14 Important Columbia Research Findings So Far This Year

Columbia has had breakthroughs in medicine, neuroscience, AI, and other fields in 2024.

June 07, 2024

Students have mostly gone home for the summer, but research at Columbia takes place all year-round. As the summer gets in full swing, Columbia News rounded up a list of some of the biggest research stories of 2024 so far, highlighting work that’s confronting major societal challenges in health and climate, and charting new frontiers in technology. Dive in to find out what’s been underway!

Columbia Chemists Create the First 2D Heavy Fermion

Researchers at Columbia University have successfully synthesized the first two-dimensional heavy fermion material. Heavy fermion compounds are a class of materials with electrons that are up to 1,000 times heavier than usual. In these materials, electrons get tangled up with magnetic spins that slow them down and increase their effective mass. Such interactions are thought to play important roles in a number of enigmatic quantum phenomena, including superconductivity. (Check out our profile of lead researcher Xavier Roy).

Bottled Water Can Contain Hundreds of Thousands of Previously Uncounted Tiny Plastic Bits, Study Finds

Using newly refined technology, researchers have entered a whole new plastic world: the poorly known realm of nanoplastics, the spawn of microplastics that have broken down even further. For the first time, they counted and identified these minute particles in bottled water. They found that on average, a liter contained some 240,000 detectable plastic fragments—10- to 100-times greater than previous estimates.

Heading Off Financial Harms in Cancer Patients

A screening tool can quickly identify cancer patients at risk of financial toxicity, new findings from Columbia Nursing researchers show. “Awareness of financial toxicity, its prevalence and implications, and potential strategies to mitigate this problem are important to providing high-quality cancer care,” Assistant Professor Melissa Beauchemin and her colleagues explained in a report in the January issue of Oncology Nursing Forum.

A doctor points at images of patient brain scans.

Illuminating the Neural Basis of Anorexia

Researchers at the Eating Disorders Research Clinic at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/New York State Psychiatric Institute have found that individuals with anorexia nervosa use different brain systems when deciding what to eat. Where people without an eating disorder use mostly reward systems when making food decisions, for individuals with anorexia nervosa, choice is guided by a deeper brain system—the dorsal striatum.

Who Wrote This? Columbia Engineers Discover Novel Method to Identify AI-generated Text

Columbia Engineering researchers have developed a novel approach that can detect AI-generated content without needing access to the AI's architecture, algorithms, or training data. It’s a first in the field.

Scientists extracted a 5.3 million-year record of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current by drilling sediment cores in the Earth’s most remote waters. Here, the drill ship JOIDES Resolution makes its way through the far southeast Pacific. (Gisela Winckler)

Key Ocean Current Contains a Warning on Climate

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is by far the world’s most powerful and consequential mover of water. In a new study, an international research team used sediment cores from the planet’s roughest and most remote waters to chart the current’s relationship to climate over the last 5.3 million years. Their key discovery: During past natural climate swings, the current has moved in tandem with Earth’s temperature, slowing down during cold times and gaining speed in warm ones―speedups that abetted major losses of Antarctica’s ice. This suggests that today’s speedup will continue as human-induced warming proceeds.

Researchers Find First Experimental Evidence for a Graviton-like Particle in a Quantum Material

A team of scientists from Columbia and other institutions presented the first experimental evidence of collective excitations with spin called chiral graviton modes (CGMs) in a semiconducting material. A CGM appears to be similar to a graviton, a yet-to-be-discovered elementary particle better known in high-energy quantum physics for hypothetically giving rise to gravity, one of the fundamental forces in the universe, whose ultimate cause remains mysterious.

Illustration of chickadee caching a seed overlaid with a neural ‘barcode’ activity.

Chickadees Are Memory Geniuses

Black-capped chickadees have extraordinary memories that can recall the locations of thousands of morsels of food to help them survive the winter. Now scientists at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute have discovered how the chickadees can remember so many details: they memorize each food location using brain cell activity akin to a barcode. These new findings may shed light on how the brain creates memories for the events that make up our lives.

Mistreatment in Childbirth is Common Especially Among the Disadvantaged

Lack of respectful maternity care culminating in mistreatment in childbirth is a regular occurrence in the U.S., according to a study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Until now, experiences of this mistreatment have not been well documented.

Opening a New Front Against Pancreatic Cancer

A new type of investigational therapeutic in development for pancreatic cancer has shown unprecedented tumor-fighting abilities in preclinical models of the disease, suggesting it has the potential to offer novel treatment options for nearly all pancreatic tumors, a comprehensive study has found.

Neurons from a mouse-rat hybrid brain.

With Hybrid Brains, These Mice Smell Like a Rat

If mice ever wonder what it’s like to experience the world as a rat, some are now able to live that dream, at least when it comes to the sense of smell. Researchers led by Columbia’s Kristin Baldwin have created mice with hybrid brains—part mouse, part rat—that sense the odors of the world with their rat neurons. It is the first time that an animal has been able to use the sensory apparatus of another to sense and respond accurately to the world.

Why Anger Is Bad for Your Heart

Anger is known to increase the risk of having a heart attack and stroke, but how anger raises the risk is not well understood. A new study led by a Columbia investigator suggests the connection may lie in the body’s blood vessels and arteries. The study found that a brief eight-minute bout of anger impairs the ability of blood vessels to dilate, raising the possibility that over time anger causes long-term vascular damage.

Illustration of a fruit fly seeing colorful flowers.

How Does the Brain Turn Waves of Light Into Experiences of Color?

Perceiving something—anything—in your surroundings is to become aware of what your senses are detecting. This spring, Columbia University Zuckerman Institute neuroscientists identified, for the first time, brain-cell circuitry in fruit flies that converts raw sensory signals into color perceptions that can guide behavior. 

Designing Safer, Higher-Performance Lithium Batteries

A Columbia Engineering team presented new data on the design of lithium metal batteries, which could enable more affordable and versatile electrified modes of transportation.