2003: Shock & Awe

War. Disease. Disaster. Science played a key role in a good deal of the year's bad news. But the discoveries were astonishing, too.

sci0104shock_A.gif

IT WAS THE YEAR OF THE NASTY SURPRISE: a war fought over weapons that might not exist, an epidemic that looked like it might be the viral Big One, and a shuttle tragedy. In each case, science was eclipsed by politics. If the Bush administration had heeded evidence from U.N. weapons inspectors, any subsequent invasion would likely have won crucial international support. If Chinese officials had been more concerned about public health than public image, SARS might not have spread to Taipei, Manila and Toronto. If NASA managers had listened to the evidence and warnings of their own engineers, the Columbia disaster might have been averted.

Left to its own resources and away from the spotlight, though, the scientific endeavor thrived. Nanoscientists brought us a minuscule motor; cosmologists learned the precise age of the universe (13.7 billion years); ecologists discovered a microbe that survives at 266?F, well above the boiling point of water. Biotechnicians even genetically engineered a coffee plant so that it grows decaffeinated beans. On the following pages, the year in science.

THE TOP SCIENCE STORIES OF 2003

  • Strike 2, NASA. What Now?
  • Discovered! Fame Descended on These Newcomers in 2003
  • SARS: A Rehearsal?
  • Dark Energy: Cosmic Mojo
  • Winners + Losers: Ups + Downs of 2003
  • Iraq, Science and the Elusive WMD
  • They Die by the Score
  • Europe Roasts. Is It Global Warming?
  • Obituaries
  • Cloning, Continued
  • Murder of the Bounty: The Seas Empty
  • The New Space Race