All Articles

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

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
geometry

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.

Q&A

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.

Concentric rings of light seen through crosshairs of a Fabry-Pérot interferometer.
Abstractions blog

Physicists Nail Down the ‘Magic Number’ That Shapes the Universe

December 2, 2020

A team in Paris has made the most precise measurement yet of the fine-structure constant, killing hopes for a new force of nature.

Looping video that shows transformations between African cichlid species.
Abstractions blog

New Fish Data Reveal How Evolutionary Bursts Create Species

December 1, 2020

In three bursts of adaptive change, one species of cichlid fish in Lake Tanganyika gave rise to hundreds.

Photo of Ashwin Sah standing in front of a sculpture in a park
Abstractions blog

Undergraduate Math Student Pushes Frontier of Graph Theory

November 30, 2020

At 21, Ashwin Sah has produced a body of work that senior mathematicians say is nearly unprecedented for a college student.