The emergence of Web 2.0
This year onwards saw the emergence of Web 2.0 – the next generation of the Internet. Until this point, it had been primarily a tool used to publish material for public consumption. This could be defined as Web 1.0 and was simply a one-way street.
Web 2.0, however, was far more powerful and dynamic. It marked a transition from pure consumption by users to active participation. A host of new features and services were flourishing at this time. These included a focus on user-orientated design, information sharing and collaboration. The Internet become a method of peer review and a new template for social media.
User-generated content became widespread during this time, with the average person finding it much easier to participate in what was becoming a true world wide web. Some hallmarks of Web 2.0 included the emergence of blogs, wikis, video sharing, hosted services, web applications and social networking. Indeed, the changes occurring at this time were setting the stage for what could be described as the first collective intelligence. Broadband was also becoming cheaper and more widely available during this time, surpassing the number of dialup connections in some countries.
Credit: Markus Angermeier/Luca Cremonini
Graphene is isolated
Graphene is one of the crystalline forms of carbon alongside diamond, graphite, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. In this material, the carbon atoms are arranged in a regular hexagonal pattern. Graphene can be described as a one-atom thick layer of the layered mineral graphite. High-quality graphene is extremely strong (up to 300 times stronger than steel), light, nearly transparent and conducts electricity better than copper. Its interaction with other materials, as well as photons, and its inherently two-dimensional nature, produce unique properties.
At the time of its isolation in 2004, researchers studying carbon nanotubes were already well familiar with the composition, structure and properties of graphene, which had been theorised decades earlier. A combination of familiarity, extraordinary properties and surprising ease of isolation enabled an explosion in graphene research. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, at the University of Manchester, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 "for ground-breaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene".
By 2013, over 7,000 patents had been issued for graphene worldwide. In this same year, the European Union announced a €1 billion euro ($1.37 billion) project involving researchers from 200 research institutes, intended to accelerate the knowledge of its properties and production techniques.*
Often described as the "wonder material of the 21st Century" – as plastics were to the 20th – a number of revolutionary applications would later emerge. The development of lightweight, ultra-thin, flexible and more durable display screens; the replacement of silicon allowing Moore's Law to continue; highly efficient solar cells; cheaper and faster methods of desalinating water; various new medical, chemical and industrial processes would all become possible in subsequent decades.
Graphene, discovered in 2004. Credit: AlexanderAlUS (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The first recorded hurricane in the South Atlantic
This hurricane, known as Cyclone Catarina, formed off the coast of Brazil in mid-March and began to move toward the coast. Despite being a relatively low-level category one hurricane, the people in this region had never experienced such a storm in all of recorded history.
Upon making landfall, Catarina damaged or destroyed over 40,000 homes and dealt huge damage to the rice and banana crops in the area. Three people were confirmed dead. The overall damage amounted to $350 million.
Scientists debated over the cause of such a rare formation, many attributing it to climate change. Although the hurricane was never officially declared a result of global warming, the consensus stated that it was the product of highly unusual warm currents in the South Atlantic – an ominous sign.
George W. Bush is re-elected
The US presidential election of 2004 was the United States' 55th quadrennial presidential election. It was held on Tuesday 2nd November 2004. Republican Party candidate and incumbent President George W. Bush defeated Democratic Party candidate John Kerry, the then-junior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Foreign policy was the dominant theme throughout the election campaign, particularly Bush's conduct of the War on Terrorism and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
As in the 2000 presidential election, voting controversies and concerns of irregularities emerged during and after the vote. The winner was not determined until the following day, when Kerry decided not to dispute Bush's win in the state of Ohio. The state held enough electoral votes to determine the winner of the presidency. Both Kerry and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean have stated their opinion that voting in Ohio did not proceed fairly and that, had it done so, the Democratic ticket might have won that state and therefore the election. However, there was far less controversy about this election than in 2000.
Only three states changed allegiance. New Mexico and Iowa voted Democratic in 2000, but voted Republican in 2004. New Hampshire voted Republican in 2000 but voted Democratic in 2004. In the Electoral College, Bush received 286 votes, and Kerry 251.
Athens hosts the Olympic Games
This was the first time since 1896 that the Olympics were held in Greece. The United States won the most medals with 101, while Greece came in 15th with a total of 16. Despite the success of the event, its high cost (€10 billion, or about $13.8 billion) contributed to the nation's economic crisis later in the decade.
Train bombings in Madrid kill nearly 200 people
The 2004 Madrid train bombings were a series of coordinated bombings against the Cercanías (commuter train) system of Madrid, on the morning of 11th March 2004 (three days before Spain's general elections), killing 191 and wounding over 1,800. The official investigation by the Spanish Judiciary determined that the attacks were directed by a Muslim al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell, though no direct al-Qaeda participation (only "inspiration") was established. Nationwide demonstrations and protests followed the attacks. Some analysts claimed that the Aznar administration lost the elections as a result of the handling and representation of the terrorist attacks, rather than the bombings per se.
