Year of science

It was not just the invisible pathogen that engaged scientists in 2020 but also the vast expanse of the cosmos

AuthorPublished: 4th Jan 2021  12:00 amUpdated: 3rd Jan 2021  5:56 pm

From plumbing the mysteries of biology and editing the genes to prevent diseases to achieving big breakthroughs in quantum computing, artificial intelligence and space exploration, it was the power of science that carried us through the tumultuous year ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. A string of major breakthroughs across a wide array of subjects — biology, genetics, environment, computing and space — has come to define the year 2020. Neither the devastating pathogen nor the bigotry of some political leaders could dampen the spirit of the scientific community. In fact, scientists kept discovering and innovating in the face of unprecedented challenges in what was arguably the greatest international scientific collaborative effort in human history. The development of coronavirus vaccine candidates at a scorching pace is a testament to the importance of science and technology in an interconnected world. From characterisation of the novel coronavirus to a set of vaccines— everything was achieved in a span of less than a year whereas the vaccine development normally takes 10 to 15 years. The challenge thrown by Covid-19 helped in expanding the horizons of science. There was also great public-private partnership in vaccine development as seen in the Oxford University-AstraZeneca and Bharat Biotech-ICMR projects. It once again demonstrated the power of science to improve the quality of life in the post-pandemic world. It was not just the invisible pathogen that engaged the attention of scientists but the vast expanse of the cosmos too beckoned them.

Researchers discovered new types of black holes, found water on the sunlit part of the Moon, saw hints of possible signs of life in the high clouds of Venus and discovered a fast radio burst coming from our own Milky Way galaxy. The voice of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian Mummy was recreated using 3D printing, medical scanners and an electronic larynx. While the robot spacecraft recorded ‘marsquakes’ on the Red Planet, a new era was heralded in space exploration when Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launched four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on the first full-fledged taxi flight for Nasa by a private company. The year also saw the first clinical trials for reprogramming of human blood cells to fight untreatable cancers. All these developments establish that the key to our survival and happiness lies in expanding the frontiers of science, broadening our understanding of the working of the forces of Nature, caring for each other as a society and halting the damage to the environment. While it is a testimony to the human ingenuity that the global scientific community has responded to the pandemic challenge with an unprecedented speed and dedication, the present challenge before the nations is to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine.

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