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insights puzzle

Why Our Perpetual Energy Puzzle Fails

May 22, 2020

Readers poked holes in our paradoxical April Fools’ Day claims about perpetual energy and whether this puzzle solution would ever be published.

Stalks and spore bodies of a slime mold rise above a smooth surface.
Abstractions blog

Out-of-Sync ‘Loners’ May Secretly Protect Orderly Swarms

May 21, 2020

Studies of collective behavior usually focus on how crowds of organisms coordinate their actions. But what if the individuals that don’t participate have just as much to tell us?

Illustration of a robot translating calculus into branching, tree-like structures
artificial intelligence

Symbolic Mathematics Finally Yields to Neural Networks

May 20, 2020

After translating some of math’s complicated equations, researchers have created an AI system that they hope will answer even bigger questions.

knot theory

Graduate Student Solves Decades-Old Conway Knot Problem

May 19, 2020

It took Lisa Piccirillo less than a week to answer a long-standing question about a strange knot discovered over half a century ago by the legendary John Conway.

Abstractions blog

Egg Laying or Live Birth: How Evolution Chooses

A lizard that both lays eggs and gives birth to live young is helping scientists understand how and why these forms of reproduction evolved.

Photo of iron filings spread along magnetic field lines on a green and yellow background
number theory

Mathematician Measures the Repulsive Force Within Polynomials

May 14, 2020

Vesselin Dimitrov’s proof of the Schinzel-Zassenhaus conjecture quantifies the way special values of polynomials push each other apart.

Close-up of water swirling among rocks at the sea’s edge.

Inside Deep Undersea Rocks, Life Thrives Without the Sun

May 13, 2020

Newly discovered worlds of microbes far beneath the ocean floor, inside old basaltic rocks, could point to a greater likelihood of life elsewhere in the universe.

A quantum knot.
Abstractions blog

‘Milestone’ Evidence for Anyons, a Third Kingdom of Particles

May 12, 2020

Anyons don’t fit into either of the two known particle kingdoms. To find them, physicists had to erase the third dimension.

Animation of black hole formation.
mathematical physics

New Math Proves That a Special Kind of Space-Time Is Unstable

May 11, 2020

Einstein’s equations describe three canonical configurations of space-time. Now one of these three — important in the study of quantum gravity — has been shown to be inherently unstable.