The top five science stories of 2012

The top five science stories of 2012

This was a great year for science. From the tiniest subatomic particles to vast interplanetary distances, science dominated the headlines in 2012. From extreme weather to energy and from E. coli to the environment, you probably followed—or covered—all of these stories. So what tops the list?

The Science Media Centre of Canada polled Canadians to find out what they considered the top five science stories of the year. Here are the winners:

Higgs boson

Higgs boson – LHC by flickr user Lightmash (used by permission under Creative Commons licensing)

This year, two teams (ATLAS and CMS) from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN combined their results to announce they had discovered what looked to be the Higgs boson. The elusive boson was the only subatomic particle described in the so-called “Standard Model” of physics that had not yet been directly observed. Even better, many Canadians are members of the ATLAS team.

Curiosity lands on Mars

Mars Curiosity Rover
Mars Curiosity Rover by flickr user Claudio Costerni (used by permission under Creative Commons licensing)

The world watched in wonder—and Canadians stayed up late into the night—as the rover Curiosity landed on the surface of Mars in early August after an eight-month journey. The rover, which was carrying the Canadian-built APXS instrument, had a landing sequence dubbed “seven minutes of terror” because of its incredible complexity, involving parachutes, rockets and sky cranes. But Curiosity landed safely, and Canadians are among those studying the data to see what surprises the red planet has in store.

Cuts to federal science

Federal science programs faced cuts this year, including some notable environmental monitoring and in-situ experiments. The PEARL lab, located in the Arctic at a key location to study the ozone, and the Experimental Lakes Area, a decades-old project that helped increase knowledge of how acid rain, phosphates, and mercury move through ecosystems, were also defunded, prompting a backlash that led to several demonstrations on Parliament Hill.

Arctic sea ice

Shrinking arctic ice by flickr user NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (used by permission under Creative Commons licensing)

This year saw the lowest extent of Arctic sea ice since satellite observations began in the 1970s. The ice reached its annual minimum in the fall. Reduced sea ice has long been predicted in models of climate warming. Reduction of sea ice not only impacts the quality and quantity of the ice itself, but can also have impacts on wildlife, indigenous peoples and the atmosphere, effecting change even into the mid-latitudes.

Italian seismologists on trial

Seismologists in Italy were put on trial for failing to provide sufficient warning of a fatal earthquake. This raised concern that there was a public misunderstanding of the science—or lack thereof—of earthquake prediction, prompting concerns from researchers about communicating science and risk to the public in general.

The Science Media Centre of Canada would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy new year!