The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday August 11th

Column: The biggest science headlines of 2021

DTH Photo Illustration. The UNC Climate Action Plan was originally published in 2009 and pledged to make UNC carbon neutral by 2050.
Buy Photos "This is one of the most pressing topics in science today — given that climate change is affecting environmental patterns across the globe. This includes intensification of the water cycle, affecting rainfall patterns and sea level rising and the melting of snow cover and glaciers," writes Opinion Editor Rajee Ganesan.

This last year has involved hundreds of thousands of scientific discoveries and movements, from the biomedical sciences to exploration of Mars. We take a look at just a few of the most memorable headlines in science this year here:

COVID-19 vaccination and variant identification

Earlier this year, several pharmaceutical companies made headlines for developing an mRNA vaccine to battle COVID-19, and it was followed by an intense vaccine rollout across the globe. mRNA vaccines, at the time, were cutting-edge science and not readily used before — making the discovery and mass rollout even more impressive. Research is also currently being conducted to develop an antiviral pill to prevent COVID-19, among other studies looking at antibodies and various forms of transmission.

With the pandemic in full swing, research has revolved around COVID-19 for the last year and a half. One of the main concerns was identifying where the virus originated. The World Health Organization had a team of scientists traveling to China several times to attempt to discover the virus’ closest relatives in bats, how it jumped to humans and how to prevent further viruses like this one from arising.

Additionally, various variants have arisen across the globe — from delta to omicron. South African scientists were able to use virus tracking technologies to identify a spike in cases in Pretoria, and quickly sequenced the genome to identify variations in the virus. This quickly led to the discovery of the omicron variant, and for travel restrictions and public health measures to be taken rapidly around the world.

The science behind virus identification has likely prevented countless infections, hospitalizations and deaths, and is something that will remain a priority going into 2022.

Climate change developments

This year, the United Nations met for COP26, a climate change conference that brought together almost every country on earth to discuss how to tackle climate change following the Paris Agreement. 

There was an agreement to attempt to phase down coal power, new rules on trading carbon credits and a request for yearly reports from each nations’ commitments to reduce emissions. 

However, several coal-reliant countries indicated they will continue coal use until the 2050s, and multiple nations refused to provide financial help to developing countries looking for assistance after being disproportionately harmed by climate impacts.

This is one of the most pressing topics in science today — given that climate change is affecting environmental patterns across the globe. This includes intensification of the water cycle, affecting rainfall patterns and sea level rising and the melting of snow cover and glaciers.

Space research

China was able to land a spacecraft on Mars in February, looking for signs of life and water using a variety of technologies and tools. 

Additionally, the James Webb Space Telescope, developed by NASA, is expected to launch in Dec. 22, hopes to repeat the success of the Hubble Telescope and covers more wavelengths to make observations across deep space. 

After being put on hold during 2020 due to the pandemic, several missions were completed by NASA, such as an unmanned flight test, a new rover on Mars and the launch of the first test for planetary defense.

Although these just scratch the surface of scientific discoveries over the past year, they are proof that science prevails in times of funding losses, restrictions on travel and office work and through a pandemic. 

If this year was any indicator, 2022 looks bright.

@rajeeganesan

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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