Quanta Magazine

2020 Nov 17 - 10:30pm
Bryna Kra searches for structures. “ finding order where you didn’t know it existed,” she said. But though her dad was a mathematician, at Stony Brook University in New York, Kra said it took her time to realize she wanted math to be her profession, too. “Even all through grad school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” she said. “I was never convinced until, basically, there I was.” Now Kra is a professor at Northwestern University and is known...
Tags: Mathematics, Q&A
2020 Nov 16 - 9:00pm
Essential genes are often thought to be frozen in evolutionary time — evolving only very slowly if at all, because changing or dying would lead to the death of the organism. Hundreds of millions of years of evolution separate insects and mammals, but experiments show that the Hox genes guiding the development of the body plans in Drosophila fruit flies and mice can be swapped without a hitch because they are so similar. This remarkable...
Tags: Abstractions blog, Biology
2020 Nov 12 - 11:13pm
Given that everything in the universe reduces to particles, a question presents itself: What are particles? The easy answer quickly shows itself to be unsatisfying. Namely, electrons, photons, quarks and other “fundamental” particles supposedly lack substructure or physical extent. “We basically think of a particle as a pointlike object,” said Mary Gaillard, a particle theorist at the University of California, Berkeley who predicted the masses...
Tags: Physics
2020 Nov 11 - 11:00pm
In a secluded laboratory buried under a mountain in Italy, physicists have re-created a nuclear reaction that happened between two and three minutes after the Big Bang. Their measurement of the reaction rate, published today in Nature, nails down the most uncertain factor in a sequence of steps known as Big Bang nucleosynthesis that forged the universe’s first atomic nuclei. Researchers are “over the moon” about the result, according to Ryan...
Tags: Abstractions blog, Physics
2020 Nov 10 - 10:00pm
In 2018, Aayush Jain, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, traveled to Japan to give a talk about a powerful cryptographic tool he and his colleagues were developing. As he detailed the team’s approach to indistinguishability obfuscation (iO for short), one audience member raised his hand in bewilderment. “But I thought iO doesn’t exist?” he said. At the time, such skepticism was widespread. Indistinguishability...
Tags: Computer Science
2020 Nov 5 - 10:20pm
The universe we can see is only a fraction of the great cosmic beyond. Galaxies, stars, planets, humans, trees — all of it comprises just 5% of the energy and matter in the universe. Among tangible matter, as opposed to the mysterious cosmic rending force called dark energy, only about 15% is the stuff we can detect. As for the rest, it comes in the unknown form known as dark matter. This substance cannot be seen or held, yet cosmologists are...
Tags: Physics, Q&A
2020 Nov 5 - 1:40am
After more than 70 years of intransigence, one of the most stubborn numbers in math has finally budged. In a four-page proof posted in late September, David Conlon and Asaf Ferber provided the most precise estimate yet for “multicolor Ramsey numbers,” which measure how large graphs can become before they inevitably exhibit certain kinds of patterns. “There is no absolute randomness in this universe,” said Maria Axenovich of the Karlsruhe...
Tags: Mathematics
2020 Nov 3 - 9:00pm
Until recently, black holes — those celestial spheres so dense that not even light can escape their gravitational pull — only seemed to come in size small or XXL. Astrophysicists inferred the presence of small “stellar” black holes weighing up to about 50 times the mass of the sun, as well as gargantuan black holes millions or billions of times heavier that sit in the centers of galaxies. “It’s like seeing infants and then seeing adults, but you...
Tags: Abstractions blog, Physics
2020 Nov 2 - 10:30pm
More than a century ago, the zoologist Richard Semon coined the term “engram” to designate the physical trace a memory must leave in the brain, like a footprint. Since then, neuroscientists have made progress in their hunt for exactly how our brains form memories. They have learned that specific brain cells activate as we form a memory and reactivate as we remember it, strengthening the connections among the neurons involved. That change...
Tags: Abstractions blog, Biology
2020 Oct 30 (All day)
In a series of breakthrough papers, theoretical physicists have come tantalizingly close to resolving the black hole information paradox that has entranced and bedeviled them for nearly 50 years. Information, they now say with confidence, does escape a black hole. If you jump into one, you will not be gone for good. Particle by particle, the information needed to reconstitute your body will reemerge. Most physicists have long assumed it would;...
Tags: Physics
2020 Oct 22 - 10:33pm
All of nature springs from a handful of components — the fundamental particles — that interact with one another in only a few different ways. In the 1970s, physicists developed a set of equations describing these particles and interactions. Together, the equations formed a succinct theory now known as the Standard Model of particle physics. The Standard Model is missing a few puzzle pieces (conspicuously absent are the putative particles that...
Tags: Multimedia, Physics
2020 Oct 22 - 10:30pm
Around 400 BCE, Democritus declared that the cosmos is “in reality only atoms and the void,” a prophetic statement if ever there was one. It would take over 2,000 years for scientists to conclusively demonstrate that the hidden structure underlying all the things we see — steel and stars, frogs and fire — could be described in terms of fundamental, indistinguishable building blocks. Then we looked closer. Atoms themselves have a hidden structure...
Tags: Physics

Pages