Saturday, December 29, 2018

Big Science Stories 2019 -Space, Metric System, Antarctica, Opioids, Periodic Table, Climate Lawsuit, Moon, Gene Editing, Gun Research

We get so much news, so fast, and so superficially covered, that it's hard to separate the trivial from the truly significant.  We knew, back in 1969, that landing on the moon was a major change for human beings in their relationship with space and with humans' self image.  But today such earth-shattering (certainly in a figurative sense the moon landing was) events whiz by our consciousness.*

So I'm offering you some predictable science events coming up this next year as outlined by Deborah Netburn, Melissa Healy, Julia Rosen in the LATimes today under the title, "Nine stories to watch in the new year."  Of course, the article itself has a lot more details on each project/event.  And it has cool pictures too.

I'm going to put this list on the refrigerator, so when these become news stories, I will remember they were coming and have a more holistic sense of them all together.  And I can add other key stories that aren't on this list.  

1.  New Horizons pays historic visit to Ultima Thule: While you’re sipping champagne this New Year’s Eve, a spacecraft 4 billion miles from Earth will be making history.
2.  "Redefining the metric system: On May 20, the international metrology community will change the definitions of four basic units of measurement: the kilogram (mass), the Kelvin (temperature), the mole (amount) and the ampere (electrical current)."
3.  "Antarctica gets ready for its close-up: It’s summer in Antarctica, which means it’s the season for science. In January, two big expeditions will begin to explore pressing questions about how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is changing — and what that means for the rest of the planet."
Sorry, can't skip this comment from the Antarcica story without my own comment:
"In addition, scientists will “collaborate” with seals by outfitting them with monitoring equipment that gathers data as they forage."
Even with the quotes around collaborate, this is still misleading.  They are using seals to further their research.  Whether the actual experiment is ethical or not, using 'collaborate' makes it sound much more like the seals are eagerly in on this and getting something out of it too.  (And the research may well be intended to help the seals long term, but the seals surely are not willing collaborators.)

4.  "New ways to prevent opioid abuse: The statistics of opioid dependency and death remain grim. And let’s not sugarcoat this: The data suggest things will probably get worse before they get better. In 2019, government agencies, health policy experts and medical researchers will be looking for ways to change the trajectory of this American crisis."
5.  "The periodic table turns 150: It’s time to step back and appreciate one of the great marvels of science. That’s why the United Nations has designated 2019 the International Year of the Periodic Table.
The choice wasn’t arbitrary: 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the theory around which the table is organized. Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev discovered the cyclical pattern — or periodicity — in how the elements behave as they increase in atomic weight." 
If subtracting 150 from 2019 is a challenge, that gets us back to 1869.  So, no, Abraham Lincoln never heard of the Periodic Table because he was assassinated in 1865.
6.  "Youth climate lawsuit may finally go to trial: A landmark climate lawsuit has been inching closer to trial for four years. And in 2019, it may get its day in federal court at last — unless judges toss the case once and for all.
The suit was brought by 21 young people who say the U.S. government is violating their constitutional rights by promoting the use of fossil fuels in spite of the dangers posed by climate change." 
7.  "A traffic jam on the moon: If you thought going to the moon was passe, think again.  In 2019, China, India and Israel are all expected to land unmanned spacecraft on the lunar surface, while NASA steps up its efforts to return a human crew to the moon by 2028."
8.  "How to move forward with gene editing: Few were expecting that 2018 would see the birth of twin girls whose DNA had been edited in the lab when they were just days-old embryos. But it did, and now the scientific and bioethical questions raised by gene editing promise to be front and center in 2019."
9.  "Will money start pouring in for gun research? If the trend continues, the coming year will bring more school shootings and more mass shootings. And those will keep the complex of related issues — gun access and storage, mental health and violence prevention — front and center.
Philanthropies have responded to nearly 20 years of federal funding limits on firearms research with new private investments , and that money has begun to nurture a generation of public health researchers with expertise in these subjects."
*As a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand in the late sixties, I watched the moon-landing in a Thonburi classroom.  That was one event that garnered plenty of attention in - then - far away Thailand.  But I learned during those years that not hearing the US daily news wasn't that big a deal.  Things that were truly important, I would learn about.  The rest - like car crashes and routine murders - were just variations of the same story with different details that I really didn't need to know.  Exceptions like the Sharon Tate murder, I did find out about eventually.

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