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Quanta Science Podcast

222 EpisodesProduced by Quanta MagazineWebsite

Susan Valot narrates in-depth news episodes based on Quanta Magazine's articles about mathematics, physics, biology and computer science.

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Chatbots Don't Know What Stuff Isn't

September 13th, 2023

Today’s language models are more sophisticated than ever, but they still struggle with the concept of negation. That’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

The post Chatbots Don’t Know What Stuff Isn’t first …

Global Microbiome Study Gives New View of Shared Health Risks

August 30th, 2023

The most comprehensive survey of how we share our microbiomes suggests a new way of thinking about the risks of developing some diseases that aren’t usually considered contagious.

The post Global Microbiome …

How Loneliness Reshapes the Brain

August 2nd, 2023

Feelings of loneliness prompt changes in the brain that further isolate people from social contact.

The post How Loneliness Reshapes the …

Physicists Use Quantum Mechanics to Pull Energy out of Nothing

August 16th, 2023

The quantum energy teleportation protocol was proposed in 2008 and largely ignored. Now two independent experiments have shown that it works. …

Gene Expression in Neurons Solves a Brain Evolution Puzzle

July 19th, 2023

The neocortex of our brain is the seat of our intellect. New data suggests that mammals created it with new types of cells that they developed only …

Machines Learn Better if We Teach Them the Basics

July 5th, 2023

A wave of research improves reinforcement learning algorithms by pre-training them as if they were human.

The post Machines Learn Better if We Teach Them the Basics first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Astronomers Say They Have Spotted the Universe's First Stars

April 12th, 2023

Theory has it that “Population III” stars brought light to the cosmos. The James Webb Space Telescope may have just glimpsed them.

The …

The Cause of Depression Is Probably Not What You Think

June 21st, 2023

Depression has often been blamed on low levels of serotonin in the brain. That answer is insufficient, but alternatives are coming into view and changing our understanding of the disease.

The post The Cause …

Ants Live 10 Times Longer by Altering Their Insulin Responses

June 7th, 2023

Queen ants live far longer than genetically identical workers. Researchers are learning what their longevity secrets could mean for aging in other …

How the Brain Distinguishes Memories From Perceptions

May 24th, 2023

The neural representations of a perceived image and the memory of it are almost the same. New work shows how and why they are different.

The post How the Brain Distinguishes Memories From Perceptions first …

What Causes Alzheimer's? Scientists Are Rethinking the Answer. (Pt 2)

May 10th, 2023


If plaques of amyloid protein in the brain aren’t the root cause of Alzheimer’s disease, what is? Researchers investigating alternative possibilities have faced resistance from the biomedical establishment for decades, …

What Causes Alzheimer's? Scientists Are Rethinking the Answer. (Pt. 1)

April 26th, 2023


After decades in the shadow of the reigning model for Alzheimer’s disease, alternative explanations are finally getting the attention they deserve. Read more at Music is “Redwood Trail” by …

New Chip Expands the Possibilities for AI

March 29th, 2023


An energy-efficient chip called NeuRRAM fixes an old design flaw to run large-scale AI algorithms on smaller devices, reaching the same accuracy as …

How Supergenes Fuel Evolution Despite Harmful Mutations

March 15th, 2023


Supergenes that lock inherited traits together are widespread in nature. Recent work shows that their blend of genetic benefits and risks for species …

Brightest-Ever Space Explosion Reveals Possible Hints of Dark Matter

March 1st, 2023


A recent gamma-ray burst known as the BOAT — “brightest of all time” — appears to have produced a high-energy particle that shouldn’t exist. For …

Inside the Proton, the 'Most Complicated Thing You Could Possibly Imagine'

February 16th, 2023


The positively charged particle at the heart of the atom is an object of unspeakable complexity, one that changes its appearance depending on how it is probed. Read more at Music is “Light Gazing” by …

High-Temperature Superconductivity Understood at Last

February 1st, 2023


A new atomic-scale experiment all but settles the origin of the strong form of superconductivity seen in cuprate crystals, confirming a 35-year-old …

Record-Breaking Robot Highlights How Animals Excel at Jumping

January 18th, 2023


Robots can surpass the limitations on how high and far animals can jump, but their success only underscores nature’s ingenuity in making the most of what’s available. Read more at Music is “Pixel …

A Good Memory or a Bad One? One Brain Molecule Decides.

