All Articles

Abstractions blog

Mathematicians Calculate How Randomness Creeps In

November 12, 2019

Mathematicians have figured out exactly how many moves it takes to randomize a 15 puzzle.

Virginia Trimble at UC Irvine.
Q&A

Virginia Trimble Has Seen the Stars

November 11, 2019

How a young celebrity became one of the first female astronomers at Caltech, befriended Richard Feynman, and ended up the world’s foremost chronicler of the science of the night sky.

Illustration of a woman with “hands” behind her eyes and “eyes” in her hands, showing how the brain integrates its sense of the world with the actions to be taken in response.
neuroscience

‘Noise’ in the Brain Encodes Surprisingly Important Signals

November 7, 2019

Activity in the visual cortex and other sensory areas is dominated by signals about body movements, down to little tics and twitches. Scientists are now rethinking how they study and conceive of perception.

Illustration of robots evolving out of the mud.
artificial intelligence

Computers Evolve a New Path Toward Human Intelligence

November 6, 2019

By ignoring their goals, evolutionary algorithms have solved longstanding challenges in artificial intelligence.

An illustration of a mathematician staring up at an infinite pile of cubes of varying sizes and colors.
Quantized Academy

Why the Sum of Three Cubes Is a Hard Math Problem

November 5, 2019

Looking for answers in infinite space is hard. High school math can help narrow your search.

Illustration of three flat sheets, connoting a flat universe, and three balls, connoting a closed universe.
Abstractions blog

What Shape Is the Universe? A New Study Suggests We’ve Got It All Wrong

November 4, 2019

Most every cosmologist believes the universe is flat. A new analysis argues that it’s closed.

Animation showing two sets of tangrams cycling between identical squares and different shapes.
geometry

Mathematicians Cut Apart Shapes to Find Pieces of Equations

October 31, 2019

New work on the problem of “scissors congruence” explains when it’s possible to slice up one shape and reassemble it as another.

A Tsimané man plays an instrument resembling a violin.
Abstractions blog

Perceptions of Musical Octaves Are Learned, Not Wired in the Brain

October 30, 2019

Singing experiments with residents of the Bolivian rainforest demonstrate how biology and experience shape the way we hear music.

An interactive illustration of shapes hiding clocks.
cosmology

Cosmic Triangles Open a Window to the Origin of Time

October 29, 2019

A close look at fundamental symmetries has exposed hidden patterns in the universe. Physicists think that those same symmetries may also reveal time’s original secret.