Journal Nature suggests top science trends for 2011

Last week, Nature – which says it is world’s most cited interdisciplinary science journal – made over a dozen predictions of top science trends for 2011.

It said it based these key findings and events that might emerge on scientific advances that actually occurred in 2010. Here are a few that stood out from the pack.

If its analysis proves correct, we can expect to see stunning feats of synthetic biology in 2011. That’s because, in 2010, synthetic biologists moved from tinkering with artificial cells to thinking more about controlling the collective behavior of cells. For example, in the past year, biologists figured out how to make an entire colony of bacteria fluoresce in unison. That could potentially lead, in 2011, to the creation of colonies of cells that create certain chemicals (i.e., medicinal drugs) in a very controlled way.

The authors of the Nature article also mention that big developments in stem cell research and genome sequencing are imminent.

As far as space advances go, experts see big things coming from the European Space Agency. An ESA satellite called GOCE probed Earth’s gravity field this past year, and will publish detailed results in 2011. That sounds marvelous and mysterious, and there happens to be a cherry on top of this science sundae: the GOCE data will be used to help monitor sea level rise. Wow!

Mercury will also make news in 2011. In March of this year, NASA’s Messenger mission is due to become the first craft ever to orbit the planet.

But maybe climate science is more your thing? If so, 2011 could be a big year for you (and the rest of the planet, too). A drilling project in north Greenland which reached bedrock in the summer of 2011 is expected to reveal clues this year about Earth’s little-known Eemian interglacial period. The Eemian beset the Earth about 130,000–115,000 years ago. Back then, the average global temperature was about 5°C warmer than it is, today.

Last up: for the physics fans among you, this year might just be the one that sheds tremendous light on dark matter. A number of scientists spent 2010 hunting for dark matter particles at a couple of sites (e.g., XENON100 at Italy’s Gran Sasso National Laboratory near L’Aquila, and the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMSII) in northern Minnesota’s Soudan Mine). They’re expected to release results in 2011.

Related: Barry Barish hunts for dark matter in our universe

January 4, 2011

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Beth Lebwohl

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