Discovery Files

2007: Year in Review

A look back at some of the NSF-supported advances and activities reported last year

In 2007, National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported researchers, engineers, educators and facilities reported discoveries that expanded our scientific knowledge--ranging from evidence of climate change at the Earth's poles and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes to fossils that fill in evolutionary gaps and new materials with surprising properties. The following are some of the research and education advances that made news last year.

Climate Change ... in the Headlines
The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its Fourth Assessment Report, finding that the warming of the climate system is "unequivocal" and that human activities are very likely causing the change. Numerous scientists and support staff at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which has NSF as its main sponsor, and NSF-supported researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and other institutions were involved in the IPCC's reports. For its efforts, the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 along with former Vice President Al Gore.
October 12, 2007

... And in the Arctic, an Ice-free Future?
Meanwhile, NSF-supported researchers continue contributing to the growing scientific knowledge base on climate change. In December, a University of Washington oceanographer reported that record-breaking amounts of ice-free water have deprived the Arctic of more of its natural "sunscreen" than ever in recent summers, with sea-surface temperatures rising as much as 5 degrees centigrade (41 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in some places. Also that month, researchers found that ocean currents have driven the mud along the Arctic Ocean bottom into piles, with some "mud waves" nearly 30.5 meters (100 feet) across. Another researcher found that the 2007 extent of the Greenland ice sheet melt broke the 2005 summer record by 10 percent, making it the largest recorded since satellite measurements began in 1979. In August, a group of researchers determined that Northern Hemisphere industrial pollution resulted in a seven-fold increase in black carbon (soot) in Arctic snow during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
December 11, 2007
Full stories:,, and

NSF's Math and Science Partnerships Demonstrate Continued Increases in Student Proficiency
An analysis of 123 schools participating in NSF's Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program showed improvements in student proficiency in mathematics and science at the elementary, middle- and high-school levels over a 3-year period. The MSP program was established in 2002 to integrate the work of higher education with K-12 to strengthen and reform mathematics and science education. NSF reported on its first assessment of the program's national impact in January.
January 24, 2007
Full story: and

Quantum Hall Effect Observed at Room Temperature
Using the highest magnetic fields in the world, an international research team has observed the quantum Hall effect--the basis for the international electrical resistance standard used to characterize everyday materials that conduct electricity--at room temperature. Previously, the quantum Hall effect was believed to be observable only at temperatures close to absolute zero (equal to minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit). Scientists made the surprising discovery as they subjected a new form of carbon, called graphene, to very high magnetic fields at NSF's National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Florida and at the High Field Magnet Laboratory in The Netherlands.
February 15, 2007
Full story:

New Coating Is Virtual Black Hole for Light
Researchers have created an anti-reflective coating that allows light to travel through it but lets almost no light bounce off its surface. At least 10 times more effective than the coating on sunglasses or computer monitors, the material, which is made of silica nanorods, may be used to channel light into solar cells or allow more photons to surge through the surface of a light-emitting diode (LED).
March 1, 2007
Full story:

A Mathematical Solution for Another Dimension
Using powerful computers and programming techniques, an international team mapped E8, an extraordinarily complex object. The feat, expected to produce breakthroughs in geometry, number theory and string theory, is numerically akin to the mapping of the human genome. Discover magazine included this news in its list of the top 100 science stories of 2007.
March 19, 2007
Full story:

Ancient T. rex and Mastodon Protein Fragments Discovered, Sequenced
Researchers confirmed the existence of protein in soft tissue recovered from the fossil bones of a 68 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex) and a half-million-year-old mastodon. Scientists successfully sequenced portions of the dinosaur and mastodon proteins, identifying the amino acids and confirming that the material was collagen. They found that the protein fragments in the T. rex fossil appear to most closely match amino acid sequences found in collagen of present-day chickens. In addition to lending support to the theory that birds and dinosaurs are evolutionarily related, the discoveries challenge conventional ideas about protein survival over long periods of time. Discover and Wired magazines cited the news as one of the year's top scientific breakthroughs.
April 12, 2007
Full stories: and

Follow the "Green" Brick Road?
Researchers have created more environmentally friendly bricks from fly ash--the fine ash particles captured as waste by coal-fired power plants. While manufacturing clay brick requires kilns fired to high temperatures, fly ash bricks are produced at room temperature. They conserve energy, cost less to manufacture, and don't contribute to air pollution or global warming. And, fly ash bricks look and perform like normal bricks.
May 22, 2007
Full story:

Cutting the Cord: Researchers Demonstrate the Feasibility of Wireless Power Transfer
A team of researchers was able to light a 60-watt bulb by transferring energy through the air from a power source that was seven feet away and not physically connected to the appliance. The MIT research team refers to its concept as "WiTricity" (as in wireless electricity). Scientific American and Discover Magazine named the wireless power transfer demonstration one of the year's top science stories.
June 7, 2007
Full story:

Caribbean Frog Populations Started with Single, Ancient Voyage on South American Raft
Nearly all of the 162 land-breeding frog species on Caribbean islands, including the coqui frogs of Puerto Rico, originated from a single frog species that arrived on a sea voyage from South America, according to the results of a decades-long research study.
June 8, 2007
Full story:

