Science

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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“Nadie te quita lo bailado.” (No one can take from you what you’ve danced.) For Federico Ardila, this Latin American expression epitomizes his approach to life and mathematics. It’s the driving force behind the parties he DJs in venues across the San Francisco Bay Area, where people dance till morning…

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Intelligence is not a quality to attribute lightly to microbes. There is no reason to think that bacteria, slime molds and similar single-cell forms of life have awareness, understanding or other capacities implicit in real intellect. But particularly when these cells commune in great numbers, their startling collective talents for…

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