Analyzing a top article

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: SN 2017 Year in Review / View Guide

Directions: Divide your students into 10 groups. Allow each group to pick one of the following articles, or if necessary assign articles to groups to ensure that all 10 articles are covered. Allow time for groups to convene and answer the pre-reading questions No. 1 and 2. Then, set aside about 20 minutes for silent article reading. As students finish reading the article, they should attempt to answer question No. 3 individually. Once all students have finished reading their article, allow about 15 minutes for each group to analyze and summarize their article by answering questions No. 3 through 5. When all of the groups are finished, have groups share their results with the whole class. 

2017 Year in Review: Top 10

1. Cosmic mysteries unlocked in neutron star collision

2. CRISPR gene editing moves into humans, spurs debate

3. Larsen C ice break invites groundbreaking research

4. Fossils join genetic evidence to revise human origin story

5. Seven Earth-sized planets orbit the same ultracool star

6. Quantum communication goes global

7. Concerns grow that CO2 rise may steal crop nutrients

8. FDA approves gene therapy for two blood cancers

9. CTE may be common among pro football players

10. Zika is not gone for good

1. Read the title of the article. What background information do you already know about the topic based on the title (from science class, Science News or other sources)?

Student answers will vary.

2. Given the title of your article, what do you want to find out when you read it?

Student answers will vary.

3. Summarize what you learned from the article in less than 100 words, being as thorough as you can within that limit.

Possible student responses:

1) Cosmic mysteries unlocked in neutron star collision

The collision of two neutron stars in a galaxy 130 million light-years from Earth was spotted by gravitational wave detectors and, later, telescopes looking for visible, infrared and ultraviolet light, as well as X-rays and radio waves. Data from the observations offered new clues to how heavy elements are formed, provided a new measurement for the expansion rate of the universe and confirmed that gravitational waves travel at the speed of light, thus ruling out many alternative theories to dark energy (the mysterious force that appears to be accelerating the expansion rate of the universe).

2) CRISPR gene editing moves into humans, spurs debate

In 2017, several groups used CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to alter the DNA in viable human embryos; if they developed, those embryos would become genetically altered people that could pass their alterations down to future generations. Research teams used CRISPR/Cas9 to fix disease-causing mutations in embryos and to create mutations in a gene important for development.

3) Larsen C ice break invites groundbreaking research

In July 2017, a Delaware-sized iceberg, the largest one in decades, broke off from one of the Antarctic Peninsula’s ice shelves, called Larsen C. While most media attention focused on the break itself and whether it was linked to climate change, scientists have used the opportunity to study the stability of the remaining Antarctic ice, as well as creatures living below where the iceberg used to be.

4) Fossils join genetic evidence to revise human origin story

The exact time and place of the origin of modern Homo sapiens has been difficult to pin down. Analyses of fossil evidence suggest that species or subspecies in different regions of Africa had different features found in Homo sapiens — high, rounded braincases, chins and small teeth — which integrated only later into the full modern human package.

5) Seven Earth-sized planets orbit the same ultracool star

Telescopes have identified seven roughly Earth-sized planets, at least three of which might have the right temperatures for water to be liquid, orbiting the small, cool TRAPPIST-1 star approximately 39 light-years from Earth. The sheer number of planets and the fact that very small stars live so long increases the chances that the system might harbor life. Unfortunately, such stars are prone to frequent, powerful stellar flares that could damage the atmospheres and, thus, reduces chances for life.

6) Quantum communication goes global

China launched in 2016 the world’s first quantum communications satellite, Micius, which can beam pairs of quantum entangled particles as a quantum key to enable ultrasecure communications. In 2017, Micius first used its onboard lasers to quantumly link two Chinese cities 1,200 kilometers apart, then teleport the quantum properties of photons 1,400 kilometers from the ground to space and finally to permit a quantum-encrypted video chat between Beijing and Vienna.

7) Concerns grow that CO2 rise may steal crop nutrients

Experiments have shown that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere might mean crops such as wheat and rice become less nutritious in the future, which could impact both humans and farm animals that rely on these crops for food. In particular, some crops exposed to higher CO2 levels had lower levels of zinc, iron and protein than crops grown under today’s conditions, and the concentrations of other nutrients are still being measured.

8) FDA approves gene therapy for two blood cancers

A newly approved treatment for two blood cancers (acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, in young people and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in adults) involves removing some of the patient’s T cells, genetically modifying them to recognize the cancer cells, multiplying them in the lab and then injecting them back into the patient to kill the cancer cells. This treatment, called chimeric antigen receptor T cell, or CAR-T cell, therapy helped 83 percent of ALL patients go into remission within three months.

9) CTE may be common among pro football players

Postmortem analysis of brains showed that 110 of 111 NFL football players, 3 of 14 high school players and 48 of 53 college players had signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is associated with memory loss, emotional outbursts, depression and dementia. Compared with postmortem brains from healthy people and even those with Alzheimer’s, brains from people with CTE had higher levels of the inflammation protein CCL11, hinting that CCL11 levels might be a measure of brain health in living people.

10) Zika is not gone for good

Compared with 2016, Zika virus cases in the Western Hemisphere have been much less common, perhaps because people who have been previously infected are now immune. Meanwhile, scientists have learned more about how Zika spreads through sexual contact and about reservoirs of Zika between human outbreaks, and have made strides in developing vaccines that could potentially protect against Zika.

4. Having read your article, what new questions do you have about that topic?

Student answers will vary.

5. What predictions do you have for future related research?

Student answers will vary.

6. If time permits, choose and analyze a second article.