The science stories that defined 2020: coronavirus, diversity movements and more

coronavirus computer generated image

So much of 2020 was dominated by the new coronavirus (one shown in this computer-generated image). But plenty of science carried on.

Yuichiro Chino/Movement/Getty Images

To say that 2020 was challenging is an understatement. A world laid low by a pandemic. Racial inequities laid bare through social protests. Regions laid waste in the wake of extreme natural disasters. Yet science often rose to tackle these challenges.

We started the year knowing next to nothing about the novel coronavirus. Huge questions remain, but thanks in part to extraordinary efforts to develop vaccines that appear effective, we enter 2021 with glimmers of hope.

Hope is also emerging from a gut-wrenching reckoning with racial inequities, sparked by police killings of unarmed Black men and women in the United States. Through #BlackInSTEM and similar social movements, scientists are using their voices to shine light on a lack of diversity in their fields and to drive change.

It is harder to find any positive angles to 2020’s record-breaking fires, hurricanes and extreme Arctic heat. Yet science played a role here, too, helping us see the connections between our actions and our changing world.

In this year-end issue, we at Science News also felt the need to spark some joy and spotlight the thrill of discovery, whether it’s finding the edge of the Milky Way or the fossil of the oldest known modern bird, delightfully dubbed “Wonderchicken”. — Macon Morehouse, News Director

mask illustration
Pui Yan Fong

As 2020 comes to an end, here’s what we still don’t know about COVID-19

After making fast progress understanding the new coronavirus, researchers are still in search of answers.

The front of the cruise ship the Diamond Princess
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images

This COVID-19 pandemic timeline shows how fast the coronavirus took over our lives

Look back on how the virus overwhelmed 2020 and how efforts to fight back evolved.

Physician Lisa Fitzpatrick
Grapevine Health

Hear from people taking action against COVID-19

Researchers, a health care worker, a clinical trial volunteer and others share their experiences during the pandemic.

NYU Zoom class
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

What will life be like after the coronavirus pandemic ends?

Researchers offer a range of perspectives on the possible long-term social consequences of COVID-19.

Deja Perkins standing in a park and holding a pair of binoculars
D. Perkins

Meet 5 Black researchers fighting for diversity and equity in science

Here are a few of the people out to improve the professional lives of Black researchers.

A Black student looking into a microscope
Michael Doolittle/Alamy Stock Photo

These 6 graphs show that Black scientists are underrepresented at every level

The gap for U.S. Black students and professionals in STEM fields is stubbornly wide.

East Troublesome Fire
Jessy Ellenberger via AP

Wildfires, heat waves and hurricanes broke all kinds of records in 2020

Climate change did not take a break during the pandemic.

Elvis worms
A.S. Hatch et al/Zookeys 2020

From Elvis worms to the Milky Way’s edge, these science stories sparked joy in 2020

During a gloomy year dominated by a pandemic, these scientific discoveries were reminders that we live in a world of wonder.

2020 favorite books covers

Our favorite books of 2020 covered climate change, Mars, the end of the universe and more

In a year when the coronavirus pandemic dominated the news, these books were a welcomed distraction.

a false color composite image of the planet Venus

These science claims from 2020 could be big news if confirmed

Scientific findings reported this year that still need more proof include potential signs of life on Venus and Earth’s oldest parasites.

Asian giant hornet
Elaine Thompson/AFP/Getty Images

Rumors of a ‘murder hornet’ apocalypse may have been exaggerated

Murder hornets sightings in the Pacific northwest inspired a mix of concern and delight.

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