This year's biggest scientific achievements

post by Elo · 2015-12-13T05:26:21.822Z · score: 9 (10 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 29 comments


  Recommendations from the slack:
  Notable deaths
  Nobel medals this year
  Things that happened 100 years ago (from wikipedia):

For our solstice event I tried to put together a list of this year’s biggest scientific achievements.  They can likely all be looked up with a bit of searching and each one is worthy of a celebration in their own right.  But mostly I want to say; we have come a long way this year.  And we have a long way to go.

I tried to include science and technology in this list, but really anything world-scale (non-politics or natural disaster) is worthy of celebrating.














  • Google releases "Tensor Flow" which whilst its not very good at the moment has the potential to centralize the Deep Learning libraries.

  • CRISPR's ability to change the germ line.

  • Deep Dreaming, but also image generation.  Faces generated, bedrooms generated and even a toilet in a field. Its clear that within the next few years you will have pictures entirely generated by Neural Nets. (Code:


April 29 – The World Health Organization (WHO) declares that rubella has been eradicated from the Americas.

July 14 - NASA's New Horizons spacecraft performs a close flyby of Pluto, becoming the first spacecraft in history to visit the distant world.

September 10 – Scientists announce the discovery of Homo naledi, a previously unknown species of early human in South Africa.

September 28 – NASA announces that liquid water has been found on Mars.

Recommendations from the slack:

china makes a genetically modified micropig and sells it:

psyc studies can’t be reproduced:

zoom contact lenses

room temperature synthetic diamonds 

Notable deaths

terry pratchett passed away

malcolm fraser

John Forbes Nash Jr

Oliver Sacks

Christopher lee

Nobel medals this year

Chemistry – Paul L. Modrich; Aziz Sancar and Tomas Lindahl ("for mechanistic studies of DNA repair")

Economics – Angus Deaton ("for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare")

Literature – Svetlana Alexievich ("for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time" )

Peace – Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet ("for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011")

Physics – Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald ("for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass")

Physiology or Medicine – William C Campbell, Satoshi Ōmura ("for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites") and Tu Youyou ("for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria"[116])



The dress 

Ebola outbreak

Polio came back 

(also this year) - upcoming spaceX return flight on the 19th dec

runner up: vat meat is almost ready.

runner up: soylent got a lot better this year

runner up: quantum computing having progressive developments but nothing specific


Things that happened 100 years ago (from wikipedia):

Nobel Prizes:
  • Chemistry – Richard Willstätter
  • Literature – Romain Rolland
  • Medicine – not awarded
  • Peace – not awarded
  • Physics – William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg

Meta - This list was compiled for Sydney’s Solstice event; I figured I would share this because it’s pretty neat.

Time to compose: 3-4hrs

With comments from the IRC and slack

To see more of my posts visit my Table of contents

As usual; any suggestions welcome below.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-12-13T10:55:55.217Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nice collection but still somewhat unstructured and mixes large and small thing (which is not a bad thing) as well as some things that are not strictly in this year (though you might mean specific things). Example: "quantum computing", "cube sats". I most liked "Autonomous rocket landing pointy end up". And I didn't get some references ("twitch").

comment by Elo · 2015-12-13T12:04:00.189Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

some very big milestones were made to do with quantum bits being created which is why it was included. - worth looking over; several large developments were made in the functionality of cubesats including lightsail technology.

twitch refers to the streaming site that rose to fame and sold for quite a sum. I was under the impression that things happened to it in 2015 but it looks like they mostly happened in 2014. Will take it out of the list.

comment by Manfred · 2015-12-13T23:31:26.514Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Quantum computing didn't really have many milestones this year - 2012 (surface error correcting code proposed) and 2014 (I think this is when fidelity of Xmon qbits for surface code was reached, and in fall Google throws money at the Martinis group from UCSB to work on superconducting quantum computers) were definitely bigger years. But sure - we are in the middle of a multi-year event related to quantum computing :P

comment by Elo · 2015-12-14T03:11:10.808Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't want to entirely leave it out... Moving it to the "runner up" section.

comment by taryneast · 2015-12-14T22:33:13.764Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Re: quantum computing, I think it might be referring to this:

"Quantum computing breakthrough: Qubits made from standard silicon transistors"

comment by username2 · 2015-12-18T12:16:22.234Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you even differentiate between the biggest achievements and the most overhyped achievements? Wouldn't such things only be clear in hindsight? Wouldn't we have a better understanding what were the biggest scientific achievements of, say, 2005 or 1995 rather than 2015?

comment by Elo · 2015-12-20T23:40:52.091Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you even differentiate between the biggest achievements and the most overhyped achievements?


Wouldn't such things only be clear in hindsight?


Wouldn't we have a better understanding what were the biggest scientific achievements of, say, 2005 or 1995 rather than 2015?


Wouldn't we have a better understanding what were the biggest scientific achievements of, say, 2005 or 1995 rather than 2015?


yes. But it's better to write the list; celebrate what we can recall and remember as over-hyped and enjoy ourselves than to just not do it for the reasons you suggest.

comment by casebash · 2015-12-15T04:50:45.056Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This list would have been more useful if it distinguished the state of the technology - ie. project started, project planned, technology actually in use, ect.

comment by taryneast · 2015-12-14T22:35:16.389Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I reckon you should include touchable voxels (3D holograms made in thin air):

comment by taryneast · 2015-12-14T22:33:29.785Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it'd be great to have links for all these - so we know what we're looking at - also so we can go look up more info.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-12-13T15:42:14.399Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Notable deaths

This is just depressing. Can we have a notable births section?

comment by Elo · 2015-12-14T03:13:42.751Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cute. You invent time travel and I will include it in the post.

