Science Review 2012 – Top 100 science stories: Nos 5-1

20 Dec 2012

View of the 2004 transit of Venus

Today, we complete our countdown of Ireland’s top science and innovation stories of 2012. It was the year Dublin became the European City of Science and major scientific breakthroughs occurred in every field.

During four days in July, international scientists, policy-makers and business leaders, as well as the general public, converged on the Euroscience Open Forum in Dublin, the highlight in a year full of science and innovation events, such as Science Week, Nanoweek, and Engineers Week.

Most notable during 2012, however, is the impact young people in Ireland have been making in innovation. James Whelton’s CoderDojo movement has gone international, student Paddy Mulcahy won the Irish leg of the 2012 James Dyson award, Mark Kelly and Eric Doyle, this year’s overall winners at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, also scooped another top award at the EUCYS, and teenager Joanne O’Riordan, who has no limbs, gave a speech to global leaders at a United Nations conference for Girls in ICT Day on how technology has changed her life.

To celebrate a year that also included great research, discoveries and partnerships, has dedicated this month to the top 100 most popular science and innovation stories of 2012. Our countdown concludes below.

Facial recognition software

5 – 17-year-olds’ facial recognition software signals death of passwords

Two 17-year-olds from a Northside school in Dublin have created a new facial recognition system that website owners can deploy to allow their users to log in without having to remember passwords.

Such software, if deployed by web and social giants like Google, Twitter or Facebook, could sound the death knell of the tricky password system. was created by students Niall Paterson and Sam Caulfield, who were studying for their Leaving Cert this year at Scoil Ris in Marino.

Solar flare

4 – Solar eruption set to spark major geomagnetic storm

Scientists and telecommunication providers were keeping a close eye on the sun’s activities, as NASA predicted an earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME) was set to reach the planet’s magnetosphere.

NASA had reported the strongest solar radiation storm since September 2005. This was due to an eruption on the sun on 22 January. This eruption caused a solar flare, which resulted in a CME, a cloud of solar plasma that was ejected from the solar atmosphere in the direction of Earth.

Electronic Countermeasures robotic ballet

3 – Quadcopter drone group held in London airport on suspicion of terrorism

Fresh from performing at Science Gallery in Dublin during the opening of Hack the City, a group of urbanists, technologists and architects who created GPS-enabled quadcopter drones were held at London Southend Airport on suspicion of terrorism and recorded under the UK’s Terrorism Act.

The group, known as Tomorrows Thoughts Today, had been performing their Electronic Countermeasures robotic ballet in the sky show at Science Gallery for the opening of the three-month Hack the City exhibition in Dublin City.

The trio, headed up by Liam Young, had created the robotic drones from components that were originally intended for police surveillance.

Felix Baumgartner

2 – Felix Baumgartner completes world-record freefall on YouTube (video)

Skydiver and BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner has completed a freefall of more than 39,000 metres (128,000 feet) and potentially broken three world records in the process.

Under the guidance of the man who once held the record for the world’s highest freefall, Col Joe Kittinger, Baumgartner took more than 2.5 hours to ascend to 39,044m (128,097 feet) in what was the world’s highest manned balloon flight. But this was just the first of three world records Baumgartner broke.

Baumgartner then leapt from the capsule that carried him to the edge of space, completing not only the highest freefall on record but also the world’s fastest freefall, reaching 1,137km/h. The freefall lasted 4 minutes and 19 seconds, and Baumgartner reached terra firma in just nine minutes and 3 seconds following the jump.

Transit of Venus

1 – Transit of Venus: watch it in real-time with NASA webcast

The next one won’t be happening until 2117, so stargazers were preparing for the transit of Venus across the face of the sun, and NASA hosted a live webcast from Mauna Kea in Hawaii to give a real-time view of the entire transit as it unfolded between 5 and 6 June, depending on where in the world you were.

While stargazers in Ireland had to wait until sunrise on 6 June to catch a glimpse of the transit of Venus, those on the east coast of North America were able to witness the event at sunset on 5 June.