All Articles

Photo of a complicated knot.
Abstractions blog

Color-Changing Material Unites the Math and Physics of Knots

February 10, 2020

Mathematicians have studied knots for centuries, but a new material is showing why some knots are better than others.

insights puzzle

Did the Chicken Come First or Is It Turtles All the Way Down?

February 6, 2020

The apparent paradox of the chicken and the egg smells like “turtles all the way down.” This puzzle shows how biology and physics can overcome infinite regress.

A rogue wave and a sailboat.
fluid dynamics

The Grand Unified Theory of Rogue Waves

February 5, 2020

Rogue waves — enigmatic giants of the sea — were thought to be caused by two different mechanisms. But a new idea that borrows from the hinterlands of probability theory has the potential to predict them all.

Photo of black and white swirls of mixing paint
fluid dynamics

Mathematicians Prove Universal Law of Turbulence

February 4, 2020

By exploiting randomness, three mathematicians have proved an elegant law that underlies the chaotic motion of turbulent systems.

Photo of James P. Allison sitting at his desk at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The Contrarian Who Cures Cancers

February 3, 2020

James P. Allison believed that unleashing the immune system was a way to beat cancer when almost no one else did. A Nobel Prize and a growing list of cancer survivors vindicate him.

An AI genie turning a home into a jungle.
artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence Will Do What We Ask. That’s a Problem.

January 30, 2020

By teaching machines to understand our true desires, one scientist hopes to avoid the potentially disastrous consequences of having them do what we command.

Illustration of interstellar objects entering our solar system
Quantized Columns

The Age of Interstellar Visitors

January 29, 2020

As astronomers get better at finding the comets and asteroids of other stars, they’ll learn more about the universe and our place in it.

Gif of a spinning sphere that has a dappled blue, green and red pattern.
Abstractions blog

How Ancient Light Reveals the Universe’s Contents

January 28, 2020

A photograph of the infant cosmos reveals the precise amounts of dark matter and dark energy in the universe, leaving precious little room for argument.

Spindly green star-shaped cells against a black background.
Abstractions blog

Glial Brain Cells, Long in Neurons’ Shadow, Reveal Hidden Powers

January 27, 2020

The glial cells of the nervous system have been eclipsed in importance by neurons for decades. But glia are turning out to be central to many neurological functions, including pain perception.