they succeed, will 2013 be the year of the first budget space carrier?