Addis Ethiopia Weblog

Ethiopia's World / የኢትዮጵያ ዓለም

  • December 2009
    M T W T F S S
  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

Archive for December 18th, 2009

The Oscar Goes to “ARDI”

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on December 18, 2009

Science’s breakthrough of the year: Uncovering ‘Ardi’


Every December, the editors of Science face the challenge of reviewing what Science has accomplished around the world in the past 12 months, so as to select our “breakthroughs of the year.” The task is an invigorating one, providing a powerful reminder of both the enormous scope and the continual advance of science. For this year’s selections, the range is staggering. From the discovery of pulsars created by neutron stars that are many thousands of light-years distant, to the production of a new single-atom–thick material such as graphene, the same natural laws and logic have generated new understandings over a more than 1030-fold difference in scale. And there is usually special excitement when an advance directly concerns humans, as in the discovery of an ancient ancestor or a successful application of gene therapy to cure disease.

This year’s selection for the Breakthrough of the Year is the reconstruction of the 4.4-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus skeleton and her environs, published in Science as a major series of 11 articles in October. This choice does not come easily, given the distaste of our editors for self-promotion. But this work changes the way we think about early human evolution, and it represents the culmination of 15 years of highly collaborative research. Remarkably, 47 scientists of diverse expertise from nine nations joined in a painstaking analysis of the 150,000 specimens of fossilized animals and plants.

The 11 Ardipithecus papers, requiring 89 pages of text plus 295 pages of supporting online material, provide an enormous amount of data for scientists around the world to reexamine. As described on p. 1598 in the current issue, some of those scientists are certain to challenge some of the findings, as further advances are built on those already published. With time, we will come to understand much more, and some current conclusions will probably be modified. This is both to be expected and hoped for: Science can only advance as a highly collaborative global endeavor, through which new knowledge improves on old knowledge based on logic and confirmable evidence.

Science’s list of the nine other groundbreaking achievements from 2009 follows.

2. Pulsars Detected by Fermi: NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope helped to identify previously unknown pulsars—highly magnetized and rapidly rotating neutron stars—and shed light onto their unique gamma-ray emissions.

3. Rapamycin: Researchers found that tinkering with a key signaling pathway produces life-extending benefits in mice—the first such result ever achieved in mammals. The discovery was particularly remarkable because the treatment did not start until the mice were middle-aged.

4. Graphene: In a string of rapid-fire advances, materials scientists probed the properties of graphene—highly conductive sheets of carbon atoms—and started fashioning the material into experimental electronic devices.

5. Plant ABA Receptors: Solving the structure of a critical molecule that helps plants survive during droughts may help scientists design new ways to protect crops against prolonged dry periods, potentially improving crop yields worldwide and aiding biofuel production on marginal lands.

6. LCLS at SLAC: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory unveiled the world’s first x-ray laser, a powerful research tool capable of taking snapshots of chemical reactions in progress, altering the electronic structures of materials, and myriad other experiments spanning a wide range of scientific fields.

7. Gene Therapy Comeback: European and U.S. researchers made progress in treating a fatal brain disease, inherited blindness, and a severe immune disorder by developing new strategies involving gene therapy.

8. Monopoles: In an experimental coup, physicists working with strange crystalline materials called spin ices created magnetic ripples that model the predicted behavior of “magnetic monopoles,” or fundamental particles with only one magnetic pole.

9. LCROSS Finds Water on the Moon: In October, sensors aboard a NASA spacecraft detected water vapor and ice in the debris from a spent rocket stage that researchers deliberately crashed near the south pole of the Moon.

10. Hubble Repair: In May, a nearly flawless final repair mission by space-shuttle astronauts gave the Hubble Space Telescope sharper vision and a new lease on life, resulting in its most spectacular images yet.


Posted in Ethiopia, Ethnicity, Genetics & Anthropology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ethiopia’s Underground Churches a Historic Wonder

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on December 18, 2009

Bete Giorgis Church

Ten centuries ago, King Lalibela had a vision: That his capital, Roha, in what is now northern Ethiopia, would equal Jerusalem in spiritual and architectural glory.

And thus 11 fantastic churches were hewn in the reddish-pink volcanic scoria rock, each unique in style.

Luckily Lalibela lived to be 96 years old so he saw his legacy completed. When he died in 1221, he was buried in Beta Mikael church, and Roha became known as Lalibela. And it still stands today, a landmark of sacred architecture, a World Heritage Site, and one of the wonders of Africa.

Continue reading…


Posted in Ethiopia | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

%d bloggers like this: