Dec 20 2022

Best Science News 2022

It’s always fun and interesting to look back at the science news of the previous year, mainly because of how much of it I have forgotten. What makes a science news item noteworthy? Ultimately it’s fairly subjective, and we don’t yet have enough time to really see what the long term impact of any particular discovery or incremental advance was. So I am not going to give any ranked list, just reminisce about some of the cool science and technology new from the past year, in no particular order. I encourage you to extend the discussion to the comments – let me know what you though had or will have the most impact from the past year.


I have to start with the fusion breakthrough, mainly because it is the most recent in my memory and I suspect it will top a lot of lists. The National Ignition Facility managed to achieve what they call “ignition” by producing fusion that created more energy than the energy put into the fuel. This is clearly a milestone. However, this particular setup, referred to as inertial confinement, which uses 192 high power lasers to implode a container which has the fuel, is likely a dead end when it comes to commercial energy production. It was never really designed to be that, just an experiment in fusion. I doubt this will be the method we ultimately use for commercial fusion, which I also predict is still many decades away. We will see in a generation how this news is looked back upon, if at all.


This was a good year for space exploration. The successful launch of Artemis I marks the beginning of our return to the moon. The SLS rocket worked, and it’s more powerful than even the Atlas V. It carried the Orion capsule past the moon and back again, successfully returning to the Earth. Returning to the moon now seems inevitable. Artemis II will launch in 2024 and carry people to the moon but not land. Artemis III will land people on the moon, in 2025 or 2026. It’s going to be exciting to watch.

The other big space news, of course, was the James Webb space telescope (JWST), which is already sending back mind-blowing pictures of the universe. We are just at the beginning of its career, which will likely last 20 years. Can’t wait to see what else it sends us.


Artificial intelligence continued its rapid advance this year, with applications like DALLE-2, Midjourney, and now Chat-GPT showing the potential of this technology. It’s starting to get really exciting, and a little scary. Chat-GPT in particular is really impressive, able to create very compelling essays from natural prompts. This application can even write its own code. You can literally tell it to create an application with a specific function and it will do it for you. Think about that for a second. What if you use Chat-GPT to write code that will be part of Chat-GPT itself? What if the application starts writing code in a machine language only it understands (like Google’s translate function, which uses an intermediary language only it understands).

I think the bottom line is that we are definitely at an inflection point where AI is poised to change the world in profound ways, beyond how it already has. It feels like we are rapidly transitioning to a new level. I know that the underlying technology has not really changed, but programmers are able to use AI learning algorithms with more powerful processors and trained on massive data sets, and they are able to leverage this functionality in more clever ways. I do think in 10-20 years we will look back at this time as a turning point, and struggle to remember what life was like before the AI “revolution” (like we do now with smart phones).

Climate Change

This year gave both good and bad news on climate change. It now seems like there is no plausible pathway to keeping peak warming below 1.5 C. That’s it – we missed our chance, we were too slow to change, and now it is pretty much a done deal. If we keep on the path we are on we will likely see around 2.4 C warming. This is almost certainly enough to trigger some tipping points we would rather avoid, like melting ice sheets.

However, the good news is that there are plausible pathways to keep warming to around 1.8 C. This is not low enough to guarantee we will avoid bad tipping points, but it gives us a shot, and in any case will still limit the damage. But in order to achieve around 1.8 C we still need to make some significant changes, we need to get our CO2 production to half of 2005 levels by 2030, and to close to net zero by 2050. The Inflation Reduction Act is actually making a difference, with the energy industry investing in green energy with plans to close coal plants in order to get the billions in subsidies on offer. There is money for new nuclear, upgrading the grid, and more wind and solar. It’s not perfect, but it will accelerate our change to greener energy.

We and the world, of course, need to do more. But the winds do seem to be changing. Technology continues to advance nicely in the background. Closed loop pumped hydro is emerging as a really good grid storage solution, and can easily be accelerated by streamlining the red tape of approval. Offshore wind also has tremendous potential. Deep drilling for geothermal can help. But this is not the time to sit back – we need to keep the pressure on as high as we can. This is now a sprint, and the faster we go the better.

Solid State Lithium Batteries

This item will stand in for all the incremental advances in battery and solar technology, that continued in the background this year. It’s really hard to predict the future, but solid state Li batteries seems to be a technology to watch. This uses solid rather than liquid electrolytes, and has the potential for double the specific energy and energy density of current Li-ion batteries. This technology is not yet ready for commercial production, but earlier this year there were some advances that make it plausible. The major hurdles may have been solved. I am hoping that within just a few years we will see commercial production of solid state Li batteries. Imaging electric cars with twice the range, or a decent range of 300-400 miles but with half the battery weight, size, and cost. That is the kind of advance we need to really push the availability of electric vehicles to lower socioeconomic buyers.

My Book

There is so much more science news we can talk about, so leave your thoughts in the comments. But I want to end by noting that my second book came out this year, so that is a personal milestone for me. The Skeptics’ Guide to the Future is a fun examination of futurism itself, and tries to extrapolate current technology trends far into the future. In the book we don’t really make predictions, so much as discuss what is possible, and how our choices will shape the future. As you can see from this short selection of items – science news is essentially about the future, and trying to bring it just a little bit closer.


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