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The Math of Social Distancing Is a Lesson in Geometry

July 13, 2020

How to safely reopen offices, schools and other public spaces while keeping people six feet apart comes down to a question mathematicians have been studying for centuries.

Illustration showing an austere number line on one side and various interesting objects on the the other, including a dodecahedron, an armillary sphere, flowers and plants.
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The Two Forms of Mathematical Beauty

June 16, 2020

Mathematicians typically appreciate either generic or exceptional beauty in their work, but one type is more useful in describing the universe.

Animated illustration of flashing, moving wavelengths and strobing lights surrounding a pair of eyes.
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Spreading the Word on a Possible Alzheimer’s Treatment

May 27, 2020

Neuroscientists could use brain waves to spur immune cells into action against the disease — but the process is almost too fantastic to believe.

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To Win This Numbers Game, Learn to Avoid Math Patterns

May 7, 2020

Sizing up patternless sets is hard, so mathematicians rely on simple bounds to help answer their questions.

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What Other Coronaviruses Tell Us About SARS-CoV-2

April 29, 2020

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase, our extensive knowledge of other coronaviruses informs our understanding.

Photo of Freeman Dyson standing in a meadow in front of a forest
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Remembering the Unstoppable Freeman Dyson

April 13, 2020

Freeman Dyson — physicist, mathematician, writer and idea factory — died on February 28, but his vitality lives on.

An artist’s conception of how sensory signals from the eye are map onto the brain in a slightly distorted way.
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The Brain Reshapes Our Malleable Senses to Fit the World

March 24, 2020

How does experience alter our perceptions? This adapted book excerpt from We Know It When We See It describes how the brain’s visual system rewires itself to make the best use of its neural resources.

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How Rational Math Catches Slippery Irrational Numbers

March 10, 2020

Finding the best way to approximate the ever-elusive irrational numbers pits the infinitely large against the infinitely small.

Illustration of a connection between a bat and a human, with a backdrop of coronaviruses.
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The Animal Origins of Coronavirus and Flu

February 25, 2020

Zoonotic diseases like influenza and many coronaviruses start out in animals, but their biological machinery often enables them to jump to humans.


A regular column in which top researchers explore the process of discovery.