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Science  03 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6166, pp. 24-26
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6166.24

Results: Enduring Ideas

What recent discovery in your field will still be remembered 200 years from now? Why?

In October, we asked young scientists to send us their field's best recent ideas. We heard from almost 200 readers. A sample of the best responses can be found below. To allow for as many voices as possible, in some cases we have printed excerpts of longer submissions (indicated by ellipses) and lightly copyedited original text for clarity. To read the complete versions, as well as many more, go to http://scim.ag/NextGen9Results. Follow Science's NextGen VOICES survey on Twitter with the hashtag #NextGenSci.

Submit Now: Science Advocacy

Add your voice to Science! Our new NextGen VOICES survey is now open:

If you had 5 extra hours per week to devote to advocacy for science, how would you use that time?

To submit, go to http://scim.ag/NextGen_10

Deadline for submissions is 14 February. A selection of the best responses will be published in the 4 April issue of Science. Submissions should be 250 words or less. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please submit only once.

NextGen Speaks


…The laser, invented in 1960, has revolutionized scientific fields from physics to medicine, enabled technological advances such as fiberoptic communication and laser eye surgery, and is part of our everyday life in items like the laser pointer and DVD players. And the laser isn't done yet. As laser technology continues to improve, we can expect to soon see lasers in other applications, which could include driverless cars, quantum communication, or optical computing. Fast forward to the year 2200. The laser is part of almost everything we do, from brushing our teeth to turning on a light bulb. Electronic components now have thousands of microlasers. Almost all fields of medicine use lasers, be it for guiding a surgery or measuring blood sugar at your doctor's office. We cannot imagine a time without the laser, just as people in the 21st century could not imagine a time without electricity or antibiotics.


Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20740, USA and Laser Remote Sensing Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA. E-mail: anand.ramanathan{at}nasa.gov


Without a doubt, 200 years from now the discovery of the Higgs boson will still be remembered. It has validated a 50-year-old theory and has given us a stronger understanding of the Standard Model. It also paved the way to work at the current model until we can be sure it describes our universe as it is. Perhaps our next step will be to prove or disprove supersymmetry, or maybe we will finally be able to identify dark matter. However, the most memorable aspect will be the collaborative effort that went into this remarkable discovery. Thousands of scientists and engineers from over 100 different countries were part of the experiments that took place at the Large Hadron Collider.… In a time when, despite better modes of communication and technology, collaboration is not fully utilized, the discovery of the Higgs boson showed the amazing possibilities that exist when the world works together.


University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. E-mail: shepj{at}sas.upenn.edu


The recent discovery that will be remembered 200 years from now is the catalytic properties of RNA. Catalytic RNAs are remarkable in the way they changed our understanding of life. For instance, the resolution of the ribosome three-dimensional structure shed light on the core mechanism by which life is translated from DNA to proteins, which was also a breakthrough for developing more efficient antibiotics.…The history behind catalytic RNA's discovery included notable women, such as 2009 Nobel Prize winner Ada Yonath and 2003 Wittgenstein laureate Renee Schroeder,…who haven't been neglected or treated with indifference in recognition of their cutting-edge discoveries like Rosalind Franklin was during the description of DNA structure. Hopefully, the establishment of RNA as a central molecule in parallel to DNA will not only shape our understanding of life but also open a new chapter for gender equality in the future of science.


Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, SP 05508-090, Brazil. E-mail: ivan.lavander.ferreira{at}usp.br


…In 1997, Costanza et al. showed for the first time that the economic benefits provided by ecosystem services likely far outweigh the gross domestic product for the entire global economy [Nature 387, 253 (1997)]. This discovery subsequently spurred an enormous amount of research and awareness for ecosystem services. Perhaps most important, this discovery challenged us as a species to take a good long hard look at the relationship between the planet's ecosystems and our way of life. If humanity still exists 200 years from now, it will be because we moved to protect and restore the world's natural capital based on the realization that without these ecosystem services, our species will be in big trouble.…


School of Geography, Planning, and Environmental Management, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia. E-mail: a.ward{at}uq.edu.au


