Five great things that happened during 2015

Science never ceases to discover new things

 William C. Campbell:  won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Photograph:  EPA/CJ GUNTHER

William C. Campbell: won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Photograph: EPA/CJ GUNTHER

 

Every year science throws up remarkable discoveries, great advances, important decisions and new ideas, and 2015 was no different. For what it is worth here are five really good things that happened during the year just past, and they are presented in no particular order.

Innovation 2020

The Government was wise to allow a good amount of discussion as the document evolved so, for a change, we really do seem to have some form of consensus, at least based on the early response of the research community. The strategy remains strongly pro-industry and private sector, continuing the Government’s current approach to discovery and innovation. This demands that academia and the private sector join forces in collaborative ventures that have the potential to deliver jobs and new companies.

Wisely, however, the strategy also makes room for frontiers research, with funding arriving for blue skies science via a new programme to be run by the Irish Research Council.

It will be interesting to see how the strategy plays out in the coming months.

Nobel Prize for Irish scientist

William CampbellRameltonDonegalTrinity College Dublin

If the Innovation 2020 strategy really works we should be seeing lots more Nobel laureates with Irish sounding names in the coming years.

Crispr/Cas9

This technology is going to change our lives in ways that we have not yet begun to imagine. It can be used to alter genes in plants and animals but can also be used to edit human DNA, immediately raising ethical concerns.

It could be used, for example, as a way to change faulty genes into working genes in various diseases. But it potentially could be used to make you taller, give you blue eyes or deliver a hair colour on demand – provided the genes responsible for this can be identified. Once again scientific advancement has raced ahead of our ability to develop a balanced ethical approach to its future use.

Joining Cern and Eso

It has been a long battle to get the Government to accept the value and clear economic return on spending money to join them.

The strategy states that it is time for us to begin negotiating an entry deal that will open up the right of Irish scientists to participate.

Cern is Europe’s nuclear research centre, the home of the 27km long Large Hadron Collider, the particle smasher that helped discover the Higgs Boson. Eso, the European Southern Observatory, is one of the premier locations to do advanced astronomy, using the largest telescopes the world.

It is built into the mountains of Chile, hence its description as the southern observatory.

COP21

Countries acquiesced to the idea of burden sharing with billions of euro being made available to help developing countries to follow through on the limits set by the Paris agreement.

Did it do enough? It delivered more than many believed it could, almost complete international acceptance that climate change is a danger to us all. It may be too little too late but at least it has the potential to stabilise warming and prevent things from getting worse.

Let’s hope for all our sakes that it is enough to make things change for the better.

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