Science 2014: The Year In Review

The confetti has been swept up, the hangovers have receded and the new year has begun. But before we carry on marching forward into the unknown, let’s take a moment to appreciate the scientific achievements of 2014 that will carry us through 2015 and beyond.

Hover Conversion

Image: Quickmemes, Universal Pictures
Image: Quickmemes, Universal Pictures

In spring of 2014 the internet went mad over a video of pro skateboarder and video game star Tony Hawk pulling 1080s on a real life hover board.

Days later, after fans of Back to The Future II had already gone mad trying to get their hands on one, was it revealed that a working hover board was, of course, a lie. The elaborate video was all part of a Funny or Die prank. Then, in November, a new video of Tony Hawk riding a hover board began making the rounds, only this time it was for real:

Hendo Hover created the world’s first really real hover board. And while you wont be doing ollies five feet off the ground any time soon, the new technology is more exciting that anything you found in Boy’s Life. Hendo’s website simplifies the explanation of their design”

“The magic behind the hoverboard lies in its disc-shaped hover engines. These engines induce an opposing magnetic field in the surface substrate below that provides lift, levitating our board off the ground.”

The boards themselves only work over certain materials, but the technology opens the door for hover skate parks down the road and there might even be potential for practical use on a larger scale sometime in the coming years. It’s one step closer to Marty McFly’s future, but it isn’t exactly time travel either.

Space Travel

Warp drive may still be decades away, but the leaps taken in 2014 could have a significant impact on the future of long distance space travel.

NASA unveiled their new Orion program, a replacement for the shuttle program of yesteryear. The Orion spacecraft is built with long distance travel in mind. Test flights began in December of 2014, looking at critical safety, heat shields, and the new SLS (Space Launch System), the most powerful rockets ever built. The long term goals of the program include sending humans to deep space destinations like nearby asteroids, and eventually to Mars. The little red planet already populated with a variety of probes and rovers collecting pertinent data to be used by future space explorers.

Orion takes flight (Image:NASA)
Orion takes flight (Image: NASA)

Sustainability is key as space travel moves into the future, and the private sector joined in the fun this year. SpaceX premiered reusable rockets with some success, as well as their free flying cargo ship, Dragon. Ideally SpaceX, headed by high tech poster boy Elon Musk (of Tesla fame), is hoping to make make traveling to space more affordable.

Meet the Dragon, a Space X free flying private cargo space craft. Here is docks with the ISS (Image: Space X)
Meet the Dragon, a Space X free flying private cargo space craft. Here is docks with the ISS (Image: SpaceX)

The program has been working with NASA to deliver supplies to those living in the ISS (International Space Station). The reusable SpaceX rockets could be used to make long distance travel on Earth both cheaper and faster, while opening up visits to space as a potential vacation destination as well.

Along with efforts to further space travel, the European Space Agency made history in 2014 when they landed their Rosetta drone on a comet, after sending the probe on a 4 billion mile journey that took a decade to complete. The mission hopes to provide information that can be used to better track other moving objects in space, such as comets and asteroids, which could perhaps one day help us to avoid an extinction-level catastrophe.

Solar Power

2014 saw a significant increase in the domestic use of solar energy, along with the unveiling of the world’s two largest solar farms, Topaz and Ivanpah, located in sunny California.

The forward momentum of solar technology is a promise for what is to come. Now that it’s generally understood that use of fossil fuels is damaging our home planet, changing our ways on Earth is looking just as important as finding other answers in space.  36% of new capacity electric came from solar in 2014, and those numbers are just the beginning. Ford unveiled their C-Max Solar Energi car design at the 2014 CES convention.

cmx15

The car is meant to be an affordable option for people who can’t swing the steep price tag for the high-end Fisker Karma. The company filed bankruptcy this year, though their difficulties are more likely due to their approach than the promise of the future of solar automobiles. Affordable hybrids have done well in the automotive market, and solar offers even more freedom. That said, only time will tell if solar concept cars will become a popular reality in the coming years.

Medical Science

Perhaps nothing that happened last year is as wonderful as what Dr. Hannah Gay and her colleagues managed to uncover: When a child is being born to an HIV positive mother, it’s standard procedure to give a single dose of an antiretroviral drug during delivery to stop transmission of the virus from mother to child. Unfortunately, in one particular case at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the mother was unaware of having contracted the disease. Gay and her team took a risk, giving the newly born child a potent cocktail of drugs in an effort to have the best chance at life, and it worked. The newborn – now a toddler – is off medication and shows no signs of having ever been affected. Gay and her team are the first to effectively cure an infant of HIV. While years of research are still ahead, this medical breakthrough has changed the game in the fight against a disease doctors once knew nothing about.

From space tech to medical science, society is still a long way off from some of the more fantastical ideas we’ve had for the future of the human race, but each year brilliant minds across the globe are making strides to bring our species to a new frontier. 2014 showed amazing promise for our future generations, and we can’t wait to see what is discovered by the end of 2015.


Images: ESA, Ford Motor Company,

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