January 4th, 2023


When the brain encodes memories as positive or negative, one molecule determines which way they will go. Read more at Music is …

Old Problem About Mathematical Curves Falls to Young Couple

December 21st, 2022


Eric Larson and Isabel Vogt have solved the interpolation problem — a centuries-old question about some of the most basic objects in geometry. Some …

How the Physics of Nothing Underlies Everything

December 7th, 2022


The key to understanding the origin and fate of the universe may be a more complete understanding of the vacuum. Read more at …

Geometric Analysis Reveals How Birds Mastered Flight

November 23rd, 2022


Partnerships between engineers and biologists have begun to reveal how birds evolved their superb maneuverability. Read more at

How the 'Diamond of the Plant World' Helped Land Plants Evolve

November 9th, 2022


Structural studies of the robust material called sporopollenin reveal how it made plants hardy enough to reproduce on dry land. Read more at

Protein Blobs Linked to Alzheimer's Affect Aging in All Cells

October 26th, 2022


Protein buildups like those seen around neurons in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other brain diseases occur in all aging cells, a new study suggests. Learning their significance may reveal new strategies for treating …

The Brain Has a 'Low-Power Mode' That Blunts Our Senses

October 12th, 2022


Neuroscientists uncovered an energy-saving mode in vision-system neurons that works at the cost of being able to see fine-grained details. Read more at Music is “Unanswered Questions” by Kevin …

Researchers Achieve 'Absurdly Fast' Algorithm for Network Flow

September 28th, 2022


Computer scientists can now solve a decades-old problem in practically the time it takes to write it down. Read more at Music is …

Graduate Student's Side Project Proves Prime Number Conjecture

September 14th, 2022


Jared Duker Lichtman, 26, has proved a longstanding conjecture relating prime numbers to a broad class of “primitive” sets. To his adviser, it came as a “complete shock.” Read more at Music is …

Physicists Rewrite the Fundamental Law That Leads to Disorder

August 31st, 2022


The second law of thermodynamics is among the most sacred in all of science, but it has always rested on 19th century arguments about probability. New arguments trace its true source to the flows of quantum information. …

Secrets of the Moon's Permanent Shadows Are Coming to Light

August 17th, 2022


Robots are about to venture into the sunless depths of lunar craters to investigate ancient water ice trapped there, while remote studies find hints about how water arrives on rocky worlds. Read more and explore …

Deep Learning Poised to 'Blow Up' Famed Fluid Equations

August 3rd, 2022


For centuries, mathematicians have tried to prove that Euler’s fluid equations can produce nonsensical answers. A new approach to machine learning …

Researchers Identify 'Master Problem' Underlying All Cryptography

July 19th, 2022


The existence of secure cryptography depends on one of the oldest questions in computational complexity. Read more at Music is …

Brain Chemical Helps Signal to Neurons When to Start a Movement

July 6th, 2022


Dopamine, a neurochemical often associated with reward behavior, also seems to help organize precisely when the brain initiates movements. It’s the …

This Animal's Behavior Is Mechanically Programmed

June 22nd, 2022


Biomechanical interactions, rather than neurons, control the movements of one of the simplest animals. The discovery offers a glimpse into how animal …

Tiny Galaxies Reveal Secrets of Supermassive Black Holes

June 8th, 2022


Dwarf galaxies weren’t supposed to have big black holes. Their surprise discovery has revealed clues about how the universe’s biggest black holes …

A Deepening Crisis Forces Physicists to Rethink Structure of Nature's Laws

May 25th, 2022

Physicists are reexamining a longstanding assumption: that big stuff consists of smaller stuff.

