Science

A human cell carries in its nucleus two meters of spiraling DNA, split up among the 46 slender, double-helical molecules that are its chromosomes. Most of the time, that DNA looks like a tangled ball of yarn—diffuse, disordered, chaotic. But that messiness poses a problem during mitosis, when the cell…

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A popular misconception is that the potential—and the limits—of quantum computing must come from hardware. In the digital age, we’ve gotten used to marking advances in clock speed and memory. Likewise, the 50-qubit quantum machines now coming online from the likes of Intel and IBM have inspired predictions that we…

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When physicists strip neutrons from atomic nuclei, put them in a bottle, then count how many remain there after some time, they infer that neutrons radioactively decay in 14 minutes and 39 seconds, on average. But when other physicists generate beams of neutrons and tally the emerging protons—the particles that…

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In the early ’90s, Elizabeth Behrman, a physics professor at Wichita State University, began working to combine quantum physics with artificial intelligence—in particular, the then-maverick technology of neural networks. Most people thought she was mixing oil and water. “I had a heck of a time getting published,” she recalled. “The…

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After decades of heavy slog with no promise of success, quantum computing is suddenly buzzing with almost feverish excitement and activity. Nearly two years ago, IBM made a quantum computer available to the world: the 5-quantum-bit (qubit) resource they now call (a little awkwardly) the IBM Q experience. That seemed…

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Over the past century, scientists have become adept at plotting the ecological interactions of the diverse organisms that populate the planet’s forests, plains and seas. They have established powerful mathematical techniques to describe systems ranging from the carbon cycles driven by plants to the predator-prey dynamics that dictate the behavior…

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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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