Is This New 50-Year Battery for Real?

Wouldn’t it be cool if you never had to charge your cell phone? I’m sure that’s what a lot of people were thinking recently, when a company called BetaVolt said it had developed a coin-sized “nuclear battery” that would last for 50 years. Is it for real? Yes it is. Will you be able to […]

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Google’s Chess Experiments Reveal How to Boost the Power of AI

His group decided to find out. They built the new, diversified version of AlphaZero, which includes multiple AI systems that trained independently and on a variety of situations. The algorithm that governs the overall system acts as a kind of virtual matchmaker, Zahavy said: one designed to identify which agent has the best chance of […]

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A Celebrated Cryptography-Breaking Algorithm Just Got an Upgrade

This is a job for LLL: Give it (or its brethren) a basis of a multidimensional lattice, and it’ll spit out a better one. This process is known as lattice basis reduction. What does this all have to do with cryptography? It turns out that the task of breaking a cryptographic system can, in some […]

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How to Guarantee the Safety of Autonomous Vehicles

The original version of this story appeared in Quanta Magazine. Driverless cars and planes are no longer the stuff of the future. In the city of San Francisco alone, two taxi companies have collectively logged 8 million miles of autonomous driving through August 2023. And more than 850,000 autonomous aerial vehicles, or drones, are registered […]

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Why Is Our Solar System Flat?

But the solar system contains more than two masses. In fact, it started as a big cloud of dust without any planets and without the sun, and every speck of dust had an attractive interaction with every other speck. That’s a lot of complicated stuff going on, but there’s a trick we can use to […]

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Fiber Optics Bring You Internet. Now They’re Also Listening to Trains

Stretching thousands upon thousands of miles under your feet, a web of fibrous ears is listening. Whether you walk over buried fiber optics or drive a car across them, above-ground activity creates a characteristic vibration that ever-so-slightly disturbs the way light travels through the cables. With the right equipment, scientists can parse that disturbance to […]

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Scientists Just Discovered a New Type of Magnetism

“The very reason that we have magnetism in our everyday lives is because of the strength of electron exchange interactions,” said study coauthor Ataç İmamoğlu, a physicist also at the Institute for Quantum Electronics. However, as Nagaoka theorized in the 1960s, exchange interactions may not be the only way to make a material magnetic. Nagaoka […]

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How to Convince Your Flat-Earth Friends the Earth Is Round

Illustration: Rhett Allain You can see that we have a right triangle with the hypotenuse equal to the distance from the observer’s eyes to the center of the Earth (R + h), with the other two sides being just R and the distance to the horizon (s). Using the Pythagorean theorem, we can solve for […]

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How to Convince Your Flat-Earth Friends the World Is Round

Illustration: Rhett Allain You can see that we have a right triangle with the hypotenuse equal to the distance from the observer’s eyes to the center of the Earth (R + h), with the other two sides being just R and the distance to the horizon (s). Using the Pythagorean theorem, we can solve for […]

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Why the Polar Vortex Is Bad for Balloon Artists

It’s been crazy cold this week, even down where I live in Louisiana, thanks to an outbreak of a polar vortex. This frigid air is bad for all kinds of things, including football helmets, apparently. But it’s actually a great time to demonstrate one of the basic ideas in science: the ideal gas law. You […]

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These Rogue Worlds Upend the Theory of How Planets Form

“We know from direct imaging searches of young stars that very few stars have giant planets in [wide] orbits,” Bate said. “It is difficult to accept that there were many large planetary systems in Orion to disrupt.” Rogue Objects Abound At this point, many researchers suspect there’s more than one way to make these strange in-between […]

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The Tantalizing Mystery of the Solar System’s Hidden Oceans

And yet, defiantly, these alien seas remain liquid. A Mirror-Wrapped Ocean Scientists suspect that a handful of moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn—and maybe even some spinning around Uranus and Neptune—harbor oceans. Hefty Ganymede and crater-scarred Callisto produce weak, Europa-like magnetic signals. Saturn’s haze-covered Titan, too, very probably has a liquid-water subsurface ocean. These “are the […]

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School of Rock: The Physics of Waves on Guitar Strings

The rubber band example does indeed have two nodes—they are at the ends of the rubber band where your fingers hold it. We only have half a wavelength in the standing wave, but there is indeed a relationship between the length of the rubber band and the size of the wavelength. Guitar Strings It’s time […]

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An Invisible ‘Demon’ Lurks in an Odd Superconductor

A few years ago, the researchers decided to put a superconducting metal called strontium ruthenate in their crosshairs. Its structure is similar to that of a mysterious class of copper-based “cuprate” superconductors, but it can be manufactured in a more pristine way. While the team didn’t learn the secrets of the cuprates, the material responded […]

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Dr. Nergis Mavalvala Detected the First Gravitational Wave. Her Work Doesn’t Stop There

“Where did all this come from? How did it all get started?” These are the questions that Dr. Nergis Mavalvala asks about the universe. It’s not the meaning-of-life stuff in the traditional sense, but more of how everything around us came to be. These are the questions we all have, but for Dr. Mavalvala, finding […]

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How Dr. Clara Nellist Collides Art and Science

But the detector is more complicated than you might think. “The detector is made up of many different layers,” she explains. “We often describe it as an onion.” At the center, there’s a tracker that tracks the particles passing through it. Then the calorimeter measures the energy that the particle loses as it travels, often […]

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Dr. Dara Norman Wants to Bring More People Into Science

When Dr. Norman was taking a sabbatical at Howard University in 2015, she got a crash course in just how different access can be at a smaller institution, versus the national observatories she was used to. “I was going to look at these images that a collaboration of mine had recently gotten. These images are […]

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Dr. Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski Will Change How You Think About Space

She was also worried about the strong personalities she’d have to deal with in aerospace. “I was always scared something bad would happen and these private equity guys would just kill the industry,” she says. “You really have to want to deal with that type of clientele,” she says—referring to the billionaires who currently dominate […]

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How to Measure the Impact From a Collision

Not only do I get the “shape” of the acceleration curve for the colliding cart, but I also get a maximum acceleration of –6.67 meters per second squared. With that acceleration and the mass of the cart (0.566 kilogram), we get a maximum impact force of 3.73 newtons. This isn’t quite the same value I […]

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Dr. Jessie Christiansen Wants to Help You Discover the Next Exoplanet

It’s hard to believe that just four decades ago, we had no idea whether planets existed outside our solar system. Scientists discovered the first exoplanet in 1992, and since then our understanding of the universe has changed irrevocably. Now, scientists estimate that there are as many planets around us as there are stars. The cosmos […]

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