10 top science and tech news of 2015

Yahoo Singapore looks back at the 10 most exciting discoveries and developments in science and technology this year.

Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, as photographed by the New Horizons spacecraft. Image: NASA/ Instagram

10. New Horizons photographs Pluto
On 14 July, the New Horizons probe completed a nine-year journey and flew 12,500km above the surface of Pluto. It began beaming back pictures but the incredible distance resulted in data speeds of just 1-2kbs, meaning it will take 16 months to send them. The images that have been received so far are spectacular and have changed our understanding of the dwarf planet.

9. Discovery of first new antibiotic in 30 years
Before antibiotics were discovered, people used to die from infections of even small wounds, and the minor surgeries we take for granted today were then potentially life threatening.

Antibiotics changed all that, but the last one was discovered in 1987. The so-called ‘super bugs’ have been evolving that are immune to the medicine. 

The discovery of Teixobactin by US scientists - the first new antibiotic in nearly 30 years - eases concerns about the world being on the threshold of a post-antibiotic age.

8. Audi invents fuel made from CO₂ and water
The Volkswagen emissions scandal may have been one of the biggest stories of the year for the wrong reasons but another German car maker had good news to report on the environmental front.

Audi has unveiled a process to make diesel fuel using carbon dioxide and water. 

Steam is split into hydrogen and water using electrolysis, then the hydrogen reacts with captured carbon dioxide to make a liquid that can be refined into fuel. The process is still in the experimental stage but it could potentially yield a new fuel source.

7. HIV cure on the horizon?
Hopes for a vaccine against HIV rose after scientists announced that a new compound had been successfully tested on monkeys. The monkeys inoculated with the compound, called eCD4-lg, did not catch the virus, despite being exposed to high doses for eight months. Although they were only tested for simian HIV, the drug also worked in the lab against the human version of the illness.

6. US ends research on chimpanzees
The US government has announced that it will end all research on chimpanzees and send the remaining 50 it has in custody to a sanctuary. Since 2013, there had been no applications for research on the animals, and they were listed as endangered in 2014, making their use in experiments all but impossible anyway.

5. Most complex face transplant succeeds
A US firefighter underwent the most extensive face transplant ever in New York. Patrick Hardison was injured in 2001 when a burning roof collapsed on him, melting his mask and leaving him without ears, eyelids or a scalp. He received the face of a 26-year-old man, who was left in a vegetative state after a cycling accident, and is recovering well.

4. Scientists find ‘Earth 2.0’
Scientists discovered what they say is a planet that has the closest match to Earth yet, orbiting the star Keplar 452 around 1,400 light years away. The star is just 4 per cent larger than our sun and the planet 1.6 times the size of Earth. Most importantly, its orbit is right in the habitable zone, where it’s not too hot or cold for liquid water to form, raising the tantalising prospect that the planet could harbour alien life.

3. Apple watch launch
Apple launched the Apple Watch in April after months of intense speculation. Complete with fitness tracker, personal assistant and wireless integration with the iPhone, the watch promised to kick-start the wearable tech category after a series of false starts.

2. Tech companies become publishers
Technology giants set their sights to disrupt the publishing business by launching new content channels. Facebook’s Instant Articles, Twitter’s Moments and Google’s AMP aim to change the way we consume content, by eliminating the need to leave the platform in the case of Facebook and Twitter, and by relegating the importance of ads in Google.

1. Water on Mars
In what was arguably the most exciting scientific discovery of the year, NASA announced in September that liquid water flows on Mars. Most of it appears to be beneath the surface and is thought to be extremely salty. The finding is the strongest hint yet that life could once have existed – or may even still exist – on our nearest planetary neighbour.