The post A Deepening Crisis Forces Physicists to Rethink Structure of Nature’s Laws first appeared on Quanta …

New Map of Meaning in the Brain Changes Ideas About Memory

May 11th, 2022

Researchers have mapped hundreds of semantic categories to the tiny bits of the cortex that represent them in our thoughts and perceptions. What they discovered might change our view of memory.

The post New …

Machine Learning Gets a Quantum Speedup

April 27th, 2022

Two teams have shown how quantum approaches can solve problems faster than classical computers, bringing physics and computer science closer …

Secrets of Early Animal Evolution Revealed by Chromosome 'Tectonics'

April 14th, 2022

Large blocks of genes conserved through hundreds of millions of years of evolution hint at how the first animal chromosomes came to be.

A Solution to the Faint-Sun Paradox Reveals a Narrow Window for Life

March 31st, 2022

We might have a past faint sun to owe for life’s existence. This has consequences for the possibility of life outside Earth.

The post A …

Evolution 'Landscapes' Predict What's Next for COVID Virus

March 18th, 2022

Studies that map the adaptive value of viral mutations hint at how the COVID-19 pandemic might progress next.

The post Evolution …

Flying Fish and Aquarium Pets Yield Secrets of Evolution

March 3rd, 2022

New studies reveal the ancient, shared genetic “grammar” underpinning the diverse evolution of fish fins and tetrapod limbs.

The post

Mathematicians Outwit Hidden Number Conspiracy

February 17th, 2022

Decades ago, a mathematician posed a warmup problem for some of the most difficult questions about prime numbers. It turned out to be just as …

Mathematician Hurls Structure and Disorder Into Century-Old Problem

February 3rd, 2022

A new paper shows how to create longer disordered strings than mathematicians had thought possible, proving that a well-known recent conjecture is …

Researchers Defeat Randomness to Create Ideal Code

January 20th, 2022

By carefully constructing a multidimensional and well-connected graph, a team of researchers has finally created a long-sought locally testable code …

The Brain Processes Speech in Parallel With Other Sounds

January 6th, 2022

Scientists thought that the brain’s hearing centers might just process speech along with other sounds. But new work suggests that speech gets some special treatment very early on.

The post The Brain Processes …

Biologists Rethink the Logic Behind Cells' Molecular Signals

December 23rd, 2021

The molecular signaling systems of complex cells are nothing like simple electronic circuits. The logic governing their operation is riotously …

A Massive Subterranean ‘Tree’ Is Moving Magma to Earth’s Surface

December 9th, 2021

Deep in the mantle, a branching plume of intensely hot material appears to be the engine powering vast volcanic activity.

The post A …

One Lab’s Quest to Build Space-Time Out of Quantum Particles

November 24th, 2021

For over two decades, physicists have pondered how the fabric of space-time may emerge from some kind of quantum entanglement. In Monika Schleier-Smith’s lab at Stanford University, the thought experiment is becoming …

The New Thermodynamic Understanding of Clocks

November 11th, 2021

Investigations of the simplest possible clocks have revealed their fundamental limitations — as well as insights into the nature of time itself.

The post The New Thermodynamic Understanding of Clocks first …

The Brain Doesn’t Think the Way You Think It Does

October 28th, 2021

Familiar categories of mental functions such as perception, memory and attention reflect our experience of ourselves, but they are misleading about how the brain works. More revealing approaches are emerging.

Eternal Change for No Energy: A Time Crystal Finally Made Real

October 14th, 2021


Like a perpetual motion machine, a time crystal forever cycles between states without consuming energy. Physicists claim to have built this new phase of matter inside a quantum computer.

How Many Numbers Exist? Infinity Proof Moves Math Closer to an Answer.

September 30th, 2021

For 50 years, mathematicians have believed that the total number of real numbers is unknowable. A new proof suggests otherwise.

