Three UW scientists shared the limelight in Discover magazine’s “100 most important discoveries and developments” of 2004, and one of them had a hand in the magazine’s top pick for the biggest science development of the year.
The scientists are atmospheric scientist Qiang Fu, astronomer Donald Brownlee and psychologist Joseph Sisneros.
The top development of 2004, according to Discover, was that “evidence of global warming became so overwhelming … that now the question is: What can we do about it.” The magazine noted that global warming skeptics have argued that computer models cannot explain why the lower atmosphere has apparently warmed less than the Earth’s surface, and cited research by Fu’s team that disputes that notion. The work, a reanalysis of satellite data, concluded that cooling in the stratosphere had been masking warming in the lower atmosphere that was much greater than previously recognized.
Brownlee is the principal investigator of Stardust, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration mission to capture particles from comet Wild 2 and return them to earth. Stardust was launched on Feb. 7, 1999, and flew by the comet on Jan. 2, 2004, capturing thousands of particles less than a millimeter in size. The spacecraft also took remarkable photographs of the comet. Those achievements made No. 50 on Discover’s rankings for 2004. A capsule containing the particles is expected to be parachuted back to earth in Utah in January 2006.
Sisneros, who studies the neural basis of behavior, was the lead author on a paper that reported the first hormonally induced change in hearing sensitivity in a vertebrate. His research, No. 98 on Discover’s list, duplicated a natural physiological change that occurs in the female plainfin midshipman fish during breeding season. This change in the inner ear enables the females to detect higher frequency humming made by males hoping to attract mates. The discovery eventually may have human applications, possibly in the area of age-related hearing loss.