Dec 29, 2017

The science stories that mattered most in 2017

An enhanced-color image of Jupiter's south pole created by citizen scientist Roman Tkachenko using data acquired by NASA's Juno spacecraft on February 2, 2017. Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Roman Tkachenko

Sometimes the value of scientific research and the implications of how science is done and regarded aren't understood for years. Still, some science stories from the past year stood out. From colliding neutron stars to DNA editing to that visitor from another solar system, here are our choices for the top stories of 2017:

  1. Astronomers announced a new era when they detected the collision of two neutron stars.
  2. DNA was edited in human embryos for the first time in the U.S. (Go deeper: researchers questioned the report. But gene editing has arrived in medicine — the first clinical trials in humans are expected to start in the next year or so.)
  3. In another first, an object from another solar system was spotted entering our stellar territory. Initially it was thought to be an asteroid but on further analysis it could be a comet.
  4. Our own origin story became a little messier with the discovery of the oldest human fossils to date in Morocco.
  5. AI got good at games: most notably, it learned to play Go by itself and triumphed over humans at a version of Texas Hold 'Em. (What's next: AI in 2018.)
  6. China flexed some serious physics muscles in a series of space-based quantum communications experiments.
  7. The Nobel prizes in the sciences were again awarded to men — most of them white Americans.
  8. The Antarctic peninsula will never look the same after an iceberg broke off from the Larsen C ice shelf in July.
  9. Policy and politics: President Trump's initial budget proposal included steep funding cuts, he has been slow to fill key scientific positions in the government, and many of his nominees lack science degrees. Meanwhile, foreign leaders offered to take in U.S. scientists.
  10. Gene therapies made it to market, including a CAR-T cancer treatment for children and young adults with a certain form of leukemia approved by the FDA in August. The treatment involves modifying a patient's immune cells and then placing them back in the body to attack cancer cells. What to expect next: a debate over pricing the drugs.

Go deeper

A closer look at how colleges can reopen

The campus of Brown University. Photo: Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Masks in class, sports on hold, dorm life without roommates and summer 2021 classes for some: Brown University President Christina Paxson tells "Axios on HBO" it's all in play as colleges consider whether and how to safely reopen campuses in the fall.

Why it matters: An extended shutdown of U.S. colleges and universities would leave nearly 20 million students and 3 million employees with an uncertain future, but premature reopenings without proper coronavirus safeguards could jeopardize lives and force more closings.

How Disney World could host the NBA

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

After weeks of speculation, the NBA announced Saturday that it is in early discussions to resume its season in late July at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

What they're saying: The NBA's most well-sourced reporter, Adrian Wojnarowski, says "everything is pointing toward" this happening, and that teams could start recalling players as soon as next week for a two-week quarantine period and formal training camp before heading to Florida.

U.S.-China trade tensions are escalating again

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the coronavirus pandemic appears to be subsiding in China, it's becoming clear that its targets for the phase one trade deal with the U.S. are unrealistic and there is so far no sign of a plan for renegotiation.

What's happening: White House National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow said Thursday the trade deal was "intact, and China has every intent of implementing it."