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Where Did Plants Come From? This Ancient Algae Offers Clues

Andrew Knoll, a professor of natural history at Harvard University, expressed similar reservations. “It is quite possible that the fossils reflect an extinct, early branching group,” he said in an email. “Various forms of multicellularity have evolved repeatedly within the greens, so such an interpretation isn’t a stretch.” The evolutionary innovations seen in Tang’s fossil […]

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How to See the World’s Reflection From a Bag of Chips

However, some experts caution that future versions of the technology are ripe for abuse. For example, it could enable stalkers or child abusers, says ethicist Jacob Metcalf of Data & Society, a nonprofit research center that focuses on the social implications of emerging technologies. A stalker could download images off of Instagram without the creators’ […]

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Physicists Chip Away at a Mystery: Why Does Glass Exist?

If ultra-stable glass’s exceptionally low heat capacity really does come from having fewer two-level systems, then ideal glass naturally corresponds to the state with no two-level systems at all. “It’s just perfectly, somehow, positioned where all the atoms are disordered—it doesn’t have a crystal structure—but there’s nothing moving at all,” said David Reichman, a theorist […]

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Two Physicists Bet Over a Quantum Computing Moon Shot

In February, two physicists made a bet on Twitter. Jonathan Dowling, a professor at Louisiana State University, and John Preskill of Caltech wagered a pizza and a beer over whether 10 years from now, someone will have finally invented a machine of longtime physics fantasy: the so-called topological quantum computer. Preskill bet yes; Dowling bet […]

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A Computer Science Proof Holds Answers for Math and Physics

After Turing, computer scientists began to classify other problems by their difficulty. Harder problems require more computational resources to solve — more running time, more memory. This is the study of computational complexity. Ultimately, every problem presents two big questions: “How hard is it to solve?” and “How hard is it to verify that an […]

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Science Has a New Way to Gauge the Universe’s Expansion Rate

The catch is that directly measuring the Hubble constant is very tricky. To do so, astronomers like Riess and Freedman must first find and calibrate “standard candles”: astronomical objects that have a well-known distance and intrinsic brightness. With these values in hand, they can infer the distances to standard candles that are fainter and farther […]

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Katherine Johnson’s Math Will Steer NASA Back to the Moon

Katherine Johnson blazed trails, not just as a black female mathematician during the Cold War, but by mapping literal paths through outer space. Her math continues to carve out new paths for spacecraft navigating our solar system, as NASA engineers use evolved versions of her equations that will execute missions to the moon and beyond. […]

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Physicists Take Their Closest Look Yet at an Antimatter Atom

The laws of physics, as experts currently understand them, dictate the following: Every fundamental particle has an antimatter twin. The electron, quark, and muon, for example, are paired with the positron, antiquark, and antimuon, respectively. Each antiparticle weighs exactly the same as its twin, but exhibits precisely the opposite electric charge. If the twins meet […]

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What If ‘Planetary Alignment’ Really Could Make Brooms Balance?

The broom challenge is back! This fun little trick returns every few years on social media. It’s supposed to show a gravitational alignment (whatever that is) among the planets that allows a broom to stand up by itself. It’s super special and rare. At least that’s what I hear from Cal Tech high-energy physicists and […]

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Psychedelic Fiber Offers a New Twist on the Science of Knots 

One sunny day last summer, Mathias Kolle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, took a couple of eminent colleagues out sailing. They talked about their research. They had some drinks. Then Kolle noticed something was off: A rowboat tied to his boat had come loose and was drifting toward the horizon. As he […]

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