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Scientific American's Top 50 75

dptalia writes "It's that time of year again, where everyone is putting out their best of 2006 lists. Last week, Popular Science did it, and today, Scientific American has released their top 50 list. Of note are improvements in RFID technology, discoveries in nantechnology, and net neutrality."
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Scientific American's Top 50

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  • Slashdot's Top 10 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Monday November 13, 2006 @12:46PM (#16824778) Journal
    Why not have a /. top 10 news stories of 2006, as slashback retrospective of the year 2006? Or something.

    Then we can have a poll of the top five, to let the readers decide which one is the top story of 2006.

    And I want my 15 min of slashfame for suggesting it.
    • "And I want my 15 min of slashfame for suggesting it."

      If only your subject line had read "Frist psot" or something...tsk tsk
      • Well, to be honest, I never got the whole "first post". That, and I never thought I would actually get that "honor".

        But thanks for noticing anyway, not that it matters to me much. Now, can we actually dig up suggestions for Top Ten /. stories so that a slasheditor can compile a slashback and poll?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "Scientific American" missed the most important technological development: a revamped Slashdot web page.

      By the way, has anyone noticed that "Scientific American" (SA) changed radically over the last 16 years. SA once rather appealed to the technical elite, and you can discern the elitism from the nature of the advertisements and the article format. They included ads about advanced microscopes for tumor analysis, the latest minicomputers, chemical spectro-analysis instruments, etc. As well, the titles

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by metlin ( 258108 )
        Science has been replaced by technology.

        People have stopped caring about fundamentals, all they care is about their own shiny new gadget.

        I'd not be surprised if the average intellect of the population has also decreased, thanks to our wonderful media. Not to mention our educational system that cares more about getting better grades and a job than in making you understand the basics.

        Sad, that.
        • by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Monday November 13, 2006 @01:41PM (#16825592) Journal
          Wow. What a cranky old man. And one that replies to an unrelated post just to get to the top of the comment list.

          Why don't you read the article? There are plenty of examples of messing around with fundamentals in the article. Try reading the one about "beginning to see the light". Two dimensional light waves able to take pictures smaller than the wavelength of the originating light. Quite amazing stuff.

          Hate to break this to you, but fundamental shifts in science don't happen every day. If they did, they would not be so amazing. Often they come on the back of generations of hard work.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by metlin ( 258108 )
            I was referring to pure sciences (e.g. theoretical physics and mathematics). All the ones out there are applied science/technology.

            There is a difference. I would imagine that folks like Grigori Perelman who solved the Poincare conjecture would be in there, but instead I find Al Gore in that list. Nice.
            • You think Perelman should have won "Policy Leader of the Year"? Why?

              It's kind of like complaining that the plane taking major celebrities to the Superbowl should have contained Matt Damon but instead it had the pilot and a bunch of stewardesses. I think you're nit-picking...

              • by metlin ( 258108 )
                I'm complaining about the absence of true contributors to science, folks that have done groundbreaking work across various domains.

                If there is a category for folks that make business and policy decisions, don't you think that there should at least be a category for folks that make contributions to the pure sciences?

                Almost everything out there is for applied sciences and technology. Observational sciences (astrophysics), theoretical sciences (physics), pure mathematics, applied mathematics etc. are no less i
                • by noigmn ( 929935 )
                  I agree on the Perelman part and his was a great achievement in mathematical sciences. But to call physics a theoretical science is massively uninformed. Physics is primarily an experimental science, which is supported by some purely theoretical work. A recent move in funding and interest in theoretical science may have given an image that physics is just theoretical. But most of the recent breakthroughs are still experimental. Historically experimental physics has achieved far more than purely theoretical
                  • by metlin ( 258108 )
                    Umm, I am a physicist (though yet to be done with my PhD). Large parts of physics are theoretical. Recent breakthroughs are experimental because that's what you hear about. Experimental physics is always playing catch-up with theoretical physicist. Maybe you should look at the list of theoretical physicists [] out there. Here is a list of 20th century theoretical physicists -- Albert Einstein, Max Born, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, Louis de Broglie, Satyendra Bose, Wolfgang Pauli, Enrico Fermi, Ettore Majora
                    • by noigmn ( 929935 )
                      I didn't say physicists can't get rewarded for theory. I said you can't award until it is shown to have some benefits. It's common sense. And I think the number of people doing purely theoretical physics is disproportionate to the outcomes of it. Too many want to be Einsteins. There are a lot of quite useful areas of fundamental physics research in theoretical physics, I never said there wasn't. There is also a large amount of totally pointless research that is interesting but can not be made useful in the
                    • by metlin ( 258108 )
                      I am an experimental physicist. :-) And I do agree with your engineering undergrad versus physics undergrad -- my undergrad was in EE and I definitely learnt a whole lot more doing that than I would have if I'd done physics.