Research Technique Reveals Unique, Photosynthesizing Life-form
A team of researchers announced the discovery of a novel bacterium that transforms light into chemical energy. The discovery of the chlorophyll-producing bacterium, Candidatus Chloracidobacterium (Cab.) thermophilum in several of the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park was made possible by metagenomics, a new technique enabling the study of organisms without having to culture them.
July 26, 2007
Full story:

Method Shows Promise for Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer
An optical technology developed for detecting colon cancer holds promise for detecting pancreatic cancer and could lead to the first screening method for people who have no symptoms of the illness.
August 1, 2007
Full story:

Origami Electronics?
By weaving black carbon nanotubes into paper, engineers have created printable, flexible batteries that are more resilient than many existing batteries, yet can be cut and folded just like paper. Discover magazine included this breakthrough in its list of the top 100 science stories of 2007.
August 14, 2007
Full story:

Team USA Takes the Prize at the International Linguistics Olympiad
Six American high-school students took the top honors in the 2007 International Linguistics Olympiad in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was the first time a delegation represented the United States at the annual competition. The American team's victory brings a new focus to computational linguistics.
August 17, 2007
Full story:

New Light-sensing Ability Discovered in Certain Bacteria
An international study has shown that some types of bacteria can sense light, and that light exposure in a type of bacteria that causes diseases in humans and livestock increases the bacterium's virulence.
August 23, 2007
Full stories: and

Scientists Find Elusive Waves in Solar Corona
Scientists have for the first time observed the elusive oscillations in the Sun's corona, known as Alfvén waves, that transport energy outward from the surface of the Sun.
August 30, 2007
Full story:

Change in Africa's Climate Altered Early Human Evolution
An international team of scientists has found that a dramatic change in the climate of Africa from arid to wet may have significantly driven early human evolution.
September 6, 2007
Full story:

Tracking Terrorists' Activities on the Web
Using advanced techniques such as Web spidering, link analysis, content analysis, authorship analysis, sentiment analysis and multimedia analysis, researchers have created the "Dark Web" project to systematically collect and analyze terrorist-generated content on the Web.
September 10, 2007
Full story:

Investing in R&D Pays Off, Now We Know By How Much
If research and development (R&D) spending were treated as investment in the U.S. national income and product accounts, the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) would be nearly 3 percent higher each year between 1959 and 2004, according to a joint analysis by the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and NSF. BEA and NSF's Division of Science Resources Statistics developed the R&D satellite account as a supplemental set of data that can be factored into economic measurements to determine the impact of R&D spending on U.S. growth and productivity. In 2004 alone, the U.S. GDP would have been $284 billion more with the R&D satellite account.
October 1, 2007
Full story:

How We See Movement
A research team combining high-energy physicists from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and neuroscientists from the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., has discovered a type of retina cell that may help monkeys, apes and humans see motion. The cell type has very similar properties to so-called Y retina ganglion cells, which were first described in cats in 1966. Since the earlier discovery, scientists have sought a similar cell in primates.
October 10, 2007
Full story:

Getting Light to Bend Backwards
While developing new lenses for next-generation sensors, researchers crafted a layered material that causes light to refract, or bend, in a manner nature never intended. Composed of alternating layers of semiconductors (indium-gallium-arsenic and aluminum-indium-arsenic), the metamaterial acts as a single lens that refracts light in the direction that is opposite than usual.
October 16, 2007
Full story:

Seafood's Impact on Early Human Migration
New research suggests humans may have eaten seafood more than 40,000 years earlier than previous estimates, and the consumption of seafood may have been a catalyst for early human migration out of Africa along a coastal route.
October 17, 2007
Full story:

U.S. Wildfires Release Huge Amounts of Carbon Dioxide
Large-scale fires in a western or southeastern state can pump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a few weeks as the state's entire motor vehicle traffic would in an entire year, according to a new study of the impact of fires in the United States. Scientific American included this news in its list of the top 25 science stories of 2007.
October 31, 2007
Full story:

...And Speaking of Wildfires, Digital Eyes in the Sky Aided Firefighters and the Public in Southern California
Video and still images captured by the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) helped inform both fire crews and local residents in the San Diego area about the location and severity of threats to life and property when fires broke out in October. Perched on mountains and bluffs overlooking the greater San Diego area, HPWREN's remote cameras provided real-time images of the wildfires, even as they engulfed the towers on which the cameras stood, making the use of human observers to track spread of the wildfires too hazardous.
October 30, 2007
Full story:

Primates' Closest Kin?
Animals that resemble furry kites as they use sheets of skin to glide through the air form a little-known group (nicknamed flying lemurs) that is more closely related to primates--including humans--than to any other group of living mammals, new research revealed.
November 1, 2007
Full story:

Scientists Discover a Fifth Planet Orbiting Nearby Star
Scientists continued to make remarkable discoveries in the search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. In November, astronomers announced the discovery of a fifth planet around the nearby star 55 Cancri, making it the only star aside from the Sun known to have at least five planets.
November 6, 2007
Full story:

