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Science sans frontiers

The advances that took place in 2012 suggest that science is no longer the preserve of the State.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2012 23:26 IST

This year began by being declared as a celebration of Alan Turing, the brilliant and tragic British logician and mathematician, and ended in mild hysteria over an apocalypse supposedly predicted by ancient Mayan calendars.

The mixing of rational and superstitious ran through much of the scientific accomplishments of 2012. Even the detection of the Higgs Boson, the missing link in the standard matrix of particles that make up the universe, saw mindless references to it as the "god particle" and fears the Large Hadron Collider that found it would create an earth-gobbling black hole.

India was not immune to similar irrationality. In a year when genetics saw eggs that were created from stem cells for the first time and genetically modified silkworms and salmon made it to the headlines, a court-appointed panel called for a 10-year ban on genetically modified crops in India - even when this technology is being seen as the best hope for the country against climate change-driven future famine.

In the specific field of space, the world saw the closing of an era and the opening of a new one. The death of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, and the goodbye tour of the last of the iconic space shuttles marked the closing of a space age dominated by the United States, the Soviet Union and the rivalry of their respective governments. A hint of that past was seen in the Mars Curiosity landing.

The new space era was marked more quietly by the space strides of new emerging powers and the continuing development of private sector space exploration. China put its first woman in space and carried out its first crewed docking this year. India promised to put a man in space.

The other reminder of the new era was Space X, the first private sector firm to send a capsule to the International Space Station, and further evidence that the night sky, like so much of what was once the frontiers of science, is no longer the preserve of the State.