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Abstractions blog

Astronomers Get Their Wish, and a Cosmic Crisis Gets Worse

December 17, 2020

We don’t know why the universe appears to be expanding faster than it should. New ultra-precise distance measurements have only intensified the problem.

Mathematician Lauren Williams standing in front of a whiteboard that has mathematics written on it.

A Mathematician’s Unanticipated Journey Through the Physical World

December 16, 2020

Lauren Williams has charted an adventurous mathematical career out of the pieces of a fundamental object called the positive Grassmannian.

A computer simulation of two galaxies colliding.

The New History of the Milky Way

December 15, 2020

Over the past two years, astronomers have rewritten the story of our galaxy.

Portrait photo of Catherine Dulac of Harvard University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Catherine Dulac Finds Brain Circuitry Behind Sex-Specific Behaviors

December 14, 2020

Catherine Dulac is overturning preconceptions about “male” and “female” instincts and opening new avenues to treating postpartum depression.

Abstractions blog

How the Slowest Computer Programs Illuminate Math’s Fundamental Limits

December 10, 2020

The goal of the “busy beaver” game is to find the longest-running computer program. Its pursuit has surprising connections to some of the most profound questions and concepts in mathematics.

Illustration of a black goat with a red leash, grazing at the intersection of two circles

After Centuries, a Seemingly Simple Math Problem Gets an Exact Solution

December 9, 2020

Mathematicians have long pondered the reach of a grazing goat tied to a fence, only finding approximate answers until now.

Illustration of a blue tiger.
Abstractions blog

How Neutral Theory Altered Ideas About Biodiversity

December 8, 2020

The simple insight that most changes are random had a profound effect on genetics, evolution and ecology.


The Computer Scientist Who Shrinks Big Data

December 7, 2020

Jelani Nelson designs clever algorithms that only have to remember slivers of massive data sets. He also teaches kids in Ethiopia how to code.

A stylized atom surrounded by concentric shells of increasingly complex organisms.
quantum physics

A New Theorem Maps Out the Limits of Quantum Physics

December 3, 2020

The result highlights a fundamental tension: Either the rules of quantum mechanics don’t always apply, or at least one basic assumption about reality must be wrong.