Our 10 Favorite Scientific Breakthroughs of the Decade

By Christina Phillis

2020 is here, and you may be asking, “Where are the flying cars?” Although Jetsons-like vehicles were not one of the scientific achievements of the last decade, there have been myriad breakthroughs to excite you about what’s to come. From medical advancements to space exploration, here are 10 of our favorite scientific moments since 2010.

1. Neanderthal Genome Sequencing
In May 2010 researchers completed sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal subspecies, demonstrating for the first time the genetic differences and similarities between humans and their closest evolutionary relatives. Analysts found that up to 2% of the genome of today’s Eurasian population is Neanderthal DNA.

2. HIV Transmission Prevention Therapy
Researchers reported that antiretroviral therapy (ART) significantly reduced transmission rates of HIV in May 2011. When HIV-positive patients began the treatment early in the disease, transmission to sexual partners dropped by 93%. When the ART essentially eliminated the disease, no transmission was observed, underscoring the importance of prevention by early treatment.

3. The Higgs Boson Discovery
In July 2012, physicists at the Large Hadron Collider discovered the Higgs boson, the particle responsible for giving all other subatomic elements their mass. While this breakthrough helped to answer some of the questions scientists had about this final piece of the Standard Model of Physics, the particle has mostly behaved as predicted. Its decay was first observed in 2018.

4. Genome Editing
Using the natural defense system of bacteria, two research teams created a new method for editing snippets of genetic code in January 2013. CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology can target specific stretches of genetic code and edit DNA at precise locations. CRISPR may one day enable treatments for genetic diseases.

5. Hydrogen Fuel Storage
In September 2014, Glasgow chemists made progress in the development of hydrogen fuel. Previously, hydrogen could easily be produced from water using electrolysis, but could not be stored for later use. The team successfully stored the gas in a carbon-free liquid, enabling cleaner, cheaper, and faster production. This takes us one step closer to realizing hydrogen’s full potential as a renewable energy source.

6. Water on Mars
Using an imager aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA researchers confirmed the presence of water on Mars. Although it doesn’t prove that there’s life on Mars, this September 2015 discovery supports the theory that life forms could survive on Mars.

7. Gravitational Waves
In February 2016, scientists in Louisiana and Washington used highly sensitive detectors to observe gravitational waves passing through Earth. Einstein first predicted the existence of these barely noticeable phenomena in 1915. Defined by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory as ripples in space-time, these waves are believed to be the result of colliding black holes and similar violent and energetic events.

8. Human Embryo Editing
Using the CRISPR method, a team of international scientists successfully altered the DNA of viable human embryos to correct a defect that causes heart failure. This procedure, reported in July 2017, has also prompted ethical debates and created some uncertainty about future research.

9. Lab-Grown Meat
The Dutch startup Meatable produced meat in a laboratory using stem cells from animal umbilical cords. This process may help reduce the animal slaughter that supports our love of meat. Following this breakthrough in September 2018, the company announced that it hopes to start selling burgers and sausages to restaurants by 2022.

10. Black Hole Images
In April 2019, the international Event Horizon Telescope consortium successfully captured the first photographs of the shadow of a black hole. Researchers had been studying black holes for 200 years without ever seeing one. This supermassive black hole is located in the middle of the M87 galaxy. Its discovery and mug shot is expected to help us better understand the universe.

We hope you enjoyed this recap of the last decade in science. Here’s to another 10 years of innovation and discovery!