In anticipation of 2012, Nature published its “2011 in review“, highlighting major strides setbacks in science. The past year witnessed several landmarks in pure science, such as the claim that moving neutrinos could surpass the speed of light, as well as noteworthy advances in applied science and in the innovative environment.
In applied science, 2011 saw advances in cost-efficient genome sequencing technology, which will improve diagnostics and provide insights in evolutionary history. More on the medicinal front, 2012 will be able to enjoy new drug treatments for hepatitis C, lupus and melanoma.
More fundamentally, the innovative environment has shifted along with important political and societal upheavals in the past year. As the Arab Spring exploded across the Middle East and northern Africa, scientists considered the coevolution of democracy and scientific research. The earthquake-driven tsunami that devastated Japan spurred worldwide backlashes against nuclear technology that may resonate with 2012’s choices in alternative energy. And the world’s realization of 7 billion came with heightened awareness that we may indeed be living in the Anthropocene, a new geological time period defined by the burden of human population.
As Nature highlights, 2011 leaves many imprints on the upcoming year. While innovation by nature hinges upon the ability to push boundaries, it also depends upon existing structures and precedents. Thus, science will have to wait as the Arab Spring nations slowly solidify their transitions. Clean energy may only grow so far as national communities are ideologically and financially prepared for it.
On the other hand, growing scientific and global awareness of the Anthropocene offers encouraging prospects for 2012. Changing perspectives on human environmental impact may open up new world concerns, new priorities for problem-solving and, ultimately, new pathways for innovation. What New Year’s resolutions can science make for the coming year?