Science

Twenty-five particles and four forces. That description—the Standard Model of particle physics—constitutes physicists’ best current explanation for everything. It’s neat and it’s simple, but no one is entirely happy with it. What irritates physicists most is that one of the forces—gravity—sticks out like a sore thumb on a four-fingered hand….

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On Christmas Eve 2016, Andrew Seymour, an astronomer at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, kissed his 4-year-old daughter, Cora Lee, goodnight, telling her he was off to track Santa. He walked to the well-worn telescope, occasionally passing revelers riding horses through the empty streets—a common sight in Arecibo during…

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The Navier-Stokes equations capture in a few succinct terms one of the most ubiquitous features of the physical world: the flow of fluids. The equations, which date to the 1820s, are today used to model everything from ocean currents to turbulence in the wake of an airplane to the flow…

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You could forgive mathematicians for being drawn to the monster group, an algebraic object so enormous and mysterious that it took them nearly a decade to prove it exists. Now, 30 years later, string theorists—physicists studying how all fundamental forces and particles might be explained by tiny strings vibrating in…

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Imagine fighting a war on 10 battlefields. You and your opponent each have 200 soldiers, and your aim is to win as many battles as possible. How would you deploy your troops? If you spread them out evenly, sending 20 to each battlefield, your opponent could concentrate their own troops…

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Children’s blocks lie scattered on the floor. You start playing with them—squares, rectangles, triangles and hexagons—moving them around, flipping them over, seeing how they fit together. You feel a primal satisfaction from arranging these shapes into a perfect pattern, an experience you’ve probably enjoyed many times. But of all the…

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Susumu Tonegawa’s presence announces itself as soon as you walk through the door of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. A three-foot-high framed photograph of Tonegawa stands front and center in the high-ceilinged lobby, flanked by a screen playing a looping rainbow-hued clip of recent…

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Mathematics is full of weird number systems that most people have never heard of and would have trouble even conceptualizing. But rational numbers are familiar. They’re the counting numbers and the fractions—all the numbers you’ve known since elementary school. But in mathematics, the simplest things are often the hardest to…

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Astronomers have at least two gnawing questions about the first billion years of the universe, an era steeped in literal fog and figurative mystery. They want to know what burned the fog away: stars, supermassive black holes, or both in tandem? And how did those behemoth black holes grow so…

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