Heroes

15 scientific breakthroughs from 2015 that made our world a little better.

From rhino cameras to tiny molecules to space explorations, these 15 scientific discoveries were pretty earth-shattering.

15 scientific breakthroughs from 2015 that made our world a little better.

In 2015, science helped us learn a lot about the universe we’re living in.

From the tiniest molecules making up the building blocks of matter to gigantic planetary systems billions of light years away, we witnessed countless scientific discoveries, advancements, and inventions this year.

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Say hello to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, king of science.



Regular people created amazing inventions to save humans and animals. Scientists discovered new species and planets. And researchers even learned new things about parenting and children.


Here are just a few of the most amazing and world-changing breakthroughs you might remember reading about:

1. We finally got a close-up of Pluto.

For the past 10 years, a small probe has been hurtling through space toward the rock that was once the smallest planet in our solar system. (This is a true #tbt.)

(Pluto’s first selfie, from the NASA Instagram.)

This July, that little probe finally got close enough to snap some pics of Pluto’s surface. Since Pluto was discovered in 1930, scientists have proposed several flybys and exploration journeys to learn more about it. Now, those same scientists hope that New Horizons will be able to tell us a lot more about Pluto and our solar system’s history in the coming years.

2. We found a hairy-chested crab at the very bottom of the Antarctic Ocean.

Forget about outer space for a second — there are a lot of surprising and outer-space-like things on our home planet, too. For example, last year, scientists found a new species of hairy-chested crab.

This crab lives so far down in the Antarctic Ocean that it uses the heat given off by churning lava at the center of the Earth as its own space heater. Seriously.

3. An 18-year-old figured out how to help visually impaired people “see” with echolocation.

Usually, human eyes take in light waves, sending that information to the brain and creating what we know as vision. But for people who are visually impaired, sound waves could be an alternative to light waves.

That’s the science behind a Canadian teenager’s echolocation device, which could change navigation for people who are blind. Pretty darn impressive, especially for a high schooler.

4. Rhinos got their own security systems.

GoPros aren’t just for daredevils, nature enthusiasts, and kitten rescuers anymore. This year, conservationists began painlessly implanting cameras in the horns of rhinos, too.

A small camera in a rhino’s horn. Image used with permission by Protect.

If a poacher is threatening a rhino, an alarm goes off and the camera turns on to tip off nearby rangers. Rhino poaching in South Africa alone has increased by 9,000% in the past seven years, so if we want rhinos in our future, this is a pretty important invention.

5. (Almost) everything you need to know, you learned in kindergarten.

That is, as long as you learned how to be kind, resolve problems, and share. A study wrapped up this year showed how much those early behaviors shape our lives years later. It also showed that if you weren't the most cooperative kindergartener, it’s never too late to drop your bad habits.

6. A guy beat cancer by getting new 3D-printed bones.

A man in Spain needed to have a tumor in his chest removed. Surgeons were able to take out the infected bone and replace it with customized, titanium, 3D-printed ribs and sternum.

Photo by iStock/Anatomics. Used with permission.

You can expect to see more 3D printing in medicine in the future — it's an awesome trend that could truly change how we make things and cure illnesses.

7. We found out (again) that vaccines don’t cause autism.

An anti-vaccine group funded a study on the link between vaccines and autism. Spoiler alert: The study found no such link. Go get your shots, y’all.

8. Researchers confirmed the existence of a new subatomic particle called the pentaquark.

OK, in the first place, it’s pretty awesome that we have a giant machine (a supercollider) that slams atoms together so we can learn more about physics. And it’s even more awesome when that machine shows us things we’ve never seen before.

In July 2015, that supercollider showed us the pentaquark — four quarks (which live inside protons) stuck to one antiquark.

Pentaquark rendering by CERN.

Even though they've discovered the pentaquark, scientists still have no idea what it actually does. Here's to more research!

9. Chimpanzees are catching up to us.

Um, apparently we’re not the only ones making scientific discoveries. A report this year found that non-human primates are making crude tools — just like we were during the Stone Age. They haven’t exactly figured out how to make a wheel yet, but this report shows that chimp cultures are clearly more advanced than we previously thought.

10. We planned to put a huge floating structure in the ocean to clean up pollution.

This awesome structure will collect trash in the ocean that harms fish and plant life. And that’s pretty important, since 8 million pieces of trash end up in the water each year.

This thing is going to help preserve our oceans’ ecosystems. Photo from The Ocean Cleanup.

11. A diver had a conversation with a whale.

Maybe that’s oversimplifying what happened. But a beluga whale did imitate human speech patterns after hanging out with human trainers. We already know that whales can communicate with each other — maybe someday soon, they’ll be able to communicate with us!

12. We figured out how to save newborns’ lives by keeping them warm — for cheap.

When babies — especially preemies — are born, they need to stay warm. Embrace infant warmers are being used instead of incubators to keep babies cozy, comfy, and healthy. So far, they’ve saved 150,000 babies (which, by the way, is a LOT of babies).

This is what an Embrace infant warmer looks like. Do they make an adult size?!

13. A computer science student created an app to help autistic people communicate during panic attacks.

With Emergency Chat, a person with autism who is having a meltdown can just show their phone to someone to communicate that they need help. And because the app’s creator has autism, he was able to craft it to best suit the needs of people using it.

14. A fifth-grader figured out how to make stuffed animals safe for the operating room.

Yet another young person doing cool stuff: Preteen Gaby Zane figured out that simply washing stuffed animals eliminated most of the bacteria they carry. Previously, kids couldn’t take their stuffed animals into the O.R. because they were germy — but Gaby’s discovery means they can.

Pretty cool, huh?

15. Minneapolis opened a chlorine-free pool that naturally eliminates bad bacteria.

No chemicals in this pool. Photo courtesy of Angela Doheny.

The pool drains twice a day and gravel, limestone, and plants help filter it. No more burning eyes from chlorine!

What's even better than this whole list is that all these sweet discoveries are just a sample of the scientific work that was done this year.

Scientific discoveries encourage us to think bigger, push harder, and strengthen our imagination. Put simply, science is just really freaking cool.

So, as science accelerates into hyper-speed, we’re looking forward to 2016 blowing our minds as well. Off we go.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less