Evolutionary Comparison Yields New Human Genes
Using supercomputers to compare the human genome with those of other mammals, researchers have discovered some 300 previously unidentified human genes.
November 15, 2007
Full story:

Bad Behavior and Academic Achievement
New research suggests that children entering school with behavior problems, as a rule, can keep pace with classroom learning, but persistent behavior problems can be a strong indicator of how these students adapt to the work world.
November 26, 2007
Full story:

New Satellite Map of Antarctica Is Unveiled
Three federal agencies and the British Antarctic Survey unveiled a uniquely detailed and scientifically accurate satellite mosaic map of Antarctica. The Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA) combines more than 1,100 hand-selected satellite scenes digitally compiled to create a single, seamless, cloud-free image.  The new map--the first major scientific product of the International Polar year (IPY)--is expected to become a standard geographic reference and give scientists, educators and the general public an unmatched tool for studying the southernmost continent.
November 27, 2007
Full story:

Preparation of U.S. Middle School Math Teachers Faulted
A new NSF-funded study, Mathematics Teaching in the 21st Century (MT21), found that future middle-school mathematics teachers in the United States are not as well prepared to teach mathematics as are many of their counterparts in South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Bulgaria and Mexico.
December 11, 2007
Full story:

Missing Link in Whale Evolution Found?
Scientists discovered a missing link between whales and their four-footed ancestors. With the discovery of the skeleton of Indohyus, an approximately 48-million-year-old even-toed ungulate from the Kashmir region of India, researchers have found the closest known fossil relative of whales.
December 20, 2007
Full story:


Sidebar: Our Readers Favorites in 2007

The number of people seeking science news from the NSF Web site increased throughout 2007. Here are some of our readers' favorite news stories from last year, listed in order of popularity based on Web visitor statistics.

  1. Laser Blasts Viruses in Blood
    A father-son research team has discovered a new use for lasers--zapping viruses out of blood. The technique, which holds promise for disinfecting blood for transfusions, uses a low-power laser beam with a pulse lasting just fractions of a second.
    August 29, 2007
    Full story:

  2. World's Smallest Radio Fits in the Palm of the Hand . . . of an Ant
    Harnessing the electrical and mechanical properties of the carbon nanotube, a team of researchers has crafted a working radio from a single carbon fiber. The tiny device could have applications far beyond novelty, from radio-controlled devices that could flow in the human bloodstream to highly efficient, miniscule, cell phone devices. 
    October 31, 2007
    Full story:

  3. Microbes Churn Out Hydrogen at Record Rate
    Researchers have coaxed common bacteria to produce hydrogen in a new, efficient way. The team had already shown success at using microbes to produce electricity. By adding a few modifications to their successful wastewater fuel cell, they increased the hydrogen yield to a new record for this type of system.
    November 12, 2007
    Full story:

  4. Laser-Induced Shocks in Diamond Anvil Cells Can Achieve Pressures Inside Supergiant Planets
    Diamond anvil cells and laser-induced shocks can separately achieve pressures higher than that at the core of the Earth, but in combination, they could achieve pressures 100 to 1,000 times greater than possible today, reproducing conditions expected in the cores of supergiant planets.
    May 2, 2007
    Full story:

  5. Diamonds From Outer Space
    Geologists have traced the origin of the Earth's mysterious black diamonds, also called carbonado diamonds, to interstellar space. The scientists used infrared synchrotron radiation at Brookhaven National Laboratory to determine the diamonds' source.
    January 8, 2007
    Full story:

  6. Laser Cooling Brings Large Object Near Absolute Zero
    Using a laser-cooling technique that could one day allow scientists to observe quantum behavior in large objects, MIT researchers have cooled a coin-sized object to within one degree of absolute zero.
    April 5, 2007
    Full story:

  7. Jeannette Wing Chosen to Head NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate
    NSF has chosen Jeannette Wing, president's professor and head of the Computer Science Department in Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science, as assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) at NSF. CISE is responsible for 86 percent of all federally funded research in computer science.
    January 31, 2007
    Full story:

  8. NSF Requests $6.43 Billion for FY 2008
    NSF Director Arden L. Bement, Jr., proposed an investment of $6.43 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2008 for agency programs to advance frontiers of research and education in science and engineering. He said the agency will use the funds to build on recent advances and to support promising initiatives to strengthen the nation's capacity for discovery and innovation.
    February 5, 2007
    Full story:

  9. Erb Honored by French Republic for Contributions to International Scientific Cooperation
    Karl A. Erb, who heads NSF's Office of Polar Programs, was named a Chevalier of the French National Order of Merit by the President of the Republic of France. The award cites Erb's important contributions "to the development and enrichment of French-American relations in science and technology."
    July 12, 2007
    Full story:

  10. Gazing Up at the Man in the Star?
    Using a suite of four telescopes, astronomers have captured an image of Altair, one of the closest stars to our own and a fixture in the summer sky. While astronomers have recently imaged a few of the enormous, dying, red-giant stars, this is the first time anyone has seen the surface of a relatively tiny hydrogen-burning star like our own Sun.
    May 31, 2007
    Full story:

Research areas