By: Andrew Utz ~Staff Writer~
Scientific discoveries occurred every week throughout 2015. Here’s a highlight of what was accomplished. The New Horizons space probe, launched in 2006, completed its journey to the outer edge of our solar system to officially explore the surface of Pluto, as well as other dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt beyond. Once it reached the planet, the probe examined its geography, atmosphere and chemical compositions. In addition, the probe took the first close photographs of the planet, allowing scientists to examine the topography.
Back on Earth, a research group in England successfully built a real-life tractor beam. The mechanism uses high-amplitude sound waves to generate an acoustic hologram, which can manipulate particles, levitating and moving them. The device uses 64 miniature loudspeakers to accomplish the task, projecting soundwaves around the particle to hold it in place. With more development, the sonic tractor beam can be used to assemble objects without touching them.
At the University of Helsinki, a genetic mutation in a receptor gene has shown that carriers of such genes are prone to erratic behavior, especially when intoxicated. In a study based in Finland, 2.2 percent of the general population had the gene. However, the expression of the gene can be far more complex than mere belligerence. Ongoing studies are determining how the gene’s expression could be linked to mental health changes.
In Germany, researchers are continuing to explore the option of fusion energy as a viable energy source. After two years of building, the Wendelstein 7-X was completed in order to test new materials and theories to produce and contain fusion technology. The system was tested with helium particles and produced a successful plasma ring to draw power for 0.1 second. Future tests with the actual hydrogen elements will hopefully produce energy similar to that of our own sun.