We are about a third of the way through the second decade of the twenty-first century. How have the first thirteen years of this new century stacked up when compared to the events of the same period during the advent of the twentieth century? Has our world been transformed as radically in thirteen years as it was during the first few years of the twentieth, which saw the advent of heavier than air flight, Einstein’s theory of Relativity, and the advent of radio?
In 1900 the botanist Hugo de Vries rediscovered Mendel’s Laws of Heredity and the Diesel engine was first demonstrated by Rudolph Diesel at the World’s Fair in Paris.
The phonograph became common in American homes after 1900. By 1907 a record of Enrico Caruso singing “Vesti la gubba” became the first recording to sell a million copies.
The Brownie camera appeared in 1900, ushering in the era of the “snapshot.” In 1901 the first electric typewriter was invented. The same year, Marconi made the first successful radio transmission. Commercial broadcasting began not many years later. The same year Willis Carrier demonstrated the first indoor air conditioner.
1903 saw the first windshield wiper and the first controlled, powered, sustained heavier than air flight by the Wright brothers.
In 1907 commercial color photography arrived. The following year the first affordable automobile came on the market: the Ford Model T. In 1908 Hans Geiger invented what we now call the Geiger counter for measuring radioactivity.
In 1911 Roald Amundsen’s expedition reached the South Pole. The first airmail service began. The following year, 1912, William Lawrence Bragg presented his derivation of Bragg’s law for the angles for coherent and incoherent scattering from a crystal lattice, creating the field of x-ray crystallography. This is what later made it possible for scientists to image the double helix of DNA late in the twentieth century.
Finally, in 1913, the Ford Motor Company introduced the first moving assembly line, reducing the time it took to assemble a chassis from twelve and a half hours to about two and a half hours: the era of mass production had begun.
So how do the first thirteen years of the twenty-first century compare to all that? The year 2000 was the final date during which there were no humans in space. Since then, the International Space Station has been continuously occupied by at least three people and usually six.
In 2001 Wikipedia launched on the Internet. It currently contains more than four million articles spanning the equivalent of about thirty-two million pages. If it were printed out, it would fill 1951 volumes, each containing about 1.6 million words. Also in 2001: the world’s first self-contained artificial heart was implanted into Robert Tools; Dennis Tito became the first space tourist; and the music industry was transformed by the release of the first iPod and opening of Apple’s iTunes.
In 2003 the Human Genome Project—the sequencing of a complete map of the human genome—was completed. Next year, in 2004, the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity arrived on Mars. Although Spirit and Opportunity were designed to survive only 90 days, Spirit continued functioning until 2009, while Opportunity is still going strong. 2004 was also the year that SpaceShipOne made the first privately funded human spaceflight.
In 2005 Deep Impact became the first spaceship to smash into a comet, while New Horizons was launched toward Pluto for a 2015 rendezvous.
In 2007 the first Amazon Kindle arrived on the market. The publishing industry will never be the same. Today, twenty percent of all books sold are ebooks. Also in 2007: the first iPhone was released. The Android-based smartphone arrived the next year. Today, there are more than 6 billion cellphone subscribers. That means that about 87 percent of the human race owns a cellphone.
In 2008, the Large Hadron Collider became operational. It is the largest “atom smasher” ever built. It is seventeen miles in circumference, sitting about 574 feet beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland.
In 2009 the Kepler Spacecraft went into space. Between then and 2013 it discovered more than three thousand planets around distant stars, demonstrating that nearly every point of light in the nighttime sky is surrounded by planets.
The first iPad arrived on the market in 2001. Tablet computers are now the fastest selling segment of the computer industry.
In 2011, MESSENGER entered orbit around Mercury, becoming the first spacecraft to ever do so. Meanwhile, the ion-powered spacecraft Dawn became the first spacecraft to orbit the asteroid Vesta. After spending a year there, it left for the minor planet Ceres for a meeting in 2015.
In 2012, the Curiosity rover –an automobile-sized, nuclear-powered, laser wielding machine—landed on Mars. SpaceX successfully delivered cargo to the ISS, marking the beginning of the private exploitation of space. Meanwhile, two asteroid mining companies were established: Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries. And the Higgs boson was at last detected at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.
This year has witnessed the first kidney grown in vitro and the first human liver grown from stem cells.
And then: researchers at Harvard have just discovered that injecting a protein called SIRT1 into 22 month old mice rejuvenated them. New Scientist Magazine reported that within a week, “markers of muscular atrophy and inflammation had dropped and the mice had even developed a different muscle type more common in younger mice. Together, these features were characteristic of 6-month-old mice.” This included the muscles in the heart. What does that mean? They successfully reversed aging in mice. It was like a sixty year old man suddenly becoming twenty.
Human trials are slated to begin in 2014.