The post How Many Numbers Exist? Infinity Proof Moves Math Closer to an Answer.

DNA Has Four Bases. Some Viruses Swap in a Fifth.

September 16th, 2021

The DNA of some viruses doesn’t use the same four nucleotide bases found in all other life. New work shows how this exception is possible and hints …

The Mystery at the Heart of Physics That Only Math Can Solve

September 2nd, 2021

The accelerating effort to understand the mathematics of quantum field theory will have profound consequences for both math and physics.

Radioactivity May Fuel Life Deep Underground and Inside Other Worlds

August 19th, 2021

New work suggests that the radiolytic splitting of water supports giant subsurface ecosystems of life on Earth — and could do it elsewhere, too. …

DNA of Giant ‘Corpse Flower’ Parasite Surprises Biologists

August 5th, 2021

The bizarre genome of the world’s most mysterious flowering plants shows how far parasites will go in stealing, deleting and duplicating DNA. …

Scientists Pin Down When Earth’s Crust Cracked, Then Came to Life

July 22nd, 2021

New data indicating that Earth’s surface broke up about 3.2 billion years ago helps clarify how plate tectonics drove the evolution of complex life. …

A New Twist Reveals Superconductivity’s Secrets

July 8th, 2021

An unexpected superconductor was beginning to look like a fluke, but a new theory and a second discovery have revealed that emergent quasiparticles may be behind the effect.

The post A New Twist Reveals …

Statistics Postdoc Tames Decades-Old Geometry Problem

June 24th, 2021

To the surprise of experts in the field, a postdoctoral statistician has solved one of the most important problems in high-dimensional convex …

Mathematicians Set Numbers in Motion to Unlock Their Secrets

June 10th, 2021

A new proof demonstrates the power of arithmetic dynamics, an emerging discipline that combines insights from number theory and dynamical systems.

The post Mathematicians Set Numbers in Motion to Unlock Their …

Artificial Neural Nets Finally Yield Clues to How Brains Learn

May 27th, 2021

The learning algorithm that enables the runaway success of deep neural networks doesn’t work in biological brains, but researchers are finding …

Brain’s ‘Background Noise’ May Hold Clues to Persistent Mysteries

May 13th, 2021

By digging out signals hidden within the brain’s electrical chatter, scientists are getting new insights into sleep, aging and more.

The …

Rumbles on Mars Raise Hopes of Underground Magma Flows

April 29th, 2021

Small and cold, Mars has long been considered a dead planet. But a series of recent discoveries has forced scientists to rethink how recently its …

Mathematicians Resurrect Hilbert’s 13th Problem

April 15th, 2021

Long considered solved, David Hilbert’s question about seventh-degree polynomials is leading researchers to a new web of mathematical connections. …

A Newfound Source of Cellular Order in the Chemistry of Life

April 1st, 2021

Inside cells, droplets of biomolecules called condensates merge, divide and dissolve. Their dance may regulate vital processes.

The post A …

The Mystery of Mistletoe’s Missing Genes

March 18th, 2021

Mistletoes have all but shut down the powerhouses of their cells. Scientists are still trying to understand the plants’ unorthodox survival strategy.

The post The Mystery of Mistletoe’s Missing Genes first …

The New History of the Milky Way

March 4th, 2021

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

The post The New History of the Milky Way first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Scientists Uncover the Universal Geometry of Geology

February 18th, 2021

An exercise in pure mathematics has led to a wide-ranging theory of how the world comes together.

The post Scientists Uncover the …

The Most Famous Paradox in Physics Nears Its End

February 4th, 2021

In a landmark series of calculations, physicists have proved that black holes can shed information.

The post The Most Famous Paradox in …

Quantum Tunnels Show How Particles Can Break the Speed of Light

January 21st, 2021

Recent experiments show that particles should be able to go faster than light when they quantum mechanically “tunnel” through walls.

