Top 10 little-known science stories of 2005

It's always difficult to look at more than 330 stories published this year to select only ten. But here is my personal selection of science stories that I found either important, exciting or simply surprising.

It's always difficult to look at more than 330 stories published this year to select only ten. But here is my personal selection of science stories that I found either important, exciting or simply surprising.

10. 'Haute Cuisine' on Mars? (June 15)
If you're lucky enough to be a crew member of one of the next European Space Agency (ESA) long-term missions, you will have the choice between eleven new delicious recipes, such as 'martian bread and green tomato jam' or 'potato and tomato mille-feuilles' when it's time for dinner.

9. Smart bees find land mines (August 17)
Buried land mines kill more than 15,000 people each year worldwide. At the current removal rate, it will take about 450 years to clear the world of undetected anti-personnel land mines. Now, researchers from several U.S. universities are training honey bees to locate buried land mines through odor detection.

8. Robots with square wheels? (December 5)
About eighteen months ago, I told you about a tricycle with square wheels which needed a specially designed road. But now, a company is launching square wheel robots which propel themselves on flat surfaces by taking advantage of gravity.

7. How monarch butterflies fly without getting lost (August 22)
Monarch butterflies are well-known for their lengthy annual migration each fall from Canada to Mexico (and vice-versa in the spring) without losing their way for about 3,000 miles. Their secret: they monarch butterflies "have special photoreceptors for ultraviolet (UV) light in their eyes which provide them with their sense of direction."

6. Controlling the speed of light -- up and down (August 20)
Researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, claim that light can travel faster than light! They were able to control the speed of light in an off-the-shelf optical fiber. They said that they did "slow a light signal down by a factor of 3.6 (or about 71,000 km/s), creating a sort of temporary "optical memory." On the other hand, they also did create "extreme conditions in which the light signal travelled faster than 300 million meters a second."

5. Why spaghetti does not break in half (September 11)
French physicists have found why an uncooked spaghetti can break into three, seven or even ten pieces, but rarely two. It's because of elastic waves travelling along the pasta when dry spaghetti is bent and suddenly released at one end. And don't think this is a minor discovery: the researchers think their findings can be applied to civil engineering to make structures like buildings and bridges more stable.

4. Storing liquid CO2 in the oceans? (November 4)
One of the ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to capture carbon dioxide at its source and to store it in other places such as the ocean after liquefaction. But liquid CO2 would have to be injected to a depth of between 800 and 3,000 meters to keep it from escaping from the ocean.

3. World's first biogas train fueled by cows (October 27)
The world's first train to run on biogas, a renewable energy source made up of organic waste from cows, has been inaugurated in Sweden. It can seat 60 passengers in a single car and could run for 600 kilometers at a maximum speed of 130 kilometers an hour.

2. Our pillows are dangerous for our health (October 15)
I guess we shouldn't be surprised by the fact that our pillows are miniature zoos containing millions of fungal spores, with some species able to cause diseases and even death. Researchers at the University of Manchester have studied the fungal contamination of our pillows for the first time in seventy years and discovered that these pillows were hot beds of fungal spores.

1. A Master Equation for All Life Processes? (February 21)
Some simple mathematical equations, known as quarter-power scaling laws, can explain the metabolic rates of living organisms. For example, an animal's metabolic rate appears to be proportional to mass to the 3/4 power. And this 3/4-power law appears to hold sway from microbes to whales, creatures of sizes ranging over a mind-boggling 21 orders of magnitude.

See you in 2006!

Sources: Roland Piquepaille's archives, December 22, 2005

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