Best science stories of 2015 (pictures)

Alzheimers research, human brain-to-brain communication, water on Mars. Here are some of our favourite scientific achievements for 2015.

Michelle Starr
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr

Up close with Pluto

After nearly a decade in transit from Earth, Pluto probe New Horizons finally arrived at its destination in July of this year. The sensors on board collected information about the dwarf planet at the solar system's edge in one mission than had been found in all the decades prior.

2 of 20 NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Extraterrestrial water

2015 marked the year scientists confirmed the existence of liquid water outside of Earth. Saturn's moon Enceladus is home to a vast ocean underneath its icy crust, and researchers have found the best evidence yet that salty water still flows on Mars, even if nothing can examine it closely yet.

3 of 20 © VOLKER STEGER/Science Photo Library/Corbis

Quantum entanglement loopholes closed

Researchers have been conducting quantum entanglement experiments for 50 years. This year, researchers claim to have conducted these experiments while closing multiple loopholes, proving the phenomenon more conclusively than ever before.

4 of 20 CSIRO

Glowing fingerprints

After being robbed, Australian scientist Kang Liant developed a liquid that makes fingerprints glow under blacklight, a forensic technique far more efficient and accurate than dusting.

5 of 20 Tatyana Deryabina

Animals thrive in Chernobyl

It's been nearly 30 years since the nuclear power plant disaster in Chernobyl Ukraine. A long-term study has found that animal populations are thriving in the human-free exclusion zone, with numbers increasing consistently since 1987, and animals adapting to radiation exposure.

6 of 20 Lab mouse image © George Steinmetz/Corbis

Ultrasound used to noninvasively treat Alzheimers

A team of Australian researchers were able to restore memory function in mice by using ultrasound to break down the amyloid plaques responsible for the loss of cognitive function in Alzheimers syndrome. The excited scientists called the achievement a "breakthrough."

7 of 20 UCI Brain Computer Interface Lab

Paralysed man walks

Unlike other brain interface mobility solutions, a new one tested by the University of California, Irvine doesn't use an exoskeleton, but instead transmits thoughts using an EEG cap via electrodes on the muscles. Using this system, a paralysed man walked 3.66 metres (12 feet) on his own legs.

8 of 20 © Jean-Pierre Lescourret/Corbis

The search for Nefertiti

Work commenced on a new radar exploration of the tomb of ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun after evidence pointed to a hidden chamber. Expert Nicholas Reeves believes that the hidden chamber, now all but confirmed, could be the lost resting place of queen Nefertiti, Tutankhamun's mother.

9 of 20 National Geographic video screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

New human found in Africa

The evolution of humanity is not a complete picture. In fact, it has a lot of gaps. The discovery of a new extinct hominid named Homo naledi in Africa appears to be an early member of the Homo genus, filling out the family tree.

10 of 20 Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

Robot demonstrates self awareness

A big milestone for artificial intelligence will be a robot that can recognise itself as an individual, distinct from other units. Roboticists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute AI and Reasoning Lab in New York were able to demonstrate a robot with self awareness by tasking three robots with a logic puzzle that required recognition of individuality in order to find a solution.

11 of 20 Google Research

Google's Deep Dream

Google's image recognition software uses a form of artificial intelligence to recognise images. It turns out that when you tweak the setting to their most sensitive, the result is a series of really tripped out, surreal images containing lots and lots of dogs.

12 of 20 Bernhard Jank, MD, Ott Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Regenerative Medicine

Scientists create lab-grown limb

Using the vascular and nervous matrices of a rat, researchers were able to effectively grow an entire new limb. When tested, the cells functioned normally.

13 of 20 J.Bastion/CNRS/Oceanomics/Tara Expéditions

Giant survey discovers thousands of new ocean microbe species

Three years of collecting ocean samples and 160 scientists around the globe combined to create the most comprehensive survey of microbial ocean life to date.

14 of 20 NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team

Hubble turns 25

In April of 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope commenced operations in orbit around Earth. This year, we celebrated 25 years of Hubble imagery helping to study space.

15 of 20 Robert Kerton/CSIRO

Mysterious space signals turn out to be microwave noodles

At the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia, a team of researchers found the source of a mysterious signal that had been puzzling them for years. As it turned out, it was not extraterrestrial at all, but microwave ovens on the facility being opened before the timer was finished.

16 of 20 © Justin Paget/Corbis

The Great Bacon Cancer Debacle

It's been known for some time that processed meats are on the carcinogenic side, but the western world erupted into a furore when the World Health Organisation weighed in on the debate, officially declaring a causal link between processed food and colorectal cancer.

17 of 20 Image public domain

How the brontosaurus got its genus back

Over 110 years ago, in 1903, the brontosaurus was officially cancelled and merged with similar species apatosaurus. This year, a team of researchers had announced, after studying 81 skeletons, that there were enough differences between the two for brontosaurus to stand on its own four legs once again.

18 of 20 © IMAGEMORE M/Imagemore Co., Ltd./Corbis

Science unboils an egg

Announced in December, and awarded the Ig Nobel Chemistry Prize, was a technique developed in Australia to detangle the proteins of a cooked egg. This sounds silly, but it could provide a way to more cheaply manufacture cancer treatments.

19 of 20 University of Washington

Human minds link to play 20 questions

The work of University of Washington's Andrea Stocco in noninvasive human brain-to-brain communication over distances has been moving forward in leaps and bounds. This year, participants played a modified game of 20 Questions with 72 percent accuracy, purely by thinking at each other using EEG caps.

20 of 20 USFWS

Critically endangered ferret population increased

The black-footed ferret of North America, officially considered critically endangered, was successfully reproduced using sperm samples frozen over 20 years ago. This was the first time genetic material over 20 years old was successfully used in this way, introducing fresh genetic material into a declining population and providing greater hope for endangered species in the future.

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