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2020 in Review

Our Favorite Comments of the Year

December 23, 2020

Online comment platforms can bring out the best — and the worst — in people. At the end of a tumultuous year, Quanta’s editors highlight some of our favorite things you had to say.

2020 in Review

The Year in Math and Computer Science

December 23, 2020

Even as mathematicians and computer scientists proved big results in computational complexity, number theory and geometry, computers proved themselves increasingly indispensable in mathematics.

Black and white photo of Claude Shannon in front of a computer
Quantized Columns

How Claude Shannon Invented the Future

December 22, 2020

Today’s information age is only possible thanks to the groundbreaking work of a lone genius.

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.

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.


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.

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.

Insights puzzle

How to Solve Our Three John Conway-Inspired Puzzles

November 20, 2020

A numerical puzzle, a geometric puzzle and a game of random patterns — all with connections to the legendary mathematician — elicited an enthusiastic response from readers.