Best STEM Discoveries of 2016

solar panel

At Envision we love STEM because of its potential for improving lives and solving some of our world’s biggest problems. Considering all the impressive advances made by scientists and technologists this year, it was difficult to identify just one top discovery for each STEM field. We won’t insist that our picks are the best, but they are undeniably cool.


For centuries man has wondered if we’re alone in the universe. Or, if we ventured beyond our solar system, could we find a new home? This year scientists discovered a habitable planet, Proxima b, orbiting Proxima Centauri, just over 4 light-years away. This relatively “close” neighbor appears to have a surface temperature that would accommodate liquid water, and thus could potentially sustain life.

Meanwhile, physicists confirmed the existence of gravitational waves, defined by Gizmodo as, “vibrations in the fabric of the universe – light-speed ripples in spacetime.” National Geographic celebrates this discovery because, “gravitational waves can act as a new way of seeing otherwise invisible objects in the universe, such as … black holes.”


Although the cyborg stingray, an engineered marvel of metal, silicone and living tissue, swam its way into our hearts this year, our favorite technological advance is probably the high-efficiency solar panels produced by a new factory in Buffalo, NY. The factory, capable of producing a gigawatt of solar capacity per year, is expected to change the economics of residential solar power, making this alternative energy more accessible to all.


For engineering’s top innovation, we’re intrigued by the groundbreaking scientists in Iceland who captured environmentally-harmful carbon dioxide emissions and turned them to stone, instead of releasing them into the atmosphere. What if we could use our CO2 as a building material, and help counter the greenhouse effect? We’re keeping an eye on this fascinating development.

Honorable mentions in engineering innovation go to the Tesla car that can drive itself, Shanghai’s extra-green skyscraper architectural technology, and, because we always yearn to go where no man has gone before, NASA’s Juno rocket, which has successfully achieved orbit around Jupiter.

Math and Medicine

You may not think “Math!” when it comes to milestone discoveries, but remember: Man couldn’t build a self-driving car, an eco-friendly skyscraper or a record-setting rocket without some serious math skills.

Did you know that prime numbers are essential to modern cryptography? Our pick for the coolest math discovery of 2016 is the new, largest prime number, with a whopping 22,338,618 digits. The software used in this discovery is running on a global network of CPUs peaking at 450 trillion calculations per second.

At Envision, the M in STEM is a multi-tasker, standing for Medicine as well as Math. We couldn’t write an article on the top innovations of 2016 without mentioning the genetically-engineered immune cells, now used to save the lives of cancer patients, as well as to keep food from spoiling. This year’s other amazing medical achievements include virtual reality software for med students and surgeons, interoperability between health providers, and advances in anti-aging drugs, prosthetics and artificial retinas.

To read more about the amazing discoveries of 2016, check out these great sources:

10 Amazing Scientific Discoveries from ListVerse

MIT’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies

NatGeo’s Discoveries Worth Celebrating

11 Greatest Engineering Innovations from Popsci

Top 10 Medical Technologies from Medical Futurist