Sunday Science: Things to look out for in 2011

It’s still the New Year, right? Good. Just checking. There’s some exciting prospects in the world of science this year; here’s a few from my personal watch-list.

The first is the imminent sampling of Lake Vostok, in Antarctica (h/t 80beats). It’s a lake which is estimated to have been isolated for a million years, and is likely to be one of the most pristine places on the planet. Plans to sample it have been delayed for more than a decade while scientists work out a way to study it without contaminating it. Part of me wonders why they’d try, but it serves as a reminder of just how far humans have reached into our world and how hard it is to escape the pervasive fingerprint of our industrialisation of the world.

Crispy, fresh snow… but even this is contaminated by human activity…

Then there’s the opening of Chernobyl to tourists – rumoured to be taking place sometime this year. It sounds crazy, but I think it’d be an amazing place to visit – essentially a city left to the elements through disaster, giving nature an unprecedented break to recolonise. There have still been people in the area – some locals and scientists – but the change from a bustling city to an abandoned wasteland would be a fascinating one to see first hand.

Muse recently announced plans for (or at least serious thoughts about) a gig in space. That’s not exactly a scientific frontier, but it is quite cool, considering the deluge of new planets being discovered out in the depths of the galaxy and recent changes in humanity’s approach to space exploration. Privatisation of space travel? Hmmm… not sure if I can go for that ideologically, but a gravity-free mosh pit sounds kind of fun.

Not only that, it’s the International Year of Forests and Chemistry (apparently they’re independent years, but it’s easier to say them together). As a tree-hugging environmental chemist, this is good news for me. I’m going to be talking about it on the radio in a month’s time, and the opening ceremony is in late January. Chemistry’s known as the ‘central science’ which sits between biology and physics (quiet, biophysics) and no matter how far I move into the world of science communication and media, there’ll always be a special place in my heart for analytical glassware and pungent bottles of coloured crystals…

Get your ferricyanide on!
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4 thoughts on “Sunday Science: Things to look out for in 2011

  1. I´m really surprised about Chernobyl, I hope they treat it as a learning experience and not as a mere profit …

  2. Chernobyl: Is it safe to visit? Do you know if the plants and wildlife have been affected by radio-activity?

    Year of Forests: Probably not what they mean in terms of forests (as these were planted), but I just wrote a post about Karri gums on my photoblog (http://southerncape.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/what-do-tree-surgeons-do-on-their-day-off/). As you’ll know these are indigenous to Australia, but are cultivated here in South Africa.

  3. Well, I think it’s sort of safe to visit… it’s obviously more risky than, say, staying at home, but hey… I live in Australia, land of venomous creatures, you live in Africa, land of large carnivores!

    I think the flora and fauna have been affected by the radioactivity but it’s counterbalanced by the lack of other human impact. I only know vague ideas about it because research is limited and I haven’t looked into it much but what I’ve heard is quite interesting. I think there have been quite rapid adaptations observed in population dynamics, etc.

    • LOL At least one can see venomous creatures and large carnivores and avoid them!

      How are things back home re: the floods? Is it affecting the city you come from?

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