The Most Insane Scientific Discoveries
What a time to be alive! Each year, science advances at an alarming pace, and some scientific breakthroughs are so crazy that many people find them controversial. In the past decade, scientists have made many incredible discoveries, including a black hole that’s 12 billion times as big as the sun, Superman’s kryptonite, artificial wombs and lab-made viruses that could lead to human extinction if unleashed.
Some of these scientific finds are cool, and some are scary, but all of them are mind-blowing. Read on to uncover the truth of the most insane scientific discoveries.
Artificial Wombs to Grow Babies
Recently, scientists successfully grew eight baby sheep using artificials wombs. The wombs looked like giant Ziploc bags attached to tubes of blood and fluid. Within four weeks, the lambs developed wool coats, grew organs, opened their eyes for the first time and moved around inside the wombs..
The experiment was conducted on sheep because of their short development time, but some scientists now want humans to be next, an idea that seems worrisome. However, those scientists only plan to help premature babies who have vision, hearing, dental or chronic health issues.
One of the Oldest Paintings in the World
The Sulawesi cave art in Indonesia was once believed to be 35,000 years old, but in 2014, scientists adjusted the age to 39,900 years old. It’s the second oldest art structure in the world, after the 41,000-year-old drawing on a cave wall at El Castillo in Spain.
No one knows what the hand markings mean, but researchers believe the "pig-deer" represents animals the locals hunted. The painting provides great insight into art culture and symbolism used by early humans in Asia. It also tells us that more ancient Asian paintings — perhaps even older — could be found in the future.
Full Face Transplants
Kidneys, livers and hearts account for the majority of transplanted organs since the 1950s. Few people have even heard of face transplants. Wearing someone else’s face may sound unusual — and creepy — but it’s a beneficial procedure for patients with faces damaged by burns, disease, trauma or birth defects.
In 2010, the world’s first successful full face transplant took place in Spain. The complicated procedure involved 30 doctors and took 24 hours to perform. Although full face transplants help restore some patients’ quality of life, the healthcare industry still has ethical concerns related to using the surgery for illegal purposes or for cosmetic reasons.
More Habitable Planets
NASA scientists got more than a little excited after finding TRAPPIST-1, a close solar system with seven globes orbiting a star. Located in the "Goldilocks Zone," the planets appear to be similar to our own rocky home, Earth. This means they may support liquid water and living organisms.
The best part is that the habitable planets are only 40 light-years away from Earth, giving scientists the chance to study them further. For years, scientists have tried to answer the question, "Are we alone in the universe?" Discovering TRAPPIST-1 takes the world a step closer to learning if there’s really life out there in the cosmos.
Almost 114,000 patients in the U.S. are on the waiting list for an organ transplant. Unfortunately, a shortage of available human organs means the list just keeps growing. In an attempt to save more lives, scientists want to transplant pig organs into some patients.
The gene-editing company, eGenesis, uses CRISPR to modify pigs so their organs won’t be rejected by human bodies. CRISPR is also used to edit out diseases and mutations in pigs. Currently, eGenesis is only testing pig organs in monkeys, but we could soon live in a world where many humans have pig organs.
Sci-fi movies are getting more real than ever before. Having false memories is common, but implanting fake memories or wiping out memories is not. But it could be done, thanks to two neuroscientists who altered the mind of a mouse in 2014. Terrifying, right?
The pair modified the mouse’s brain cells to give it a memory of being shocked in a small metal box. The mouse with the false memory got scared when it was placed in the box, even though it had never actually been zapped. Some researchers question whether it’s ethical to change a person’s identity with memory manipulation, while others argue that it’s a step closer to effectively treating PTSD and Alzheimer’s.
Unknown Signals from Space
In 2007, scientists received weird signals from deep space. They called these messages fast radio bursts (FRB), and some came from 7.9 billion light-years away. More than a decade later, they are still scratching their heads in confusion, unable to identify the source of the signals.
However, they do have some wild guesses. Some researchers believe the signals come from collapsing black holes or neutron stars, while others think they are messages from aliens. Many experts agree that the mysterious, repeating signals come from turbulent environments in different galaxies. Scientists continue to receive FRBs today.
