The year in science


Ape Top breakthrough: It took 15 years for researchers to reconstruct the skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus, an apparent human ancestor unearthed in Ethiopia in 1994. The results were surprising: Ardi's image didn't look like a cross between an African ape and early hominids such as Australopithecus afarensis (represented by another famous skeleton, nicknamed Lucy). Rather, her skeleton was structured for upright walking as well as climbing, with long, curving fingers suited for grasping tree branches.

The message was that apes as well as humans have changed significantly since Ardi's heyday to adapt to their particular evolutionary niches. Anyone who still thinks that “humans evolved from apes” will have to shift their paradigm.


The other nine: Science doesn't rank the other items in its list of top 10 breakthroughs – but here they are, as they were listed in the journal.

Pulsars in the gamma-ray sky: NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope reveals a new wave of pulsars.

How plants get a rush: Scientists are learning how ABA receptors help plants get through stressful times.

Mock monopoles spotted: An elusive phenomenon, involving materials that have only a north or a south magnetic pole, is created in the lab using special materials. Magnetic monopoles have figured in the debate over the Large Hadron Collider's safety as well as in episodes of “The Big Bang Theory.”

The stuff of longevity: Drugs such as rapamycin are being targeted for animal studies that eventually could lead to life extension for humans.

Our icy moon revealed: NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite crashes into the moon to find fresh evidence of water ice.

The return of gene therapy: Gene therapy has suffered setbacks over the past 20 years, but this year researchers reported success in treating maladies such as X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy, Leber's congenital amaurosis and “bubble boy” disease.

Graphene takes off: Single-atom-thick sheets of carbon atoms are the hot new thing in materials science, potentially opening the way for graphene transistors that can outdo silicon.

Hubble reborn: The Hubble Space Telescope gets its final scheduled upgrade from shuttle astronauts and emerges working better than ever.

First X-ray laser shines: SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source was fired up for the first time in April, beginning a series of experiments that will use X-rays to probe structures on the atomic scale. Check this item to look back at my tour of SLAC while the LCLS was under construction.

More here.