Science accords world's first Quantum Machine with 'Breakthrough of the Year' title

  @ibtimes on December 17 2010 11:26 AM
Nobel Physics Prize winner Glauber smiles in office at Harvard University
Harvard University professor and 2005 Nobel Physics Prize winner Roy Glauber smiles in his office at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 4, 2005. Glauber won the prize for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence. Glauber will share the prize with John Hall of the University of Colorado and National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Theodor Hansch of the Max-Planck-Institut fur Quantenoptik, Garching and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat in Munich, Germany. Reuters/Brian Snyder

The world's first 'quantum machine', a device that jiggled in ways explicable only by the weird rules of quantum mechanics, has been recognized as the 2010 Breakthrough of the Year, Science journal said.

Constructing a synthetic genome, sequencing of the Neanderthal genome and unequivocal success of two HIV prevention trials were among the other nine groundbreaking achievements of the year, the journal said.

* Quantum machine: The tiny quantum machine, unveiled this year, displayed a kind of quantum motion typically seen in molecules, atoms and subatomic particles. This vibrating device is as long as a hair is wide. Nobody had seen such effects in the motion of a humanmade object. Until now, all machines have moved according to the not-surprising laws of classical mechanics, which govern the motion of everyday objects.

Scientists in the United States designed the machine, which consists of a tiny metal paddle of semiconductor visible to the naked eye, and coaxed it into dancing with a quantum groove. After cooling the paddle to the lowest energy state, they raised the widget's energy by a single quantum to produce a purely quantum-mechanical state of motion. They even managed to put the gadget in both states at once, so that it literally moving two different amounts simultaneously.

The nine other groundbreaking achievements from 2010 compiled by Science as follows:

* Synthetic Biology: Researchers in the US reported the successful construction of a first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cell. They copied and modified an entire genome of a small bacterial cell, inserted it into a living cell of another species, and by doing so created a new, synthetic organism. The achievement prompted a Congressional hearing on synthetic biology. A report from Bioethics commission said this burgeoning field of science offers extraordinary promise to create new products for clean energy, pollution control, and medicine, but called for enhanced federal oversight in the emerging field.

* Neandertal Genome: Researchers sequenced the Neandertal genome from the bones of three female Neandertals who lived in Croatia sometime between 38,000 and 44,000 years ago. New methods of sequencing degraded fragments of DNA allowed scientists to make the first direct comparisons between the modern human genome and that of our Neandertal ancestors.

* HIV Prophylaxis: Two HIV prevention trials of different, novel strategies reported unequivocal success: A vaginal gel that contains the anti-HIV drug tenofovir reduced HIV infections in women by 39 percent and an oral pre-exposure prophylaxis led to 43.8 fewer HIV infections in a group of men and transgender women who have sex with men.

* Exome Sequencing/Rare Disease Genes: By sequencing just the exons of a genome, or the tiny portion that actually codes for proteins, researchers who study rare inherited diseases caused by a single, flawed gene were able to identify specific mutations underlying at least a dozen diseases.

* Molecular Dynamics Simulations: Simulating the gyrations that proteins make as they fold has been a combinatorial nightmare. Now, researchers have harnessed the power of one of the world's most powerful computers to track the motions of atoms in a small, folding protein for a length of time 100 times longer than any previous efforts.

* Quantum Simulator: Researchers devised quantum simulators that provide quick answers to theoretical problems in condensed matter physics and they might eventually help solve mysteries such as superconductivity.

* Next-Generation Genomics: Faster and cheaper sequencing technologies are enabling very large-scale studies of both ancient and modern DNA. The 1,000 Genomes Project, for example, has already identified much of the genome variation that makes us uniquely human—and other projects in the works are set to reveal much more of the genome's function.

* RNA Reprogramming: Reprogramming cells—turning back their developmental clocks to make them behave like unspecialized stem cells in an embryo—has become a standard lab technique for studying diseases and development. This year, researchers found a way to do it using synthetic RNA. Compared with previous methods, the new technique is twice as fast, 100 times as efficient and potentially safer for therapeutic use.

* The Return of the Rat: Research this year have promised to bring knockout rats to labs in a big way. For many purposes, researchers use rats over mice because they are anatomically more similar to human beings. Researchers are working on making knockout rats that have specific genes disabled.

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