In review: This year’s five best Danish scientific discoveries

In review: This year's five best Danish scientific discoveries

The past year was a year of general uncertainty as fragile attempts at economic recovery were steamrollered by fresh waves of COVID,

Meanwhile, the art industry went up to suffocating restrictions, while meeting friends to soothe the nerves was marked by anxiety and awkward distancing.

Science is flourishing
But necessity is the mother of invention, and in the face of all the challenges, science has thrived.

In Denmark, the world’s first wind energy island was proposed (and South Korea quickly followed suit), a new whale species was identified, and a risky GPS signal led to the unintentional discovery of the world’s northernmost island.

Biggest effect
The biggest revelations hit the headlines far beyond Denmark’s borders.

Selected for their impact, innovation and socio-cultural significance, here are Denmark’s top five most exciting scientific discoveries in 2021.

1 Innovative chip solves quantum computer headaches
In October, two young physicists at the University of Copenhagen brought us one step closer to building the first large, functional quantum computer. A little background: the brain of a supercomputer is made up of memory devices called qubits. While an ordinary bit can store data in a state of either 1 or 0, a qubit can reside in both states simultaneously – known as quantum superposition. Until now, researchers have managed to build small circuits in which only one qubit can be operated at a time. So it was hailed as a global milestone when Professor Federico Fedele and Assistant Professor Anasua Chatterjee simultaneously operated and measured multiple ‘spin-qubits’ on the same quantum chip – whose whole was no larger than a single bacterium.

2 wide horizons for peasant beans
Peasant beans are rich in protein, easy to grow, and Jamie Oliver – the standard marker of populist cuisine – makes a dip out of them. But they also produce vicin – toxic to over 400 million people worldwide, who are predisposed to the hereditary disorder favism. For these people, primarily in Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean countries, proximity can trigger acute anemia and liver disease. In July, researchers in Copenhagen and Aarhus isolated the gene responsible for the formation of vicin in farm beans, paving the way for a vicin-free bean that could become an important future protein source… or make a globally appealing appetizer.

3 Metal detector beginner finds 1 kg of old gold
In an absurd beginner’s luck, a man named Ole Ginnerup Schytz found fame in September when he first picked up a metal detector and discovered a fantastic cache of gold jewelry from the 6th century near the town of Jelling in Denmark. Experts called it one of the most valuable archaeological finds in Denmark’s history – on a par with the Golden Horns in Gallehus. The enormous wealth of the tax points to a productive European trade network and suggests that Jelling was a major seat of power. The jewelery must be exhibited at the Vejlemuseerne in Southern Jutland on 3 February 2022, before being rehoused in the National Museum.

4 ‘Hotrocks’ could be the end for lithium batteries
In May, construction began on GridScale – a remarkable new energy plant on the island of Lolland that can store renewable energy in stone. The method involves overheating and supercooling of crushed basalt the size of peas in insulated steel tanks. The stone can store heat for many days and provide energy for up to a week – it surpasses lithium batteries in both cost and efficiency. The 35 million kroner facility was quickly dubbed ‘hotrocks’ by the international community and will continue to be a hot topic into 2022, where steps will be taken to integrate it into the Danish national electricity grid.

5 Malaria drugs found to combat COVID-19
In December, researchers at Aarhus University discovered that the malaria drug Atovaquone can prevent COVID-19 infection. The medicine has a protective effect both before and after infection across different viral variants – which means that it can be used for both prevention and treatment of COVID-19. It’s a big find: Atovaquone is inexpensive, widely available, and has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, it has not yet been tested on Omicron and has only been studied using laboratory cultured human cells.

Source: The Nordic Page

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