Top Scientific Discoveries of 2011
Posted in Science by Courtney on December 30th, 2011
Comments Off on Top Scientific Discoveries of 2011

As the year comes to a close, we found Wired Science’s list of favorite scientific discoveries of 2011. From chimpanzee freedom to the God Particle, hominid mutts to commodity speculators, their top ten makes us ask questions and dig deeper for answers about how we live(d) and the world(s) around us.

Do you have any favorites that aren’t on this list?

Extinct Human Ancestors Survive in our Genes
Anthropologists have suspected for years that Homo sapiens cross-bred with Neanderthals, which proved true in 2010 with the first hard genetic evidence of Neanderthal DNA surviving in living humans. Moreover, 2011 proclaimed that it’s not just Neanderthals that live on in us, but long-extinct, recently discovered Neanderthal cousins called Denisovans. (Now THAT would be an amazing DNA Portrait!)

Hints of the Higgs boson
The $10 billion Large Hadron Collider may have proven its worth in December when results from two experiments, ATLAS and CMS, showed a small data bump that might correspond to the long-sought Higgs boson. If future data corroborates the finding, finding the Higgs will likely be regarded as one of the 21st century’s great discoveries.

Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos Detected—or Not
In September, researchers announced the measurement of neutrinos flying faster than the speed of light. Although most physicists dismissed the finding, the masses still hoped for the start of a new scientific revolution.

A New Link Between Aging Cells and Aging People
The debate on whether aging at the organismal level is linked to aging at the cellular level has been active for decades, but this November gerontologists showed that flushing old, broken-down cells from the bodies of mice slowed the aging process. Even though the same trick can’t be performed for people as was performed in this one strain of genetically modified mice, the findings will likely influence a whole new generation of aging research.

Humanity Hits 7 Billion
In October, the human population reached 7 billion—just 12 years after we hit 6 billion. In contrast, it took humanity about 72,000 years to reach its first billion. The number prompted a global moment of reflection: How do we, as a civilization, want to live? Do we want to share—with each other, and with the rest of life?

More from Wired Science’s 2011 list of discoveries:
Deregulation, Speculation and the Price of Food
Intelligent Animals and Emotional Bees
Bird Flu Nightmare Comes True—in the Lab
Chimps Not Needed for Hepatitis C Research
A Possibly Habitable, Earth-Like Planet

Header Image: Neanderthal sculpture by John Gurche, photographed by Chip Clark. (Smithsonian Institution).


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