                      No, my point is simply that both have different goals -- the goal of a physics undergrad is to get into physics, and is largely geared towards the academic/research environs and not get into a lot of other things, while the goal of an engineering major is aimed largely at getting into th
            • Amen. And Al Gore hasn't contributed one iota. All he is doing is pumping the current Climatology Zeitgeist. Too often, we just go on blindly accepting traditional notions without ever bothering to actually put them to the test. []

              And yes, Scientific American in general has been going downhill, IMO. It's not yet as bad as Popular Science, but it's getting there.
              • Al Gore is communicating climate science to lay people, sure he is not as good at it as Carl Sagan was with cosmology but he does deserve some recognition for his efforts.
          • This list is Scientific American's list of Technology Leaders. The article summary failed to mention that, which is leading to a lot of unnecessary discussion.

            On the other hand he does sound like a cranky old man.
        • You ivory tower intellectuals must not lose touch with the world of industrial growth and hard currency. It is all very well and good to pursue these high-minded scientific theories, but research grants are expensive and you must justify your existence by providing not only knowledge, but concrete and profitable applications as well.
          • That's rather short-sighted. Boolean logic was invented a long time before the practical use of it in computers came about. And even computers did not have much economic benefit at first.
          • Does anyone else find it slightly *amusing* that a certain segment of the population uses the word "intellectual" as an insult? News flash: not all activity needs to generate financial profit to be important or meaningful. Just because unimaginative people can't see an immediate means to cash in on research they don't understand doesn't mean that people shouldn't do it anyway.
    • Much more fun... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Monday November 13, 2006 @01:52PM (#16825726) Journal
      Get people predict the important stories of 2007 and then come back in a year to compare predictions. That'd sort out the real gurus and pundits from the wannabes.
    • by neurostar ( 578917 ) <neurostar@privo n . c om> on Monday November 13, 2006 @01:54PM (#16825770)

      Then we can have a poll of the top five, to let the readers decide which one is the top story of 2006.

      Why don't we just pick the top 5, and they can dupe them to get the top "10"?

      • Then we can have a poll of the top five, to let the readers decide which one is the top story of 2006.

        Why don't we just pick the top 5, and they can dupe them to get the top "10"?
        - too much work. Why not just let me decide that the best story is the one I submitted (and which was rejected,) and then dupe it 9 more times and be done?
    • No, this is a bad idea. You just know that that list is going to get duped 10 times.

      How about a top ten list of the dupes from 2006? Then at least the dupes of that would be recursive. :-)
  • Summaries (Score:4, Insightful)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) on Monday November 13, 2006 @12:53PM (#16824868) Journal
    Is it too much to ask that a summary say what this is a Top 50 of?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Salvance ( 1014001 ) *
      Even after reading the article, it's rather difficult to say what it is a top 50 of ... Scientific American calls it "Scientific American 50: Trends in Research, Business and Policy". What a mishmash. Looks like they originally wanted to have 3 top 50s and couldn't think of enough to fill all the slots, so threw what they had into one.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MollyB ( 162595 )
      I just got my copy of the actual magazine yesterday, and I still haven't given it the time to do more than scan it in general. It IS much too long for a summary, even if only two or three were briefly highlighted.

      Of course, if you wish to read the whole shebang online, it's there. I don't think it is the natural meat & potatoes of typical slashdot fare.

      Maybe there are newsworthy items in the list, but many compilations of "things achieved" necessarily have that Yesterday's News feeling. And no, you aren
    • Well, apparently one of the more notable ones involve Indian bakeries:

      Of note are improvements in ..., discoveries in nantechnology, ...

