Some predictions on the future of science in 2014:
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft could become the first mission to land a probe on a comet. If all goes well, it will land on comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko in November. Mars will also be a busy place: India’s orbiter mission should arrive at the planet in September, about the same time as NASA’s MAVEN probe. And NASA’s Curiosity rover should finally make it to its mission goal, the slopes of the 5.5-kilometre-high Aeolis Mons, where it will look for evidence of water. Back on Earth, NASA hopes to launch an orbiter to monitor atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has developed a brain-controlled exoskeleton that he expects will enable a person with a spinal-cord injury to kick the first ball at the 2014 football World Cup in Brazil. Meanwhile, attempts are being made in people with paralysis to reconnect their brains directly to paralysed areas, rather than to robotic arms or exoskeletons. In basic research, neuroscientists are excited about money from big US and European brain initiatives, such as Europe’s Human Brain Project.
Technology that rapidly sequences DNA as it is fed through a ring of proteins, known as a biological nanopore, will hit the market this year after decades of development. Oxford Nano-pore Technologies in Oxford, UK, aims to release the first data from a disposable sequencer the size of a memory stick, which it is sending to scientists for testing. It promises to read longer strands of DNA than other techniques (potentially useful in sequencing mixed samples of bacterial DNA, for example), and to show results in real time.
A better climate
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will complete its fifth assessment report by November. The findings of working groups II and III will focus on the impacts of climate change, and on how societies can adapt to or mitigate those effects (working group I published its findings last year). Away from formal negotiations, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon is hoping for “bold pledges” on emissions at a summit in New York in September. In research, a large carbon capture and storage project in Canada — the Can$1.24-billion (US$1.17-billion) Boundary Dam coal power-plant in Saskatchewan — begins commercial operation in April.
The European Space Agency’s Planck satellite team should release data on how the polarization of photons from the Universe’s cosmic microwave background varies across the sky. This esoteric pattern is thought to have been generated by ‘inflation’, the rapid expansion of the Universe after the Big Bang. If it can be detected, its details could provide evidence of relic gravitational waves, thought to have perturbed space-time in the early Universe.