Flowers and messages left at the site of the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Credit: Jordiferrer (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Hubble Ultra Deep Field
The Hubble Ultra Deep Field was an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, with an exposure time of a million seconds. It was the deepest image of the universe ever taken by humans, looking back 13 billion years to just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.
The HUDF image was taken in a section of sky with a low density of bright stars in the near-field, allowing much better viewing of dimmer, more distant objects. It revealed an estimated 10,000 galaxies. Located southwest of Orion in the southern hemisphere constellation Fornax, the image covers 11.0 square arcminutes. This is just one-tenth the diameter of the full moon as viewed from Earth, or smaller than a 1 mm by 1 mm square of paper held 1 metre away, and equal to roughly one 13-millionth the total area of the sky.
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Mars Exploration Rovers
The Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER) was a NASA mission involving two rovers – Spirit and Opportunity – exploring the surface of Mars. Their primary scientific objective was to search for and characterise a wide range of rocks and soils holding clues to past water activity. The mission was part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program which included three previous successful landers: two Viking landers in 1976 and Pathfinder in 1997. The total cost of building, launching, landing and operating the rovers for the initial 90-Martian-day primary mission was $820 million. However, the rovers continued to function substantially beyond their intended lifespan and remained operational into the following decade.
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The first privately-funded human spaceflight
Flight 15P of SpaceShipOne became the first privately-funded human spaceflight and took place in June 2004. This was the fourth powered test flight of the Tier One program, the previous three having reached much lower altitudes. The flight carried only its pilot, Mike Melvill, who thus became the first non-governmental astronaut.
Credit: Rokits XPrize gallery (CC BY-SA 1.0)
Facebook is launched
Launched in 2004, Facebook later became the most popular social networking site on the web – overtaking its main competitor, MySpace, in April 2008. It also became the most popular site for sharing photos, with 14 million uploaded daily. By 2010, it had over 350 million members – or about one-fifth of all users on the Internet.
Facebook met with some controversy. It was blocked intermittently in several countries including Syria, China, Vietnam and Iran. It was also banned at many places of work to discourage employees from wasting time using the service. Privacy also became an issue and was compromised on many occasions.
The world's first 1 gigabyte SD card
In 2004, SanDisk released the first SD (Secure Digital) card with a capacity of 1 gigabyte.* Costing about $500, this was enough to store 300 MP3 music files, or 2,000 images taken at 1,600 x 1,200-pixel resolution, or around nine hours of MPEG4 video. SD card capacities grew exponentially this decade – doubling each year whilst declining rapidly in cost. By 2011, they were available at 128GB.
London's skyline gets a new landmark
30 St Mary Axe – known as the "Gherkin" and the Swiss Re Building – was constructed between 2001 and 2003, officially opening in April 2004. At 180m (590 ft) tall, it became the second tallest tower in the City of London. Designed by architects Norman Foster and Ken Shuttleworth, it radically altered the skyline of London and symbolised the start of a high-rise construction boom in the city.
The tower was praised for its strong environmental credentials. Natural light was able to reach the very core of the building – thanks to cutaway "lightwells" behind the façade, angled progressively on each floor. Occupants were given 360º views of the outside world, preventing "sick building syndrome", which can be a major cause of discomfort to office workers. Light and movement sensors could control artificial lighting when needed.
Meanwhile, the building’s aerodynamic form encouraged wind to flow around its face, minimising wind loads on the structure and cladding, enabling the use of a more efficient structure. Wind was not deflected to ground level – as with rectilinear buildings – helping to maintain pedestrian comfort and safety at the base of the building.
Natural air movement around the building, generating substantial pressure differences across its face, could be used to facilitate natural ventilation within the building. In other words, the building could actually "breathe" by drawing in fresh air from outside, through the space formed between its double-skin glass cladding and circulating throughout its 40 storeys, once again saving huge amounts of energy consumption.
As a final touch, the building lacked parking spaces, except for disabled access. This was to encourage the use of public transport and bicycles, rather than cars.
Asia gets a new tallest building
Measuring 509m (1,671 ft) to the tip of its spire, Taipei 101 overtook the Petronas Towers to become the tallest building in the world. It was the first skyscraper to break the half-kilometre mark.
Indian Ocean earthquake leaves 230,000 dead
The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake was an undersea megathrust earthquake occurring on 26th December 2004, with an epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.
Caused by subduction, it triggered a series of devastating tsunamis along coasts bordering the Indian Ocean, inundating towns and cities with waves up to 30 metre (100 feet) high. Nearly 230,000 people in 14 countries were killed and over 1.7 million displaced. It was among the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand were the hardest hit.
With a magnitude of 9.3, it was the second largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph. The earthquake had the longest duration of faulting ever observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes. It caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 cm (0.4 inches) and triggered other earthquakes as far away as Alaska.
The plight of the many affected people and countries prompted a widespread humanitarian response. In all, the worldwide community donated more than $7 billion (2004 U.S. dollars) in aid.
Credit: Cantus (CC BY-SA 3.0)
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1 Graphene and Human Brain Project win largest research award in history, Future Timeline Blog:
Accessed 3rd November 2013.
2 SanDisk 1GB SD Card Ships, DP Review:
Accessed 3rd November 2013.