Biomaterials are a new group of materials that are nontoxic and have potential to aid diagnosis and treatment of a variety of diseases. They can be formed as porous materials that act as a scaffold for the growth of stem cells to regenerate organs for patients with disorders such as heart diseases, diabetes, burned skins, nerve injuries, and paralysis. They can be used as implants in teeth or as bone joints or replacements in different parts of the body. They can be tuned for efficient drug delivery into desired parts of the body. At nanometer sizes, some biomaterials can be injected into the body and act as contrast agents to see different parts of the unhealthy organs without doing any surgery. While the biomaterials discoveries are new, I believe that they will have a huge impact in improving human life during the next centuries.


Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA. E-mail: rk35{at}uw.edu


…The ability to pinpoint a single brain cell unambiguously, subject it to investigation, and put the resulting insights into a complete context will be a landmark for neuroscience. Like any big advance, this groundbreaking concept is a cumulative combination of techniques rather than a single point of creation….Methods to label cells distinctly provide localization and spatial information. This positional information of a cell within its network can be coupled with the power to perturb a single neuron precisely…, allowing the functional deconstruction of a highly complex organ that humans have long found intractable.…Regardless of the stage of advancement at which we might find the field of neuroscience in 200 years, the principle and ability to understand the brain's components as well as their relation to the whole will provide routes to understanding the emergent properties that are more than the sum of its parts.


Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), 138673, Singapore. E-mail: eugeneleeliqun{at}hotmail.com


In Planetary Sciences, what we will remember in 200 years won't be a specific discovery, but a journey of discoveries: the adventures of the Mars rovers. Following the spirit of the legendary surveyors of the Earth's borders, the Mars rovers have just started a new chapter in the history of human exploration. Only, for the first time, the voyage is on another planet. The journey began in 1997, when the pioneer Sojourner landed on the outlet of the gigantic ancient channel Ares Vallis and demonstrated that we can rove on another planet. The MER twins first touched the surface of Mars early in 2004, with the mission of exploring opposite sides of the planet for at least 3 months and covering maybe half a mile. They exceeded the most optimistic dreams: Spirit sent her last communication to Earth from Gusev crater in 2010, while Opportunity is still active and celebrating this week her 10th anniversary on the plains of Meridiani, after traversing over 24 miles. In 2012, the Curiosity rover started her investigations inside Gale crater, where she can potentially explore for some decades. These missions have proven to be so revolutionary for Planetary Sciences during these pioneering years that we are already assembling the next ones, ExoMars2018 (ESA) and Mars2020 (NASA). We can expect that astronauts will be visiting the frozen remains of the rovers when humans finally set foot on Mars. Hopefully, that time will be soon enough that most of us will still be around. If not, in 200 years the Mars rovers will be waiting there, as a tribute to the human spirit of exploration….


Department of Astronomy, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. E-mail: agfairen{at}cornell.edu


The probing of the subglacial aquatic environments in Antarctica, especially by the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project (WISSARD), has revealed microbes living in some of the harshest conditions on Earth. In 200 years, humans will have explored far more environments with even harsher conditions than those of Antarctica. The discovery of life in Lake Whillans allows scientists to wonder if our accepted conditions for habitability are flawed. While this project has altered our basic knowledge of life on Earth, it simultaneously permits scientists to believe in the possibility of life on other planets. We have recently ascertained more than ever about the environments of our extraterrestrial neighbors, and 200 years from now this discovery will have further propelled the search for life elsewhere. Scientists have already proposed life in Mars's icy waters and on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, based on the findings of WISSARD's research. On another note, the more we know about the different ecosystems here on Earth, the easier it will be to make decisions on how to protect them. As the icy continent is a prominent figure in the global warming frenzy, this research may provide ample reason to curb our emissions….