      The others seem more fluffed up, but this one is crackin'.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      It's a list of 50 scientific accomplishments from 2006 that the Scientific American editors feel are noteworthy. You can probably get a better idea of this from the introduction [] to the article/list.
  • by Salvance ( 1014001 ) * on Monday November 13, 2006 @12:57PM (#16824940) Homepage Journal
    I thought it was interesting that the section on green cars ("on the road to green" []) mentioned GM and DaimlerChrysler for their work on new Hybrid technology, and HyMotion for their new plug-in Hybrid conversion kits, but didn't mention any of the advances with pure electric car designs. For example, the Tesla roadster [] has sold a couple hundred sports cars that perform well (0-60 in 4 seconds) with excellent range (250 miles). This achievement in a production auto certainly seems worthy of their top 50. While it's not exactly for your average consumer (it costs $100K), the company plans to offer family cars for their homepage.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shivetya ( 243324 )
      I think the reason to keep the "Tesla" off the chart is this simple, anyone can make an unaffordable solution. They key to success there is marketing it properly.

      The "automakers" work under the constraint that its affordable to the majority of the drivers out there (think 12-25k), its cheap to maintain (think just change the oil and rotate tires), and its reliable (we don't want it back 15 times).

      Of course some are going as far as looking down the road "Will we be liable for the technology in this if someo
      • "think asbestos"

        Just a minor nitpick but asbestos has been known to cause lung problems for about 100yrs now. The only thing that changed was someone proved it in court in order to get those responsible to "cough up" (bad pun intended).
    • by Moofie ( 22272 )
      "has sold a couple hundred sports cars that perform well"

      If by "sold" you mean "has accepted orders for and promises to build them, no really! Trust us!" then yes, they've been sold.

      If by "sold" you mean "customer has taken delivery of a functional instance of a production vehicle", they have not been sold.

      Tesla looks cool and all, but I'd rather have two Lotus Elises (which get pretty darn respectable gas mileage if you're judicious with the throttle).
      • Exactly... until I see them actually in production and tested by Consumer Reports or some other independent body, their claims smell like pure marketing hype to me.

        In fact, the name for the company couldn't be more apt: Nikola Tesla's many great inventions were only eclipsed by his tendency to exaggerate his other, less-real inventions (death rays, anti-gravity machines, mind-reading devices, etc.) I wonder if we'll actually see the claims by Tesla Motors born out, or whether this incredible car will remai
    • by maxume ( 22995 )
      The primary innovation in the Tesla is an expensive battery. Since everybody already wants better batteries for everything, putting an expensive battery in a car intended to be a toy for rich people doesn't accomplish a whole lot.
    • I also think it's interesting that GM and Daimler were mentioned considering that the only reason they got into this area of research is because they have lost considerable market share to Honda and Toyota, major automakers that preceded them in focusing on making more environmentally friendly vehicles.
  • Pure sciences (Score:5, Insightful)

    by metlin ( 258108 ) on Monday November 13, 2006 @01:03PM (#16825004) Journal
    So, is there a reason that advances in pure sciences (e.g. Theoretical Physics and Mathematics) are not mentioned in these lists?

    While some of those projects are science, most seem to be technology projects. The irony of this of course is that business and policy makers are given recognition, rather than some scientists and mathematicians, who probably make more significant contributions (e.g. Grigori Perelman []).

    What's ironic, of course, is that these magazines are called Scientific American and Popular Science. /Rant
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by hebcb ( 984915 )
      Over the past 20 years SciAm seems to have moved more towards technology/applied articles than pure science. I remember a much higher number (per issue) of pure mathemetics/physics/anthropology/etc articles. Maybe there's something to the position some have taken is that there is nothing left to discover ;-) An alternative view might be that the number of "pure science" (i.e. academic) journals keeps growing and it's more important for the already strapped academics to keep churning out articles in the pe
    • you make a fine point of-course, but it is offset somewhat by the fact that at least one of these magazines is called "Scientific American", and Perelman is a Russian Jew.
    • Yeah. It's because of the sad, indeed tragic, decline of Scientific American to just another science mag. At least New Scientist hasn't changed, but the two together were fantastic. NS gave news and gossip and speculation and fun. SA gave deeply thought out sometimes pioneering articles that you could use as references. They balanced each other.


  • Item #51 (Score:3, Funny)

    by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Monday November 13, 2006 @01:05PM (#16825034)
    Accomplishment #51: Building a robust enough server network to survive Slashdotting.
  • More than 13 percent of the year is left, and "Bet of 2006" lists are coming out. Apparently, these folks are calendar challenged. PopSci, well, okay they're a pop rag with no pretension to the fact that they're out for profit. But am I the only person who expects better of SciAm?
    • Don't you know? The world Shuts down in December and nothing ever happens. Sheesh
      • I attribute this to the high incidence of Seasonal Affective Disorder among scientists and inventors.