The …

Computer Scientists Break Traveling Salesperson Record

January 7th, 2021

After 44 years, there’s finally a better way to find approximate solutions to the notoriously difficult traveling salesperson problem.

The …

Mitochondria May Hold Keys to Anxiety and Mental Health

December 16th, 2020

Research hints that the energy-generating organelles of cells may play a surprisingly pivotal role in mediating anxiety and depression.

The Hidden Magnetic Universe Begins to Come Into View

December 3rd, 2020

Astronomers are discovering that magnetic fields permeate much of the cosmos. If these fields date back to the Big Bang, they could solve a major …

Graduate Student Solves Decades-Old Conway Knot Problem

November 19th, 2020

It took Lisa Piccirillo less than a week to answer a long-standing question about a strange knot discovered over half a century ago by the legendary …

The Grand Unified Theory of Rogue Waves

November 5th, 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. …

Hidden Computational Power Found in the Arms of Neurons

October 22nd, 2020

The dendritic arms of some human neurons can perform logic operations that once seemed to require whole neural networks.

The post Hidden …

Neutrinos Lead to Unexpected Discovery in Basic Math

October 8th, 2020

Three physicists stumbled across an unexpected relationship between some of the most ubiquitous objects in math.

The post Neutrinos Lead to Unexpected Discovery in Basic Math first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Machines Beat Humans on a Reading Test. But Do They Understand?

September 24th, 2020

A tool known as BERT can now beat humans on advanced reading-comprehension tests. But it's also revealed how far AI has to go.

The post

How Jurassic Plankton Stole Control of the Ocean’s Chemistry

September 10th, 2020

Only 170 million years ago, new plankton evolved. Their demand for carbon and calcium permanently transformed the seas as homes for life.

To Pay Attention, the Brain Uses Filters, Not a Spotlight

August 27th, 2020

A brain circuit that suppresses distracting sensory information holds important clues about attention and other cognitive processes.

The …

Fossil DNA Reveals New Twists in Modern Human Origins

August 13th, 2020

Modern humans and more ancient hominins interbred many times throughout Eurasia and Africa, and the genetic flow went both ways.

The post Fossil DNA Reveals New Twists in Modern Human Origins first appeared …

For Embryo's Cells, Size Can Determine Fate

July 30th, 2020

Modeling suggests that many embryonic cells commit to a developmental fate when they become too small to divide unevenly anymore.

The post For Embryo’s Cells, Size Can Determine Fate first appeared on Quanta …

Scientists Debate the Origin of Cell Types in the First Animals

July 16th, 2020

Theories about how animals became multicellular are shifting as researchers find greater complexity in our single-celled ancestors.

The …

Wandering Space Rocks Help Solve Mysteries of Planet Formation

July 2nd, 2020

After an interstellar asteroid shot past the sun, scientists realized that there’s probably a lot of itinerant rocks out there.

The post

Random Surfaces Hide an Intricate Order

June 18th, 2020

Mathematicians have proved that a random process applied to a random surface will yield consistent patterns.

The post Random Surfaces Hide an Intricate Order first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Where We See Shapes, AI Sees Textures

June 4th, 2020

To researchers’ surprise, deep learning vision algorithms often fail at classifying images because they mostly take cues from textures, not shapes.

The post Where We See Shapes, AI Sees Textures first …

What’s in a Name? Taxonomy Problems Vex Biologists

May 21st, 2020

Researchers struggle to incorporate ongoing evolutionary discoveries into an animal classification scheme older than Darwin.

The post

Bacterial Complexity Revises Ideas About ‘Which Came First?’

May 7th, 2020

Contrary to popular belief, bacteria have organelles too. Scientists are now studying them for insights into how complex cells evolved.

Ancient DNA Yields Snapshots of Vanished Ecosystems

April 23rd, 2020

Surviving fragments of genetic material preserved in sediments allow scientists to see the full diversity of past life — even microbes.

