The past year has delivered on science’s promise to explore, explain, and amaze, bringing us everything from breakthrough medical advances to record computing speeds and celestial insights. Here we look back at 22 of the coolest things that happened in 2022, culled from our science and technology column, “The 5 Coolest Things on Earth This Week.”
1. Moving Advancements
Researchers in Switzerland created an AI-powered spinal implant that enabled three paralyzed patients to walk, swim, and cycle almost instantly. In Germany, scientists made it possible for a paralyzed man to communicate with his doctors and family in full sentences through a brain-computer interface.
2. Surgical First
Surgeons at the University of Maryland Medicine transplanted a genetically modified pig heart into a human. The patient lived for six months after the milestone surgery, which was the first to demonstrate that an organ from another animal could be transplanted into a human without rejection.
3. Material Impossible
By growing polymers in two dimensions — a feat previously deemed impossible — MIT scientists created a thin, light plastic that is twice as strong as steel.
4. Drugstore Rocket Fuel
An engineering student in England used 3D printing to turn simple, cheap hydrogen peroxide into rocket fuel.
5. Flashes of Life
The first study to capture brain activity in the moments just before and after death uncovered what may be evidence of the experience of life flashing before one’s eyes. A separate report described the universal themes that arise in reports of near-death experiences, including arriving in a place that feels like “home” and a return back to life.
6. A Flying Car — Finally!
Swedish entrepreneur and sci-fi enthusiast Peter Ternström was disappointed we’d made it to the year 2022 without the flying car his childhood cartoons promised — so he made one. He called it the Jetson One.
7. Time Rewind
Salk Institute scientists reversed signs of aging in mice. After treatment with a cocktail of factors, the rodents’ skin resembled that of younger mice. In Israel, researchers reversed aging in human skin by transplanting it onto young mice.
8. Another Reason for Another Cuppa
Canadian researchers at the Research Institute of St. Joe’s Hamilton uncovered the biological link that may explain why caffeine drinkers appear to be less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
9. Sniff Test
Researchers in South Korea developed a lung cancer test using tiny worms that are attracted to the smell of cancerous cells.
10. Magnetic Slime Robot
Though it sounds like a cool STEM toy for kids, the magnetic slime robot developed by researchers in Hong Kong could be used for minimally invasive medical procedures.
11. Super Solar Storage
Swedish and Chinese scientists built a battery that can store solar energy in liquid form for as long as 18 years.
12. Moon Shot
NASA agreed to test a radical technology called SpinLaunch that replaces launch rockets with a giant rotating arm that flings payloads into space.
13. Master Manipulator
University of Minnesota Twin Cities researchers invented a device that can make metals emulate other metals. This makes it possible to get cheap and abundant metals to act like precious materials for advanced technologies, such as catalytic converters in cars and renewable energy storage.
14. Tech With a Sweet Tooth
Engineers at MIT and the Technical University of Munich devised a thin fuel cell that could power medical implants by feeding off glucose in the body.
15. A Speck of Genius
Northwestern University engineers developed a remote-controlled walking robot that’s smaller than a flea. The teeny, tiny bot looks like a miniature peekytoe crab.
16. Science Is in the Air
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin developed a low-cost gel film that can pull water from the air in extremely dry climates. A single kilogram can produce more than six liters of water per day. Also pulling innovation out of thin air, scientists at the National University of Singapore created a thin fabric device that creates an electrical charge from humidity with the potential to power electronics and wearable tech.
17. Reaching Lightning Speeds
Researchers at the Japanese National Institute of Information and Communications Technology demonstrated transmission of more than one petabit of data per second, about 100,000 times faster than high-speed home internet service. Stateside, a supercomputer at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory became the world’s fastest when it reached 1.1 exaflops of computing power, more than a quintillion calculations per second.
18. Immaculate Exceptions
Scientists at China’s Tsinghua University engineered regular mouse stem cells into ones with the power to develop into a complete organism. The experiment shows that it is theoretically possible to generate life without reproductive cells. Taking a different approach, scientists in Israel did just that, creating mouse embryos in the lab — without eggs, sperm, or a uterus.
19. Stargazing Like Never Before
NASA revealed the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope, ushering in a spectacular new era of space study.
20. Looking Inward
MIT engineers produced wearable ultrasound devices that can record images of internal organs for 48 straight hours.
21. Drool-Worthy Proposition
Researchers in Spain identified two enzymes — in caterpillar spit — that can biodegrade plastic. The enzymes could improve plastic recycling and prevent the release of microplastics into the environment.
22. Cancer Vaccines
Physician scientists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center created tailor-made vaccines that could help fight pancreatic cancer, while researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine tested a vaccine for an aggressive type of breast cancer.
Image credit: Jetson One