‘Impossible’ Particle Adds a Piece to the Strong Force Puzzle

This spring, at a meeting of Syracuse University’s quark physics group, Ivan Polyakov announced that he had uncovered the fingerprints of a semi-mythical particle. “We said, ‘This is impossible. What mistake are you making?’” recalled Sheldon Stone, the group’s leader. Polyakov went away and double-checked his analysis of data from the Large Hadron Collider beauty […]

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You Can Measure This Fundamental Quantum Constant Using LEDs

(Often, physicists like to be cool. Most of the time, we use the Greek letter ν (it’s not v) for the frequency. It just looks more sophisticated to write it that way.) With this connection between wavelength and frequency, we get this modified energy equation: Illustration: Rhett Allain It turns out that it’s simpler to […]

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West Point Chemists Re-Create Medieval Gunpowder Recipes

Making gunpowder is a bit like cooking, except more explosive. Gunpowder makers in the 14th and 15th centuries used black powder brought to Europe from China, then mixed its three ingredients together one by one: saltpeter (also known as potassium nitrate), charcoal, and sulfur. But they also made some chef-like improvisations, including a splash of […]

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A Mathematician’s Guided Tour Through Higher Dimensions

Alternatively, just as we can unfold the faces of a cube into six squares, we can unfold the three-dimensional boundary of a tesseract to obtain eight cubes, as Salvador Dalí showcased in his 1954 painting Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus). We can envision a cube by unfolding its faces. Likewise, we can start to envision a tesseract […]

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Pigeons, Curves, and the Traveling Salesperson Problem

In Mo Willems’ children’s book Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, the main character—a pigeon, obvs—uses every trick in the book (literally) to convince the reader that it should be allowed to drive a bus when the regular human driver suddenly has to leave. Willems’s book had an unintended scientific consequence in 2012, when […]

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Computer Scientists Find a Key Research Algorithm’s Limits

Many aspects of modern applied research rely on a crucial algorithm called gradient descent. This is a procedure generally used for finding the largest or smallest values of a particular mathematical function—a process known as optimizing the function. It can be used to calculate anything from the most profitable way to manufacture a product to […]

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Would the Free Guy Inflatable Bubble Protect a Real Person?

But it’s difficult to say for sure, since the NASA data is based on experimental evidence. And on top of that, every human is different, with different tolerances. The orientation of the body during the acceleration also matters. Humans are most tolerant to an acceleration in an orientation called “eyeballs in.” This would be the […]

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How Big Data Carried Graph Theory Into New Dimensions

Graph theory isn’t enough. The mathematical language for talking about connections, which usually depends on networks—vertices (dots) and edges (lines connecting them)—has been an invaluable way to model real-world phenomena since at least the 18th century. But a few decades ago, the emergence of giant data sets forced researchers to expand their toolboxes and, at […]

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Animals Can Count. How Far Does Their Number Sense Go?

One explanation for the same neural framework evolving in such different brains is simply that it’s an efficient solution to a common computational problem. “It’s actually exciting, because it suggests that it’s just the best way,” Avarguès-Weber said. Maybe there are physical or other internal constraints on how the brain can process zero and other […]

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How Did People Find the Fundamental Charge With Drops of Oil?

Right now, you can probably just ask your smartphone to tell you the charge of a single electron—the fundamental unit of charge. (It has a magnitude of 1.6 x 10–19 coulombs, the common unit for electric charge.) But in 1909, things weren’t so simple. Back then, physicists Robert Millikan and Harvey Fletcher figured it out […]

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