Computer Scientists Expand the Frontier of Verifiable Knowledge

April 9th, 2020

The universe of problems that a computer can check has grown. The researchers’ secret ingredient? Quantum entanglement.

The post Computer Scientists Expand the Frontier of Verifiable Knowledge first appeared …

The Hidden Heroines of Chaos

March 26th, 2020


Two women programmers played a pivotal role in the birth of chaos theory. Their previously untold story illustrates the changing status of …

Heat-Loving Microbes, Once Dormant, Thrive Over Decades-Old Fire

March 12th, 2020

In harsh ecosystems around the world, microbiologists are finding evidence that “microbial seed banks” protect biodiversity from changing conditions. …

Scientists Discover Exotic New Patterns of Synchronization

February 27th, 2020

In a world seemingly filled with chaos, physicists have discovered new forms of synchronization and are learning how to predict and control them. …

Cryptography That Is Provably Secure

February 6th, 2020

Researchers have just released hacker-proof cryptographic code — programs with the same level of invincibility as a mathematical proof.

The post Cryptography That Is Provably Secure first appeared on Quanta …

The Math That Tells Cells What They Are

January 30th, 2020

During development, cells seem to decode their fate through optimal information processing, which could hint at a more general principle of life. …

How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Science

January 16th, 2020

The latest AI algorithms are probing the evolution of galaxies, calculating quantum wave functions, discovering new chemical compounds and more. Is …

A World Without Clouds

January 2nd, 2020

A state-of-the-art supercomputer simulation indicates that a feedback loop between global warming and cloud loss can push Earth’s climate past a …

How the Brain Creates a Timeline of the Past

December 19th, 2019

The brain can’t directly encode the passage of time, but recent work hints at a workaround for putting timestamps on memories of events.

The post How the Brain Creates a Timeline of the Past first appeared on

Foundations Built for a General Theory of Neural Networks

December 5th, 2019

Neural networks can be as unpredictable as they are powerful. Now mathematicians are beginning to reveal how a neural network’s form will influence …

The Brain Maps Out Ideas and Memories Like Spaces

November 21st, 2019

Emerging evidence suggests that the brain encodes abstract knowledge in the same way that it represents positions in space, which hints at a more universal theory of cognition.

The post The Brain Maps Out …

Milestone Experiment Proves Quantum Communication Really Is Faster

November 7th, 2019

In a Paris lab, researchers have shown for the first time that quantum methods of transmitting information are superior to classical ones.

The post Milestone Experiment Proves Quantum Communication Really …

Mathematical Simplicity May Drive Evolution’s Speed

October 31st, 2019

Some researchers are using a complexity framework thought to be purely theoretical to understand evolutionary dynamics in biological and …

A Universal Law for the ‘Blood of the Earth’

September 26th, 2019

Simple physical principles can be used to describe how rivers grow everywhere from Florida to Mars.

The post A Universal Law for the ‘Blood of the Earth’ first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Quanta Writers and Editors Discuss Trends in Science and Math

November 22nd, 2018

On November 16, 2018, more than 200 readers joined writers and editors from Quanta Magazine for a wide-ranging panel discussion that examined the …

Should Evolution Treat Our Microbes as Part of Us?

September 26th, 2019

How does evolution select the fittest “individuals” when they are ecosystems made up of hosts and their microbiomes? Biologist debate the need to …

Amateur Mathematician Finds Smallest Universal Cover

September 6th, 2019

Through exacting geometric calculations, Philip Gibbs has found the smallest known cover for any possible shape.

The post Amateur …

In the Nucleus, Genes’ Activity Might Depend on Their Location

August 29th, 2019

Using a new CRISPR-based technique, researchers are examining how the position of DNA within the nucleus affects gene expression and cell function.

The post In the Nucleus, Genes’ Activity Might Depend on …

Machine Learning Confronts the Elephant in the Room

August 15th, 2019

A visual prank exposes an Achilles’ heel of computer vision systems: Unlike humans, they can’t do a double take.