A Cure for Hereditary Blindness
Leber congenital amaurosis is a form of hereditary blindness that occurs at birth or at a young age. In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed the lives of patients with the condition by approving the first gene therapy to cure the disease.
The life-changing therapy, known as Luxturna, involves injecting a virus into a patient’s retina. The virus then corrects the blindness-inducing gene, replacing it with an important protein that helps humans see. During clinical trials of the treatment, 13 out of 20 patients noticed improvements in their vision within a month.
Computer Chips Thinking Like Human Brains
In 2014, scientists developed a computer chip with 5.4 billion transistors that was the size of a postage stamp. The unique chip was designed to mimic all the functions of a human brain, including awareness and memory functions. One scientist, Dharmendra Modha, wants the world to imagine a chip-enabled phone that could understand where it is, who it’s communicating with and what it’s doing.
It’s incredible to think a chip could replicate the human brain, but why would scientists want to do this in the first place? Researchers use the chips to further study the brain’s behavior and understand which specific parts of the brain are affected by disorders like Alzheimer’s. Instead of using human subjects, scientists could potentially use these chips to run tests and develop potential cures.
Scientists Make Doomsday Bird Flu Virus
Some scientific experiments end up being extremely dangerous. For instance, in 2011, Dutch researchers created an Armageddon bird flu virus in a university laboratory. The researchers thought about sharing the information from the experiment, but the U.S. government quickly put a stop to it and asked the scientists to keep the research details a secret.
H5N1, a strain of bird flu, has caused the deaths of millions of birds and hundreds of humans since 1996. The Dutch lab wanted to understand the virus better in order to develop a vaccine. As a result, they inadvertently developed an even deadlier form of bird flu. If their research made it into the hands of bioterrorists, it could wipe out millions of people.
Control Mechanical Hands with Your Mind
Pierpaolo Petruzziello lost his arm in a car crash, but it didn’t bother him quite as much after he gained a robotic arm in 2009. And it wasn’t just any robotic arm. It was a biomechanical arm that Petruzziello controlled with his mind, much like something straight out of a Marvel movie.
Scientists connected the prosthetic hand to his arm’s nerves using electrodes that allowed Petruzziello to control the hand with his thoughts. Petruzziello learned to wiggle his fingers, make a fist and grab items. This marked the first time a patient was able to complete complex actions using their mind.
City-Killer Asteroid Almost Hit Earth
Generally, astronomers track asteroids weeks in advance, but occasionally one slips under their radar. In July 2019, researchers realized an asteroid was coming straight toward Earth. They noticed the asteroid only a few days before it would have struck the planet — luckily, it missed.
The asteroid was called Asteroid 2019 OK or "city-killer." Astronomers had a hard time seeing the city-killer because it came from the direction of the sun. It traveled 15 miles per second and missed Earth by 43,500 miles. With a height of 187 feet and a diameter of 427 feet, the asteroid is the largest rock to come close to Earth this decade. Talk about a close call.
When you imagine construction crews, you probably think of workers wearing hard hats and reflective vests. Chances are you never thought of robot termites launching construction careers, but there’s a first for everything. Harvard researchers created termite robots that can autonomously build complex structures without supervision or predetermined roles.
The small robots can build towers, castles and pyramids out of foam bricks, and they don’t even need blueprints. Inspired by the behavior of real termites, scientists designed the termites to work together and use signs from the environment to steer their construction tasks.
Robotic Insect Weapons
Nanoweapons sound like something from a Black Mirror episode, but the military is trying to make war robots the size of insects a reality. In fact, the U.S., Russia and China have invested billions of dollars in nanoweapon research. It’s even more terrifying to think these small weapons could actually destroy the world.
So, how much damage could these teeny-tiny insect weapons really unleash? Insect killer robots could be designed to poison populations and contaminate food. They have the intensity of hundreds of tons of TNT. Some researchers believe nanoweapons could completely wipe out humanity.
