The Most Interesting Science and Technology News of 2008

Time to wrap up the year with a look back at the changes and events in the area of science and technology. These are my picks for the most interesting.

Stem cells but no embryos. New research from Harvard and Kyoto University scientists suggest that adult stem cells have the potential to revert to a state like that of embryonic stem cells. Which means that they could regenerate new cells of various types. This research was reported in Newsweek in Will Stem Cells Finally Deliver? The article was written by David Scadden of Harvard and Anthony Komaroff of Harvard Medical School. These researchers are studying the possibility (still not certain) that your own skin or hair can be induced to transform into specialized cells. This would remove stem cell science from the ethical debate that surrounds embryos, if it proves to be a workable idea.

Touch phones with apps, oh my. The iPhone spawned a frantic release of touch screen phones, but—to me—the real news is the creation of applications for phones. A recent article at Cruch Gear expressed amazement that MIT students build mobile applications in 13 weeks because a course in creating mobile apps didn’t even exist a year ago. Silicon Alley Insider reports in Estimating Apple iPhone App Sales So Far: $50-$100 Million In Revenue that 300 million apps have been downloaded at the Apple store since July 2008. That amazing number doesn’t include mobile apps for other phones. Everybody has a favorite iPhone/iPod app, including Grooving with the Grizas, who mention them here and here. At poohwinns’ posterous you’ll also find a number of posts leading you through the iPhone app landscape. Laura Scott’s BlogHer post today talks more about this in Apps that make iPhone and iPod Touch game-changers in tech. There’s an app for everything. You hardly need a computer any more. The mobile web is here.

Let the wind blow. Mark Jacobson from Stanford University did a study of major proposed energy-related solutions to global warming, air pollution mortality, and energy security. He looked at nine electric power sources and two liquid fuel options in combination with three vehicle technologies. The study looked at all sorts of related factors such as water supply, land use, wildlife, resource availability, thermal pollution, water chemical pollution, nuclear proliferation, and undernutrition. The report on the study contains a number of charts comparing all the variables and ends with this conclusion: Wind powered Battery Electric Vehicles performed best in seven out of 11 categories. Wind powered hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were next. Wind generated power for the vehicle of the future is the big winner. By extension, I will assume that wind is the top choice for electricity for the residential, industrial, and commercial sectors, too. T. Boone Pickens wasn’t so far out in left field after all. (Warning if you click the T. Boone Pickens link; turn your sound down or off.)

The technology President President-elect Obama showed in any number of ways during the election that he “gets” technology. He raised money using his web site, email, and Twitter. He mobilized thousands of people using the Internet and promises to continue using the Internet to open up the process of governing to citizens. He wants to increase broadband access as part of his plan to improve our nation’s infrastructure. His web site invites comment from interested citizens. He broadcasts on YouTube with an RSS enabled weekly chat aimed at the American people. Laura Scott wrote a terrific article (my all time fav) on the technological changes Obama is bringing to politics in As the web changes politics, so politics change the web?

The LHC is super fly. If you want the musical version of what the Large Hadron collider is doing check this YouTube video: Large Hadron rap. The LHC was built to collide two counter rotating beams of protons or heavy ions in an attempt to recreate the first millionths of a second of creation. Catherine Morgan wrote a great summary of the LHC project with several helpful videos at Finding Out The Truth Of The Universe By Recreating The Big Bang.

Snapshots of a planet. The Hubble Telescope managed to capture live photographic proof of a planet circling a distant star. The star, in the southern sky, is Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away. The planet was dubbed Fomalhaut b. It’s about 3 times the size of Jupiter and orbits its star once every 872 earth years. Nicole at One Astronomer’s Noise wrote an explanation of how the photos were captured in Seeing Extrasolar Plantes, PartI: Formalhaut b

Follow me on Twitter. Twitter has moved from the realm of “Huh? What?” into the mainstream of social interaction, and has the power to create change to prove it. We look first to Twitter for current news, whether it’s about weather, wild fires, plane crashes, terror attacks, or the Mars Rover. Sometimes the facts are not instantly clear on Twitter, but one thing you cannot ignore: Twitter gets the word out—and fast. Once people are aware of an event in progress, the fact checking begins immediately and is spread on Twitter as well. In Social Media Breakfast Leverages Two Truckloads of Tyson Food Donation for Boston Food Bank! at Beth’s Blog, we see how Twitter rallied enough people to fill two trucks with donated food in 3.5 hours. Twitter is now one of those essentials used to accomplish everything. One wonders how we managed without it.

Wii your way to fitness. The Nintendo Wii revolutionized gaming to include movement and healthy living. Everyone from kids to elders are moving their way to physical fitness with this game system. It’s early days for what this revolution might bring but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the idea of physical movement tied to electronic games explode in myriad ways. Even people like Bean Paste who think they are too busy for games, want to obtain one of these magical Wii babies.

Be green to be cool A combination of factors such as the price of gas right before the economic meltdown, the election of a President who believes in the facts of science, the market discovery that green goods can actually make money, and the groundswell of efforts from a lot of people, companies and organizations like BlogHer have brought the issue of sustainablity to the tipping point. Everyone wants to get in the act now with green tech, green products, green packaging, and green lifestyle changes. BlogHers like Green LA Girl, In Women we Trust, and Fake Plastic Fish have helped bring green into the mainstream.

Better browsing. I wrote about Firefox 3 when it was released. It provided all sorts of browsing improvements, including warning you when you are going to a site that might be bogus or malicious. Firefox has add-ons that do almost anything you might think of to do with a browser, and a lot of things you probably hadn’t thought of yet. Another browsing improvement is Flock. It’s a social media world, and Flock is intended to help you by compiling your social media streams from Twitter, Facebook, mail, and blogs in one convenient browser. Keep an eye on them while you browse. You can post to your own blog from Flock, too.

What news from the world of science or technology did you find most interesting this year?

Cross posted at BlogHer.

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