The post Machine Learning Confronts the Elephant in the Room first appeared on Quanta Magazine

The New Science of Seeing Around Corners

August 1st, 2019

Computer vision researchers have uncovered a world of visual signals hiding in our midst, including subtle motions that betray what’s being said and faint images of what’s around a corner.

The post The New …

Major Quantum Computing Advance Made Obsolete by Teenager

July 18th, 2019

18-year-old Ewin Tang has proven that classical computers can solve the “recommendation problem” nearly as fast as quantum computers. The result …

A Math Theory for Why People Hallucinate

July 5th, 2019

Psychedelic drugs can trigger characteristic hallucinations, which have long been thought to hold clues about the brain’s circuitry. After nearly a …

Closed Loophole Confirms the Unreality of the Quantum World

June 20th, 2019

A quickly closed loophole has proved that the “great smoky dragon” of quantum mechanics may forever elude capture.

The post Closed …

To Remember, the Brain Must Actively Forget

June 6th, 2019

Researchers find evidence that neural systems actively remove memories, suggesting that forgetting may be the default mode of the brain.

The Peculiar Math That Could Underlie the Laws of Nature

May 23rd, 2019

New findings are fueling an old suspicion that fundamental particles and forces spring from strange eight-part numbers called “octonions.”

To Make Sense of the Present, Brains May Predict the Future

May 9th, 2019

A controversial theory suggests that perception, motor control, memory and other brain functions all depend on comparisons between ongoing actual …

Finally, a Problem That Only Quantum Computers Will Ever Be Able to Solve

April 25th, 2019

Computer scientists have been searching for years for a type of problem that a quantum computer can solve but that any possible future classical …

Why Earth’s Cracked Crust May Be Essential for Life

April 11th, 2019

Life needs more than water alone. Recent discoveries suggest that plate tectonics has played a critical role in nourishing life on Earth. The …

Overtaxed Working Memory Knocks the Brain Out of Sync

March 28th, 2019

Researchers find that when working memory gets overburdened, dialogue between three brain regions breaks down. The discovery provides new support for a larger concept about how the brain works.

The post

A New World’s Extraordinary Orbit Points to Planet Nine

March 14th, 2019

Astronomers argue that there’s an undiscovered giant planet far beyond the orbit of Neptune. A newly discovered rocky body has added evidence to the circumstantial case for it.

The post A New World’s …

A Thermodynamic Answer to Why Birds Migrate

February 28th, 2019

New modeling studies suggest that birds migrate to strike a favorable balance between their input and output of energy.

The post A Thermodynamic Answer to Why Birds Migrate first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Machine Learning’s ‘Amazing’ Ability to Predict Chaos

February 14th, 2019

In new computer experiments, artificial-intelligence algorithms can tell the future of chaotic systems.

The post Machine Learning’s ‘Amazing’ Ability to Predict Chaos first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Decades-Old Graph Problem Yields to Amateur Mathematician

January 31st, 2019

By making the first progress on the “chromatic number of the plane” problem in over 60 years, an anti-aging pundit has achieved mathematical …

Brainless Embryos Suggest Bioelectricity Guides Growth

March 13th, 2018

Researchers are building a case that long before the nervous system works, the brain sends crucial bioelectric signals to guide the growth of embryonic tissues.

The post Brainless Embryos Suggest …

To Test Einstein’s Equations, Poke a Black Hole

January 3rd, 2019

Two teams of researchers have made significant progress toward proving the black hole stability conjecture, a critical mathematical test of …

Oxygen and Stem Cells May Have Reshaped Early Complex Animals

January 3rd, 2019

An unlikely team offers a controversial hypothesis about what enabled animal life to get more complex during the Cambrian explosion.

The post Oxygen and Stem Cells May Have Reshaped Early Complex Animals

Why Don’t Patients Get Sick in Sync? Modelers Find Statistical Clues.

