December 17, 2010
on the Starship Enterprise beamed to alien planets via teleporters.
Now scientists are
perfecting a way to communicate via a similar technology.
Thanks to physics, and the truly bizarre
quirks of quarks, those Star Trek style
teleporters may be more than
A strange discovery by quantum physicists at the University of
California Santa Barbara means that an object you can see in front
of you may exist simultaneously in a parallel universe - a
multi-state condition that has scientists theorizing that
teleportation or even time travel may be much more than just the
plaything of science fiction writers.
Until this year, all human-made objects have moved according to the
laws of classical mechanics, the rules governing ordinary objects.
Toss a ball in the air and it falls back to Earth. Drop a coin from
your roof and it falls into your yard. But back in March, a group of
researchers designed a gadget that moves in ways that can only be
described by quantum mechanics - the set of rules that governs the
behavior of tiny things like molecules, atoms, and subatomic
And the implication - that teleportation and even time travel may
somehow be a reality - is so groundbreaking that Science
magazine has labeled it the most significant scientific advance of
Physicists Andrew Cleland and John Martinis from the
University of California at Santa Barbara and their colleagues
designed the machine - a tiny metal paddle just barely visible to
the naked eye - and coaxed it into dancing with a quantum groove:
First, they cooled the paddle
until it reached its "ground state," or the lowest energy
state permitted by the laws of quantum mechanics (a goal
long-sought by physicists).
Then they raised the widget's
energy by a single quantum to produce a purely
quantum-mechanical state of motion.
They even managed to put the gadget in
both states at once, so that it literally vibrated a little and a
lot at the same time - a bizarre phenomenon allowed by the weird
rules of quantum mechanics.
"When you observe something in one
state, one theory is it split the universe into two parts,"
Cleland told FoxNews.com at the time, trying to explain how
there can be multiple universes and we can see only one of them.
Crazy? Maybe. Insanely great science?
Science magazine has just recognized this first quantum machine as
the 2010 Breakthrough of the Year.
The magazine's editors have also
compiled nine other important scientific accomplishments from this
past year into a top ten list, appearing in a special feature in the
journal's current issue.
"On a conceptual level that's cool
because it extends
quantum mechanics into a whole new realm,"
said Adrian Cho, a news writer for Science.
"On a practical level, it opens up a
variety of possibilities ranging from new experiments that meld
quantum control over light, electrical currents and motion to,
perhaps someday, tests of the bounds of quantum mechanics and
our sense of reality."
Science's list of the nine other
groundbreaking achievements from 2010 follows.
In a defining moment for biology
and biotechnology, researchers built a
synthetic genome and used
it to transform the identity of a bacterium.
The genome replaced the
bacterium's DNA so that it produced a new set of proteins -
an achievement that prompted a Congressional hearing on
In the future, researchers
envision synthetic genomes that are custom-built to generate
biofuels, pharmaceuticals or other useful chemicals.
Researchers sequenced the
Neanderthal genome from the bones of
three female Neanderthals who lived in Croatia sometime
between 38,000 and 44,000 years ago.
New methods of sequencing
degraded fragments of DNA allowed scientists to make the
first direct comparisons between the modern human genome and
that of our Neanderthal ancestors.
Two HIV prevention trials of
different, novel strategies reported unequivocal success:
a vaginal gel that contains
the anti-HIV drug
tenofovir reduced HIV infections in
women by 39 percent
an oral pre-exposure
prophylaxis led to 43.8 fewer HIV infections in a group
of men and transgender women who have sex with men
By sequencing just the
exons of a genome, or the
tiny portion that actually codes for proteins, researchers
who study rare inherited diseases caused by a single, flawed
gene were able to identify specific mutations underlying at
least a dozen diseases.
Molecular Dynamics Simulations:
Simulating the gyrations that
proteins make as they fold has been a combinatorial
Now, researchers have harnessed
the power of one of the world's most powerful computers to
track the motions of atoms in a small, folding protein for a
length of time 100 times longer than any previous efforts.
To describe what they see in the
lab, physicists cook up theories based on equations.
Those equations can be
fiendishly hard to solve. This year, though, researchers
found a short-cut by making
quantum simulators -
artificial crystals in which spots of laser light play the
role of ions and atoms trapped in the light stand in for
The devices provide quick
answers to theoretical problems in condensed matter physics
and they might eventually help solve mysteries such as
Faster and cheaper sequencing
technologies are enabling very large-scale studies of both
ancient and modern DNA.
1,000 Genomes Project, for
example, has already identified much of the genome variation
that makes us uniquely human - and other projects in the
works are set to reveal much more of the genome's function.
Reprogramming cells - turning
back their developmental clocks to make them behave like
unspecialized "stem cells" in an embryo - has become a
standard lab technique for studying diseases and
This year, researchers found a
way to do it using
synthetic RNA. Compared with previous
methods, the new technique is twice as fast, 100 times as
efficient and potentially safer for therapeutic use.
The Return of the Rat:
Mice rule the world of
laboratory animals, but for many purposes researchers would
rather use rats.
Rats are easier to work with and
anatomically more similar to human beings; their big
drawback is that methods used to make "knockout mice" -
animals tailored for research by having specific genes
precisely disabled - don't work for rats.
A flurry of research this year,
however, promises to bring "knockout rats" to labs in a big