Growing Organs with Stem Cells
Stem cells can turn into many different cells in the body, from white blood cells to nerve cells. These versatile cells have been used to treat many cancers and diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma, neuroblastoma and myeloma. Stem cells have also been used to grow human organs.
If you thought it was impossible to grow organs in a lab, think again. Scientists have grown fallopian tubes, small brains, tiny hearts, lungs, stomachs and ears. In 2019, mouse kidneys were grown inside rats. These tests take us one step closer to perfecting the technology needed to help patients who need organ transplants.
The story of Atlantis may be a myth, but a sunken mass of land actually exists. In fact, it’s another continent that has existed on Earth all along. About 60 to 85 million years ago, a massive piece of continental crust broke off from Australia. Scientists call this lost continent Zealandia. Today, that land is almost completely submerged beneath New Zealand.
Zealandia wasn’t always underwater, however. Scientists studied more than 8,000 specimens and hundreds of fossil species. One researcher, Gerald Dickens, noted, "The discovery of microscopic shells of organisms that lived in warm shallow seas and of spores and pollen from land plants reveal that the geography and climate of Zealandia were dramatically different in the past."
Elon Musk, the famous CEO of Tesla, Inc., and SpaceX, sent a $100,000 Tesla into space in 2018, and that car is still cruising the solar system. One of the biggest SpaceX projects in the works is reusable rockets.
After launching reusable rockets into space, we can guide them to touch down in the ocean safely. This saves billions of dollars — money that is usually spent on replacing the rockets. Musk claims his rockets can be used up to 10 times, but they have only flown three times so far.
Kryptonite Is Real
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we want to point out that this mineral doesn’t glow. It’s not green, and it’s not even radioactive. So why are scientists saying they’ve found kryptonite, the famous crystal that weakens Superman? Researchers found a strange mineral in Serbia and couldn’t identify it, so they passed it on to mineral expert Chris Stanley.
Stanley discovered the mineral’s chemical makeup was sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide, but he couldn’t find any results in his specialized resources. In response, he searched for the chemical makeup on the internet and received lots of hits. The mineral has the same exact chemical makeup of kryptonite but was white and powdery. Of course, experts couldn’t call it kryptonite, so they called it jadarite.
A Black Hole 12 Billion Times Bigger Than the Sun
If you thought the sun is enormous, you should check out SDSS J0100+2802, the largest and brightest black hole ever found. This space monstrosity is 12 billion times bigger than the sun and as bright as 420 trillion suns.
SDSS J0100+2802 is also ancient, forming in the early days of the universe. Nobody knows how the black hole grew so large in a short time after the dawn of the universe, but studying it will hopefully shed more light on the development of black holes.
The robot surgeon will see you now. It’s not as futuristic as it sounds. Robot surgeons are popping up in the healthcare industry, but don’t be alarmed. Humans still supervise the bots. In fact, the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) performs operations with 40% human assistance.
In 2016, STAR successfully stitched together small pig intestines, making more precise cuts than most human surgeons. The goal of using robot surgeons is to improve the accuracy of incisions and make surgical tasks easier on human surgeons and nurses. So, would you put your life in the hands of a machine?
Implanting Microchips in Humans
Would it be awesome — or just creepy — if you could track people? It looks like that world is coming closer to reality. In 2017, the technology company Three Square Market microchipped its employees. The microchips were implanted under the skin of their hands, between their forefingers and thumbs.
These microchips don’t actually track employees’ locations like a GPS. They allow them to open doors, sign in to their computers and buy snacks. In the future, the inventors hope these chips will allow users to start their cars, lock their doors and turn on their lights with a simple gesture.
Liquid Water on Mars
Scientists have debated for a long time whether water ever existed on Mars. Some scientists who believe that Mars supported water also think the water turned into ice. In 2018, a frozen lake that may contain liquid water was discovered, blowing everyone’s minds.
Radar instruments analyzed the lake’s surface and subsurface, and the results showed evidence of water beneath the frozen lake, much like what you would find on Earth. The liquid water finding doesn’t positively mean that life actually existed on Mars at any point, but it’s key to understanding potential past or present life on the planet.