Vagelos Program for Molecular Life Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. E-mail: lashaw{at}sas.upenn.edu


…We are witnessing the dawn of a new era, launched by CRISP-Cas9, a known bacterial self-defense mechanism used to edit complex genomes easily and efficiently…. Editing genomes will benefit all branches of scientific research, and all organisms might easily become model organisms…. An enzymatically inactive Cas9 can inhibit the expression of a single gene [Qi et al., Cell 152, 1173 (2013)]. This suggests obvious translational aspects: It is possible to envision a gene therapy approach in which we target disease-causing mutations, rearrange leukemic translocations, or insert or delete pieces of DNA in our stem cells or in human embryos! This discovery clearly shows our profound understanding of the several complicated components constituting the evolutionarily conserved molecular machinery within all living cells….


Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, University of Zurich, Zurich, 8057, Switzerland. E-mail: claudio.cantu{at}imls.uzh.ch


The discovery of photoelectrochemical water splitting by Honda and Fujishima [Nature 238, 37 (1972)] will be still remembered 200 years from now. Nowadays, rapidly diminishing fossil fuel reserves and the serious pollution caused by fossil fuel combustion are two major problems that people have to resolve for sustainable future. The solar-to-chemical energy conversion is the ultimate goal for scientists in the field of energy generation. Hydrogen from water as a form of clean energy source can provide the ultimate solutions for the energy shortage and pollution problems. Since Honda and Fujishima's work, numerous materials have been designed and tested for photocatalytic water splitting….In the future, hydrogen derived from water splitting by renewable solar energy will serve as a clean, sustainable, feasible, and affordable energy system. In 200 years, as future people are trying to resolve their problems while sitting in their zero-pollution and solar driven vehicles, perhaps some of them will remember the work of Honda and Fujishima in 1972.


Department of Colloid Chemistry, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, 14424, Potsdam, Germany. E-mail: Jian.Liu{at}mpikg.mpg.de


I think induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which were generated by Shinya Yamanaka in 2006 and earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in a fairly short time in 2012, will endure as a proud milestone in the history of biology…. iPS cells hold great promise for application in regenerative medicine because a patient's own cells can be induced first to be a stem cell and then to differentiate to a variety of cell lines that may be used for cell therapy and tissue and organ engineering without the concern of transplant rejection. Although there are some technical limitations and safety concerns, iPS cells will eventually fulfill their great potential to revolutionize medicine with our ever-advancing understanding of nature and developing scientific methods. In 2214, people will not only remember the first iPS cells but they will also be benefiting from them in their daily lives.


Molecular Biology Ph.D. Program, The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-5330, USA. E-mail: gurkan.mollaoglu{at}utah.edu


The synthetic cell. This was a major breakthrough by the Venter Institute in coming out with the first synthetic cell complete with its own synthetic genome. This is the biggest demonstration of the power of synthetic biology in making living systems that are not constrained by natural forces. A sensible application of this technology will open up many possibilities such as industrial process innovation, green chemistry, and creation of new and synthetic ecosystems….


Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Ghana, Legon-Accra, Ghana. E-mail: parthur14{at}gmail.com


A popular science fiction movie, Gattaca, envisioned a future where in utero genome profiling would determine a person's life span, health, intelligence, and any other conceivable trait. What if, in addition to understanding the genotype to phenotype relation so well, we could alter genomic makeup to achieve a specific outcome? In 200 years, the recent developments in genome engineering will not only be remembered, but become a standard procedure, like getting a vaccine. The ability to alter and control our very own genomes in such a specific way is unprecedented and will revolutionize science and medicine for years to come.


Biophysics Graduate Group, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA. E-mail: brazooky{at}gmail.com


I am a chemist, and my answer is a chemical material: graphene. Graphene is an ordered form of carbon in a regular hexagonal pattern; it is a single planar sheet of sp2 bonded carbon atoms. Physicists at the University of Manchester and the Institute for Microelectronics Technology first isolated individual graphene planes in 2004. They also measured electronic properties of the obtained flakes and showed their unique properties. These discoveries led to an explosion of interest in graphene…. High-quality graphene is very strong and light, nearly transparent, and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity….Graphene's extraordinary properties will make it a perfect future material; it is good for making transparent touch screens, LCD screens, and composite materials, and it can be used for terahertz technology and sensors….


Faculty of Science, Alexandria University, Alexandria, Egypt. E-mail: basant_walieldeen{at}alex-sci.edu.eg

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