On a more serious note; I think it's significant for a few reasons:

  1. respect and memory of those lost
  2. a reminder that death is still around. Car accidents happen, as do medical conditions causing death. Soon that will not, it's a hope for the future that it comes sooner and there are no longer deaths of notable people.
comment by Tem42 · 2015-12-14T22:22:43.329Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't invent time travel for another 60 years. But I will get back to you in 2075.

On a more serious note, I wasn't wanting the deaths removed, just balanced.

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-15T16:53:20.569Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't invent time travel for another 60 years. But I will get back to you in 2075.

Couldn't we get a precommitment from you to bring it back to 12/16/2015 once you have it?

comment by Elo · 2015-12-14T22:32:55.597Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

balanced now with notable births 100 years ago. :)

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-13T21:22:49.493Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What makes a birth notable?

comment by Tem42 · 2015-12-13T22:05:44.207Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pretty much the same sort of life as makes the death notable.

comment by Furcas · 2015-12-13T23:30:31.935Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The person accomplished notable things?

comment by Viliam · 2015-12-14T11:30:58.995Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The person is a next reincarnation of someone from the notable deaths section.

(Notability is 20% hereditary, 30% environment, and 50% karma.)

On a second thought, when a notable person has a child, that should also be celebrated.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-18T12:30:10.993Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How many notable scientists are the children of notable scientists?

comment by gwern · 2015-12-25T23:51:34.846Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lots, considering the base rates involved. The famous example of a compilation would be Galton's Hereditary Genius study, and of course, Galton himself, one of the most important statisticians, was the half-cousin of the Darwin, and both were grandchildren of Erasmus Darwin. A read of a Freeman Dyson op-ed reminds me that his son, George Dyson, is one of the most distinguished historians of technology, and earlier this year I was (not that) surprised to learn that the late lamented Oliver Sacks was the cousin of Robert Aumann. Then there are instances like the Bernoullis (or to continue the B theme albeit outside of science, the Bachs). I was reading a book on the Global Burden of Disease and its central figure, Murray, has a father who was also a doctor and made a breakthrough in treating an African disease. William Sidis's father was, unfortunately for him, himself something of a genius with eccentric ideas about education. Continuing the Eastern European theme, we have the Polgars, the product of an eccentric experiment which successfully proved that, amazingly, you can breed two smart people and get more smart people. And so on. The family connections are all over the place once you start keeping an eye out. (Jewish people particularly enjoy joking about this.)

And often you will note that even the ones who come from 'humble' backgrounds will actually be well-educated or in skilled occupations or show clear familial signs of giftedness - the father will often be a failed inventor, or a competent but obscure engineer, or will have been blacklisted over politics, or the mother will be a schoolteacher in an era where that was the highest profession available to a smart woman or she wrote novels on the side or her children will remember her creativity in devising clever poems for special occasions, etc.

If you think about it in terms of distributions, it makes a good deal of sense. Eminent families have a very high genetic and shared-environment mean, but even with the odds very much in one's favor, they only have a (very) few members and so can't make up more than a fraction of all high-achievers. The larger bulk of bright but not extraordinarily gifted families have poorer odds for their kids, but there's so many of them that their lucky highest-scorers will make up most of the high-achievers. To put a more modern spin: almost all subjects in SMPY will get advanced degrees and make major contributions, but only a few people getting advanced degrees and making major contributions will be SMPYers.

(One issue is that families get spread over multiple surnames - how are you supposed to know that Galton and Darwin are related unless you'd read up on them? And there are so many fields to specialize in that a highly capable family will tend to have representatives spread over multiple fields - the Bernoullis are a bit unusual in having multiple luminaries in almost the exact same field which makes their collective impact so obvious. A more typical pattern is one would be a statesman, another a great lawyer, another a poet, another a doctor, etc, which dilutes considerably the ocular trauma. Someone interested in math won't appreciate the XYZ's influence on international relations, and vice-versa.)

comment by Viliam · 2015-12-25T21:47:05.457Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I remember reading somewhere that talent often runs in families (with examples, which unfortunately I forgot)... but now I think the original article was probably about things like musical talent.

Quick look at Wikipedia:

Okay, you have a point.

comment by satt · 2015-12-26T13:48:47.356Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Although if we go looking for descendants rather than ancestors...

Irène Joliot-Curie (12 September 1897 – 17 March 1956) was a French scientist, the daughter of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie and the wife of Frédéric Joliot-Curie. Jointly with her husband, Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. This made the Curies the family with the most Nobel laureates to date.[1] Both children of the Joliot-Curies, Hélène and Pierre, are also esteemed scientists.[2]

comment by Tem42 · 2015-12-14T00:55:14.042Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


(I see that LessWrong has twigged to the fact that this was a stupid joke and not a serious proposal, and I accept the downkarma.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-12-13T16:59:22.795Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Kimye had a kid.

comment by Soothsilver · 2015-12-13T18:26:06.644Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand that death is an important part of the Solstice celebration so perhaps that's why it's there.

comment by Calien · 2015-12-17T06:58:13.088Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another death: Leonard Nimoy

comment by Kyre · 2015-12-14T05:06:16.363Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not sure if it's a scientific or engineering achievement, but this Nature letter stuck in my mind:

An aqueous, polymer-based redox-flow battery using non-corrosive, safe, and low-cost materials

comment by Elo · 2015-12-14T07:33:36.053Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Neat! I might leave it here in the comments.