3D Bioprinting Human Skin
You know the future has arrived when you can print skin on 3D printers. Patients suffering from burns or wounds can print skin directly on top of the injury. Another great part is that the printers can also be mobile.
This technology is more effective than skin grafts, which are painful and can cause more skin damage. 3D bio-skin printers can help many people, including astronauts who get hurt in space and soldiers who get hurt in war. In two minutes or less, the printer forms skin on the affected area. Of course, currently, it’s only available for pig’s wounds, but it will be ready for human testing soon.
"Evil Twin" in the Brain
Yamini Karanam began having difficulty understanding basic information and communicating with friends and colleagues at the age of 26. She was also tired all the time and once slept for two weeks without waking up. Doctors detected a tumor in her brain, but they had no idea what they would find when they performed surgery to remove it.
The tumor turned out to be a teratoma, containing hair, teeth and bone. Researchers aren’t sure how these tumors form, but some experts believe a teratoma comes from an embryonic twin. As a result, Karanam jokingly called the tumor her " evil twin sister."
New Human Organ
It’s not a new lung or an extra heart, but it’s a new organ just under the skin that you never knew was there. Researchers from New York University's School of Medicine identified the new organ in 2018, calling it the interstitium.
The interstitium is a system of tissues that are located around the body, holding all the organs in place, including the digestive tract, lungs, arteries and veins. This discovery may help researchers further understand how diseases start and spread throughout the body.
Genetically Modified Babies
In 2018, Chinese scientists created two genetically modified babies. A third DNA-altered baby is due in 2019. The scientists edited their genes while the babies were only tiny embryos. These infants are healthy so far, which was the initial goal.
Genetically modifying embryos could help cure diseases and remove mutations, such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s Disease, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Using the CRISPR system, scientists were able to alter the DNA. Critics disagree with this procedure because of the use of human embryos for scientific research. Additional edits did fail with other embryos.
Teleporting Photons into Space
You’ve heard it before: "Teleportation isn’t real." That statement is now false, thanks to Chinese scientists who teleported the first object from Earth into space. No, they didn’t beam a human into the universe (yet), but the scientists successfully sent photons to a satellite orbiting Earth.
They tried beaming up millions of photons, and 911 of them were successful. Using a laser, they moved a photon entangled with another photon from the ground to space. This test is an essential step toward building an unhackable quantum internet.
Nanomachines That Deliver Drugs
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego developed nanorobots for common medical uses, like drug delivery. The tiny bots swim to different areas of the human body and inject medicine wherever it’s needed. They can even travel through the body’s narrowest capillaries.
To demonstrate their nanotechnology, the researchers used bots or micromotors thinner than human hair. The micromotors swam through blood toward the brain. In another test, the micromotors treated a bacterial infection in a mouse’s stomach. These medical bots can carry and store drugs as well as identify issues with cells.
Cure Cancer with Your Own Cells
What if your own cells could fight and cure cancer? This treatment became a reality when scientists took out a patient’s cells, modified them and returned them to the body. The test discovered these engineered cells went after cancer cells.
The treatment, called CAR T-cell therapy, changed how doctors treat cancer. Another therapy, Kymriah, prompts the immune system to attack pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia. There’s also a different type of CAR-T treatment, Yescarta, that treats blood cancer.
How did these treatments go with real patients? In 2018, a woman was cured of breast cancer using her own immune cells. She became the first successful patient using immunotherapy for late-stage breast cancer.
Baby with DNA of Three Parents
What could go wrong with a three-parent baby? Some experts find the technique controversial. However, it’s intended to help adults who want to have children but carry genes for dangerous diseases. In 2013, experts successfully created a three-parent embryo.
In 2016, the first three-parent child — a boy — was born in Mexico with the help of U.S. researchers. The boy’s mother had genes for the deadly Leigh syndrome. She didn’t want to risk passing the condition on to her child, so experts removed her damaged gene and replaced it with a healthy one from another woman. As a result, the baby had three biological parents.