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Our highlights of 2012

It's been a big year for science and computing. Which events come to the front of mind as your top moments: the Royal Society opening up permanently, the highest numerical verification for the Goldbach conjecture, or the Higgs particle? Here's our top 10 countdown of the most popular stories on iSGTW over the past year.

Is that real? Part of the cosmic evolution simulation, including the Milky Way galaxy, that researchers created using Arepo. Video courtesy Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/UCSD/Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies/M. Vogelsberger & V. Springel.

10. Computing for Sustainable Water Project comes to an end

After six months, the Computing for Sustainable Water Project came to a close. It investigated the Chesapeake Bay area, a watershed 64,299 square miles (166,534 square kilometers) in size, on the Atlantic seaboard of North America. The investigators hope to apply their project results to restore the health and sustain the bay, while spreading their knowledge across the globe to other regions facing challenges of sustainable water.

9. Breaking the silence of deaf people

In developing countries, such as Tunisia, the majority of deaf people are illiterate and cannot use mobile phone SMS or text messages. Their preferred communication is by sign language. The WebSign project aims to break their silence with an application that automatically translates an SMS sent from a mobile phone into a Multimedia Messaging Service that displays a 3D CGI avatar who acts-out the message in sign language.

8. How to grow a universe - just add a supercomputer

The most realistic simulation of cosmic evolution was created by scientists using Harvard's Odyssey supercomputer. They made a new software called Arepo to accurately model the birth and evolution of thousands of galaxies over billions of years. Simulations were significantly more detailed than previous attempts; for example, the Milky Way has a broad disc and outstretched arms of a spiral galaxy, instead of looking blurred and blobby.

7. Hear a Higgs through its data

Want to listen to that catchy Higgs-like boson melody again? Audio courtesy Domenico Vicinanza.

This list would be incomplete without mentioning the announcement of the discovery of a Higgs-like boson on the 4 July 2012. CERN's director general, Rolf Heuer, even highlighted the role that grid computing had played in helping to make the discovery possible. This one was hard to miss unless you were out celebrating Independence Day or enjoying your vacation on a desert island. If you were, then listen to software engineer and musician Domenico Vicinanza and his band's melody created from ATLAS experimental data, that bridges the gap between particle physics and the public.

6. Seven innovative ways to cool a scientific computer

Today, computers aren't just getting more powerful, they're getting hotter too. As much as 40% of a data center's electricity bill is from cooling equipment. We looked at pioneering methods of cooling supercomputers and grids. Examples range from geothermal, hot water, liquid metal, liquid submersion, phase-change, and a quantum cellular architecture system with temperatures a hundred times cooler than liquid helium - that's below -271°C.

Image of Tom van Baak's brother-in-law Bill carrying a a HP 5071A Cesium Beam Primary Frequency Reference as a wristwatch.
Do you think an atomic wristwatch would make a nice Christmas present? Click to enlarge. Image courtesy Leapsecond.com.

5. The smallest music in the universe

It's Domenico Vicinanza again. This time he created music from positrons - antiparticles of electrons - that make tracks in bubble chambers and Wilson cloud chambers, with the help of grid computing. This was done to mark the 60th anniversary of the invention of the bubble chamber and 101st anniversary of the invention of the Wilson cloud chamber.

4. Researchers edge closer to solving 270-year-old math problem thanks to grid computing

In the summer of 1742, Prussian mathematician Christian Goldbach wrote a mathematical conjecture that in its simplest form states: "every even integer greater than 2 can be written as the sum of two primes". Despite this simple formulation, a proof has yet to be found, even 270 years later.

Now, a computer scientist and two mathematicians have used an algorithm on the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid to verify the Goldbach conjecture for larger numbers. The team set a new world record for the highest number for which the Goldbach conjecture has been verified: one quintillion!

3. Does computation threaten the scientific method?

The scientific method has been the most successful contributor to systematic progress in the history of human endeavor. If the result cannot be reproduced, it is discarded. Models are then developed consistent with the non-discarded work to see if they can make further predictions, which can be tested. This has not been the case for scientific computation.

The Royal Society's publication of its first journal Philosophical Transactions was in 1665.
Front cover of the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions journal in 1665. Click to enlarge. Image courtesy the Royal Society.

Computer scientist Les Hatton, and others, argue about the slow progress in quantifying the effects of software defects on computational results. Seminal codes mentioned in the story are NASA's Space Shuttle software and the ATLAS experiment's five million lines of code.

2. Is open hardware creating a more open world?

A retro idea from a bygone era, open-source hardware appears to be back with a vengeance, according to its proponents. It is the public availability of designs, mechanical drawings, or schematics of physical technology, such as an Arduino electronics board. Open hardware influences everything from neutrinos and time nuts to poor rural communities, new business markets, and free beer and free speech - what more could you want?

1. The Royal Society opens up permanently

The Royal Society, publishers of the world's oldest peer-reviewed journal, made their archive of 60,000 historical scientific papers permanently free. This collection includes some of the greatest works in science spanning some 350 years. Discover the gems of the geological work by a young Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin's account of his electrical kite experiment, and the first peer-reviewed scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions, published by the Royal Society in 1665.

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