Quanta Magazine

2019 Dec 5 - 11:49pm
Ever since I was very young, I have been enamored of elegant mathematics. Like many people of a similar bent, I agreed completely with Eugene Wigner’s famous article “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” in which the Nobel Prize-winning physicist discusses how elegant mathematics has been “unreasonably” successful in explaining physical law. Wigner further states: “The miracle of the appropriateness of the...
Tags: Mathematics, Puzzles
2019 Dec 5 - 12:20am
Our brains may seem physically far removed from our guts, but in recent years, research has strongly suggested that the vast communities of microbes concentrated in our digestive tract open lines of communication between the two. The intestinal microbiome has been shown to influence cognition and emotion, affecting moods and the state of psychiatric disorders, and even information processing. But how it could do so has been elusive. Until...
Tags: Biology
2019 Dec 4 (All day)
The world officially became a slightly safer place in October, when the World Health Organization declared that polio’s type 3 strain had been eradicated. This strain — joining type 2, which was eradicated in 2015 — no longer exists anywhere in the world, outside of highly secure laboratories. (Type 1 is the only strain still at large.) Thanks to the hard work of thousands of dedicated individuals, these two strains will no longer cause...
Tags: Biology
2019 Dec 2 - 10:43pm
In January 1916, Karl Schwarzschild, a German physicist who was stationed as a soldier on the eastern front, produced the first exact solution to the equations of general relativity, Albert Einstein’s radical, two-month-old theory of gravity. General relativity portrayed gravity not as an attractive force, as it had long been understood, but rather as the effect of curved space and time. Schwarzschild’s solution revealed the curvature of space-...
Tags: Abstractions blog, Physics
2019 Nov 27 - 9:00pm
Most of the universe’s heft, oddly enough, could come in the form of particles billions of times lighter than the electron — a featherweight itself, as particles go. Streaming through the cosmos in thick hordes, these wispy “axion” particles could deliver a collective wallop as the missing dark matter that appears to outweigh all visible matter 6-to-1. For decades, physicists have searched for the axion’s chief rival: a sluggish and far heavier...
Tags: Abstractions blog, Physics
2019 Nov 27 (All day)
A thousand seemingly insignificant things change as an organism ages. Beyond the obvious signs like graying hair and memory problems are myriad shifts both subtler and more consequential: Metabolic processes run less smoothly; neurons respond less swiftly; the replication of DNA grows faultier. But while bodies may seem to just gradually wear out, many researchers believe instead that aging is controlled at the cellular and biochemical level....
Tags: Biology
2019 Nov 25 - 10:30pm
Some mathematical patterns are so subtle you could search for a lifetime and never find them. Others are so common that they seem impossible to avoid. A new proof by Sarah Peluse of the University of Oxford establishes that one particularly important type of numerical sequence is, ultimately, unavoidable: It’s guaranteed to show up in every single sufficiently large collection of numbers, regardless of how the numbers are chosen. “There’s a sort...
Tags: Mathematics
2019 Nov 22 - 11:30pm
Our last Insights puzzle explored how a smooth, random distribution of objects arises in a classic, deterministic machine called a Galton board or bean machine. We examined the inner workings of this by playing with some puzzles. I also used the Galton board’s probabilistic result to suggest that perhaps the probabilistic equations of quantum mechanics spring from underlying deterministic laws that we may not be privy to. Readers responded...
Tags: Physics, Puzzles
2019 Nov 21 - 11:00pm
The Cassini spacecraft perished in a literal blaze of glory on September 15, 2017, when it ended its 13-year study of Saturn by intentionally plunging into the gas giant’s swirling atmosphere. The crash came after a last few months of furious study, during which Cassini performed the Grand Finale — a sensational, death-defying dance that saw the spacecraft dive between the planet and its rings 22 times. As new perspectives often do, this one...
Tags: Physics
2019 Nov 20 - 11:30pm
Good code has both substance and style. It provides all necessary information, without extraneous details. It bypasses inefficiencies and bugs. It is accurate, succinct and eloquent enough to be read and understood by humans. But by the late 1960s, advances in computing power had outpaced the abilities of programmers. Many computer scientists created programs without thought for design. They wrote long, incoherent algorithms riddled with “goto”...
Tags: Computer Science, Q&A