With the help of highly sensitive particle detectors, some of the world’s most powerful lasers, and good-old-fashioned quantum mechanics, physicists from around the world made important discoveries this year.
From detecting elusive particles forged in the core of our sun to teleporting quantum data farther than ever before, these physicists’ scientific research has helped us better understand the universe in which we live as well as pave the way for a future of quantum computers, nuclear fusion, and more.
11. Multiple teams detected what could be our first hints of dark matter.
Although dark matter -- the mysterious substance that makes up most of the matter in the universe, but is seemingly undetectable to us here on Earth -- is still shrouded in mystery, two important discoveries in 2014 shed the first rays of light on this elusive material.
10. For the first time, physicists figured out the chemical composition of the mysterious and extremely rare phenomenon of 'ball lightning.'
Reports of ball lighting stretch back as far as the 16th century, but until the 1960s most scientists refused to believe it was real. But, it is real. Ball lighting is a floating sphere or disk of lightning up to 10 feet across that lasts only seconds.
9. An analogue of the theoretical radiation made by black holes was recreated in the lab.
Last October, Jeff Steinhauer, a physicist at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, announced that he had created an analogue for a bizarre type of radiation that can, in theory, escape black holes.
8. An international group of physicists compressed quantum data for the first time in history.
You might grumble when your Internet connection is slow, but it would be infinitely slower if today's classical computers could not compress the information we're constantly sending back and forth.
7. Physicists made powerful, stellar explosions called supernovas in the lab -- for science.
During a supernova, a star explodes, ejecting its guts across space and leaving only a ghostly halo of gas and dust, called a supernova remnant, behind. Astrophysicists have observed supernovae remnants of all shapes and sizes but have yet to understand why they are all so different.
6. Powerful lasers compressed a diamond to simulate the centres of the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn.
Jupiter and Saturn are the two largest planets in our solar system, and yet what is inside them is mostly a mystery -- we don't even know if their centres are liquid or solid.
5. Researchers transferred information in light four times farther than ever before -- an important step to quantum computers.
If we are ever to have a digital world run by quantum computers, then we must learn how to transport information in the form of what scientists call quantum data, or qubits, which is encoded inside of subatomic particles, such as ions or photons (light particles).
4. Physicists developed a new and better kind of fibre optics to transfer information.
Traditionally, when you're trying to transfer particles of light through a fibre optic cable, the last thing you want are for the particles to be moving all about in a disorderly manner. But there's an exception to this that scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Clemson University discovered the first time this year.
3. A physics team discovered a new particle, 80 years after it was first predicted.
After nearly 80 years since it was first predicted, the Majorana fermion was finally observed. The physicists at Princeton University and the University of Texas at Austin announced their discovery last October in the journal Science.
2. The National Ignition Facility made a nuclear fusion reaction that produced more energy than it used up -- a first .
Nuclear fusion is a nuclear reaction that generates up to four times more energy than nuclear fission -- the process that fuels today's nuclear power plants. One big issue standing in the way of harnessing this energy for electrical power is that it takes more energy to create the reaction than we've gotten out of it, until now.
1. We've figured out how the sun generates energy through nuclear fusion in its core.
Energy from the sun is essential for life on Earth. Yet we were not certain of how the sun's core works until just this year.