Data will start flowing from the first completed segments of a giant under-water surveillance network, the U.S. Ocean Observatories Initiative, which will cost $386 million to build and will be completed by March 2015. It will monitor every-thing from undersea earthquakes and the effects of climate change on ocean circulation, to shifting ecosystems and ocean chemistry—all the way from the air to the seabed at seven sites around the globe. Meanwhile, British, American and Russian teams will be hoping to find out what kind of life, if any, exists in three deep, subglacial Antarctic lakes.
Samarium hexaboride might be the next star of materials science, following hints last year that it is a topological insulator — conducting electricity on its surface, but behaving as an insulator inside. Graphene will remain a major celebrity, so expect a flood of reports about copycat materials such as boron nitride, tantalum disulphide and other two-dimensional sheets that can be stacked or sandwiched in precise layers.
Genes in court
The U.S. Supreme Court could decide a number of cases with science implications in 2013. It will re-examine whether genes are patentable as part of a three-year lawsuit considering the validity of patents held by Myriad Genetics in Salt Lake City, Utah. It may also rule on a challenge to seed firm Monsanto, based in St. Louis, Mo., from a farmer who wants to plant seeds gathered from previously grown genetically modified crops, rather than buying new stock from the company. And the court will consider whether brand-name pharmaceutical companies can pay generic makers to delay their launch of generic drugs.
A UK policy that requires publicly funded researchers to make their results freely available will take effect from April. Other countries could soon follow—a Global Research Council meeting is set to discuss the matter in May. But many scientists will be worrying more about budgets, with the United States considering drastic spending cuts that could take effect early this year, and Europe set to continue debating the proposed €80 billion (US$104 billion) in funding for its 2014–20 research program, Horizon 2020.
This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on January 1, 2013.