        And clearly all of the ones in the southern hemisphere just feel sorry for their northern collegues and put off any significant discoveries until after the new year.
  • Hrm i wonder, if build a main-frame that could slove cancer would get on that list, oh wait nvm, the goverment uses that system is listen in on phone calls (Thats just my view tho)
  • by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Monday November 13, 2006 @01:15PM (#16825178) Homepage Journal
    ...why the Segway isn't on there. Wasn't the Segway supposed to the the "IT" that everyone was talking about? Hehehe.. I remember that when some rumours were leaked about what "IT" was, and the word transporter showed up, people started thinking transporter technology like on Star Trek. That WOULD have truly made it to this list, had it been the case. But it wasn't. However, considering how poorly the average American eats, and how fat those people are getting, I see a future industry for Segway. Imagine the day when Americans believe it's their right to enjoy the culinary delights of KFC, McDonalds, Burger King and the like and weigh 5000 pounds and have tons of health problems. To deny them the pleasures of these great dining experiences would rank up there with communism and gun control. So, Segway could then introduce the surgical leg replacements as most limbs would be unsuitable to move the typical American fatass. So people will voluntarily have their legs removed and replaced with industrial strength Segway devices so that they can easily maneuver their way into the next fast food joint down the street. ;P
  • Australian air guitar t-shirt? I for one predict this to be the greatest breakthrough in modern music science. Australians, drunk, playing air guitar that makes noise...oh the stereotyping fun that one can have with that.
  • I particularly enjoy the developments in Garlic Nantechnology. Great with a Vindaloo.
  • by east coast ( 590680 ) on Monday November 13, 2006 @02:06PM (#16825938)
    Not to question the integrity or sincerity of some of the "top 50" but I was expecting more of a top 50 in advancement instead of simply advocacy. While it is important that the public be informed on issues of a scientific nature to better understand there impact on the world around them I don't find it as noteworthy as people producing real solutions instead of simply putting their weight behind a movement.

    I'm kinda borderline on this whole thing.
  • by superstick58 ( 809423 ) on Monday November 13, 2006 @02:31PM (#16826328)
    Everyone always talks about RFID as it is used by the end user, i.e. Wal-Mart, toll-ways, credit cards etc. However, where better improvements are really needed is on the factory floor for all the suppliers that Wal-Mart mandates must use the technology. If a vendor wants to be a supplier to Wal-Mart, they face mandates that they must tag at some level of pallet, box, item. Suppliers can do this, but it offers no value except that Wal-Mart will buy their stuff. So how do they add value? The idea is to implement the RFID tagging higher up the line into the manufacturing process so that each supplier can track their inventory as it rolls off the line, into storage, and out the dock doors onto the truck. However, current UHF RFID technology is pretty poor at integrating in the manufacturing environment. With all the metal, hot air, dust, etc. etc., the limitation of RFID is really shown. Plus, depending on your material (hmmm beverage makers? Sorry liquid is a pain to work with), the application may be near impossible to implement. Read rates are generally good, but encoding is very very difficult. Reliability is perhaps in the 90% range if you are lucky which is very bad for processes that generally require quality results in the 99% ranges. I'd like to see RFID developed so it can be used on the shop floor with high reliability and easier implementation.
  • That's funny that SciAm lists certain discoveries in Nanotech in it's list. May years ago they had a feature story about how Nanotech would never work because of the physics involved, among other things. Sounded very logical. Now they are praising it's discoveries lol.
  • I'm sorry, this is a crappy list.

    There is very little "science" here. Some interesting engineering projects, to be sure.

    But where does Al Gore have anything to do with science OR engineering?

    Last I heard he was making documentaries about global warming that are being made fun of on South Park.


    • by oc255 ( 218044 )
      South Park makes fun of everything and everyone. So what.

      That's what happens when you do too much LSD in college and years-later land a show deal on Comedy Central. The former also explains why everyone dies with their head exploding, acid burnout creates some fear of head explosions?
      - Free Hat [] (Spielberg's head explodes)
      - Nintendo Wii episode (Future people have guns that shoot darts. The darts cause a delayed head explosion)
      - Chewbacca defense [] (a juror's head explodes after Cochran makes no sense)

      It wo
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm very disappointed that Dr Curt Conners didn't make the list in that section.
  • Where's Windows Vista?
  • I know people are sick of the market hype, but 2006 is the year EVERYONE could publish and view video on the web. (And damn it, everyone did!) Before that video required special players, high bandwidth, and special web servers. And I dont think we've begun to the most creative and useful applications of that media yet.

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982