365 days: 2013 in review

Shutdowns, lethal viruses, typhoons and meteorites much of this years science news seemed to come straight from the set of a Hollywood disaster movie. But there were plenty of feel-good moments, too. Space exploration hit a new high, cash poured in to investigate that most cryptic of human organs, the brain, and huge leaps were made in stem-cell therapies and the treatment of HIV. Here, captured in soundbites, statistics and summaries, is everything you need to know about the science that mattered in 2013.

LUX: Carlos H. Faham

The Large Underground Xenon dark-matter experiment, deep in a mine in South Dakota.

One of the years most important cosmological results was an experimental no-show. The Large Underground Xenon (LUX, pictured) experiment at Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota 370 kilograms of liquid xenon almost 1.5kilometres down in a gold mine did not see any particles of elusive dark matter flying through Earth. But it put the tightest constraints yet on the mass of dark-matter particles, and their propensity to interact with visible matter. Theoretical physicist Matthew Strassler at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, says a consensus is forming that hints of dark matter seen by earlier experiments in the past three years were probably just statistical fluctuations.

PlancK: ESA/Planck Collaboration

Whatever dark matter is, it makes up around 84% of the Universes total matter, according to observations, released in March, of the Universes cosmic microwave background (CMB) by the European Space Agencys Planck satellite. Plancks image (pictured) also strongly supports the hypothesis of inflation, in which the Universe is thought to have expanded rapidly after the Big Bang. A better probe of inflation might be provided through its predicted influence on how the polarization of CMB photons varies across the sky (B-mode polarization). That subtle signal has not been measured yet, but astronomers hopes were raised by news of the first sighting of a related polarization signal, by the South Pole Telescope, in July. And another Antarctic telescope the underground IceCube observatory confirmed this year that the high-energy neutrinos it has detected come from far away in the cosmos, hinting at a new world of neutrino astronomy.

Jae C. Hong/AP

US workers came out in force against the shutdown.

The slow decline of US federal support for research and development spending is already down 16.3% since 2010 reached a new nadir in October, when political brinkmanship led the government to shut down for 16 days. Grant money stopped flowing; work halted at major telescopes, US Antarctic bases and most federal laboratories; and key databases maintained by the government went offline. Many government researchers were declared non-essential and barred by law from visiting their offices and laboratories, or even checking their official e-mail accounts. Since the shutdowns end, grant backlogs and missed deadlines have scrambled agency workloads.

Away from the deadlock in the United States, the European Union negotiated a path to a 201420 research budget of almost 80billion (US$110billion), a 27% rise in real terms over the previous 200713 period. And funding in South Korea, China, Germany and Japan continued to increase (the United Kingdom and France saw little change). But Japans largesse came with the clear understanding that its science investment would bring fast commercial pay-offs. Along similar lines, US Republican politicians are calling for the National Science Foundation to justify every grant it awards as being in the national interest.

365 days: 2013 in review

Related Post