Areas to watch in 2015

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Science  19 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6216, pp. 1450
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6216.1450-a

Science is a moving target. In addition to looking back on achievements of the previous year, the Breakthrough staff also hazards a few informed guesses about developments likely to make news in months to come.

Arctic sea ice

As the world heats up, so does research into far-reaching consequences of shrinking Arctic sea ice. Sea ice loss is already known to amplify warming in the region, as the open ocean absorbs more energy from the sun. But what impact the warming Arctic has on lower latitude weather—and whether it is to blame for some of the weather extremes of the past decade, from Asian monsoons to European winters—is still hotly debated. Identifying long-distance connections within the complex dynamics of atmospheric circulation is no easy task. This year, scientists proposed a few patterns to watch, including large-scale Rossby waves and the polar jet stream. In 2015, expect efforts to pin down how they might exert an Arctic influence on weather thousands of miles south.

Solar system encounters

The year of the comet came in 2014. But 2015 is apt to be the year of the dwarf planet. In March, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will arrive at Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt and one that contains a surprising amount of ice. Four months later, in July, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will speed past Pluto in a brief but momentous encounter. The two icy bodies are twins of a sort. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union upgraded Ceres from an asteroid to a dwarf planet and demoted Pluto from a planet to a dwarf. Some scientists have proposed that both objects were created when icy cometesimals clumped together in the outer reaches of the solar system, then wound up in wildly different places, perhaps tossed there by the gravitational shenanigans of a roving Jupiter. The two missions should go a long way toward sorting out the origin stories.

LHC restart

Next spring, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, will power up after 2 years of repairs. In July 2012, the LHC blasted out the Higgs boson, the last piece in physicists' standard model of the known particles. But some researchers say that if accelerator-based particle physics is to have a future, the massive machine will have to discover something beyond the tried-and-true standard model. Now the LHC is back for another try, at energies expected to be nearly twice as high as in the first run. Look to see whether the LHC finally reaches its design energy—and whether, in the next few years, it discovers new mysteries to sustain the field.

Combined immunotherapy

Combination therapies that help harness T cells and other immune cells in the cancer fight are a key area to watch.


Cancer immunotherapy, Science's Breakthrough of 2013, continues to surge as clinical researchers amass evidence that the immune system can be a powerful ally against tumors. One big focus now is mixing and matching treatments: combining two novel immunotherapies, for example, or an immune strategy with a targeted drug, radiation, or chemotherapy. Dozens of clinical trials are under way—ranging from a phase I study in melanoma that combines the recently approved immunotherapy drug ipilimumab with another treatment that slows blood vessel growth, to a phase III trial testing whether ipilimumab and chemotherapy outperform chemotherapy alone in treating lung cancer. The results could make it easier for oncologists to match treatments to patients. But potential toxicity of the new strategies remains a concern.

Arctic sea ice

C. Gramling, “Arctic sea ice loss responsible for Eurasia’s deep chill,” Science (26 October 2014).

E. Kintisch, “Into the Maelstrom,” Science 344, 6181 (18 April 2014).

M. Mori et al., “Robust Arctic sea-ice influence on the frequent Eurasian cold winters in past decades,” Nature Geoscience 7, 12 (December 2014).

Solar system encounters

E. Hand, “Hubble telescope to look for follow-on target for Pluto-bound probe,” Science (16 June 2014).

R. A. Kerr, “Pluto, the Last Planetary First,” Science 341, 6147 (16 August 2013).

LHC restart

A. Cho, “Higgs Boson Makes Its Debut After Decades-Long Search,” Science 337, 6091 (13 July 2012).

A. Cho, “Physicists’ Nightmare Scenario: The Higgs and Nothing Else,” Science 315, 5819 (23 March 2007).

Combined immunotherapy

J. Couzin-Frankel, “Cancer Immunotherapy,” Science 342, 6165 (20 December 2013).

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