News in Brief Science Technology

2019 review – science and technology

Written by Callum Murison

The last of these thrilling review segments is finally upon us. It’s been a very busy year for science and technology, so here is Spyglass’ review of the highlights. 

Science

The year began with NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft passing “the Snowman” – Ultima Thule – in the Kuiper Belt. This is the farthest flyby ever conducted, with the Kuiper Belt being situated a billion miles beyond Pluto.

Ultima Thule

There were three solar eclipses in 2019 but, rather annoyingly, none were really visible over the UK! However, on July 2nd, totality occurred across almost all of the United States – something which has not happened for a couple of years. The last eclipse of the year was actually one of the most spectacular – even though it wasn’t a total eclipse! An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon covers almost all of the Sun’s visible surface, leaving a “ring of fire” surrounding the darkness. This annular eclipse occurred on December 26th and was visible throughout much of Asia.

What an annular solar eclipse looks like

Brian Cox’s BBC documentary – The Planets – also provided a really interesting insight into the formation of each of the planets in our Solar System, definitely one to watch if you haven’t already… 

The year ended with a rather worrying plea by astronomers, saying that the increasing network of satellites in orbit – many highly reflective – are interfering with their telescope observations. It will be interesting to see whether this issue is one that can be easily solved… 

In terms of medicine, 2019 was another hugely successful year, with a range of amazing and fascinating discoveries. To start with, researchers at the University of Nottingham managed to come up with a blood test for breast cancer, which could potentially detect the cancer up to 5 years before any noticeable lumps and other symptoms appeared. Then, also discovered was Trikafka – a drug which greatly increases the respiratory health of patients with cystic fibrosis. There was also the announcement of a promising new Alzheimer’s drug, which appeared to slow cognitive decline and could be very important for the future. 

CRISPR – a gene-editing tool – has allowed scientists already to treat sickle cell disease, and has been involved in clinical trials to treat non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Finally, on the other end of the scale, a Stanford University study found that a particular antibody, when injected, could, after just two weeks, allow people with peanut allergies to consume peanut protein. Perhaps a key step in fighting allergies in the future… 

Technology

The cheese grater and a new iPhone have probably been Apple’s highlights over the last year. We shall begin with the former. 

The cheese grater (or we can be professional and call it the Mac Pro) is Apple’s new professional flagship. And its specifications are totally insane. Such a flexible design allows it to almost be custom-built to the user’s requirements. It can have anywhere between 8 and 28 cores (which, by the way, includes over 65 MB of cache with the latter number!) and is configurable up to 1.5 TB of DDR4 RAM. To give some context, most common computers are somewhere between dual-core and quad-core, and very rarely exceed 64 GB of RAM…  Oh, and I almost forget, this will set you back only $6000…

IKEA had something to say on Apple’s new $6000 flagship

The iPhone 11 was also released by Apple in September, with the stand-out new addition perhaps being that of a dual-lens camera system. I think it is fair to say that, for almost all of the population’s photographic needs, you can get so much out of a modern-day phone camera that you don’t actually need to buy a camera yourself – the quality of photo is now there on a phone. Also, with their launch of iOS 13, Siri got a major upgrade, with the introduction of “neural text to speech”. It essentially resulted in a far more realistic pronunciation of words and sentences through Siri. 

Televisions have also come on in leaps and bounds recently – and it looks like, in the near future, 4K TVs are perhaps going to become the norm. 

Finally, Samsung also released their bendable phone – the Galaxy Fold – in March after the worst-kept secret of the year! Whilst many people remain split on this, it is unquestionably an incredible and cool feat to have tablet and smartphone integrated as one. 

There is the year’s science and technology summary, bringing to an end the trilogy of 2019 reviews. The sport and politics reviews can be found here and here respectively. From all of us here at Spyglass, we hope you have a Happy New Year! 

About the author

Callum Murison

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