November 8th, 2018

The long, variable times that some diseases incubate after infection defies simple explanation. An idealized model of tumor growth offers a …

Why Artificial Intelligence Like AlphaZero Has Trouble With the Real World

October 25th, 2018

The latest artificial intelligence systems start from zero knowledge of a game and grow to world-beating in a matter of hours. But researchers are struggling to apply these systems beyond the arcade.

The …

Scant Evidence of Power Laws Found in Real-World Networks

October 11th, 2018

A new study challenges one of the most celebrated and controversial ideas in network science.

The post Scant Evidence of Power Laws Found in Real-World Networks first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Smart Swarms Seek New Ways to Cooperate

September 27th, 2018

New algorithms show how swarms of very simple robots can be made to work together as a group.

The post Smart Swarms Seek New Ways to Cooperate first appeared on Quanta Magazine

How the Universe Got Its Bounce Back

August 30th, 2018

Cosmologists have shown that it’s theoretically possible for a contracting universe to bounce and expand. The new work resuscitates an old idea that …

A Domesticated Dingo? No, but Some Are Getting Less Wild

August 9th, 2018

Near an Australian desert mining camp, wild dingoes are losing their fear of humans. Their genetic and behavioral changes may echo those from the domestication of dogs.

The post A Domesticated Dingo? No, but …

Fossil Discoveries Challenge Ideas About Earth’s Start

July 5th, 2018

A series of fossil finds suggests that life on Earth started earlier than anyone thought, calling into question a widely held theory of the solar …

Mathematicians Find Wrinkle in Famed Fluid Equations

June 21st, 2018

Two mathematicians prove that under certain extreme conditions, the Navier-Stokes equations output nonsense.

The post Mathematicians Find Wrinkle in Famed Fluid Equations first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Light-Triggered Genes Reveal the Hidden Workings of Memory

June 7th, 2018

Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa’s lab is overturning old assumptions about how memories form, how recall works and whether lost memories might be …

Secret Link Uncovered Between Pure Math and Physics

May 31st, 2018

An eminent mathematician reveals that his advances in the study of millennia-old mathematical questions owe to concepts derived from physics. …

How Bacteria Help Regulate Blood Pressure

May 10th, 2018

Kidneys sniff out signals from gut bacteria for cues to lower blood pressure after meals. Our understanding of how the symbiotic microbes affect …

Choosy Eggs May Pick Sperm for Their Genes, Defying Mendel’s Law

April 26th, 2018

The oldest law of genetics says that gametes combine randomly, but experiments hint that sometimes eggs select sperm actively for their genetic …

A Zombie Gene Protects Elephants From Cancer

April 12th, 2018

Elephants did not evolve to become huge animals until after they turned a bit of genetic junk into a unique defense against inevitable tumors. …

Best-Ever Algorithm Found for Huge Streams of Data

March 29th, 2018

To efficiently analyze a firehose of data, scientists first have to break big numbers into bits.

The post Best-Ever Algorithm Found for Huge Streams of Data first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Newfound Wormhole Allows Information to Escape Black Holes

March 15th, 2018

Physicists theorize that a new “traversable” kind of wormhole could resolve a baffling paradox and rescue information that falls into black holes. …

New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning

March 1st, 2018

A new idea is helping to explain the puzzling success of today’s artificial-intelligence algorithms — and might also explain how human brains learn.

The post New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep …

Clever Machines Learn How to Be Curious

February 16th, 2018

Computer scientists are finding ways to code curiosity into intelligent machines.

The post Clever Machines Learn How to Be Curious first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Interspecies Hybrids Play a Vital Role in Evolution

January 18th, 2018

Hybrids, once treated as biological misfits, play a vital role in the evolution of many animal species. Now conservationists are trying to reconcile …

Mathematicians Tame Rogue Waves, Lighting Up Future of LEDs

February 1st, 2018

The mathematician Svitlana Mayboroda and collaborators have figured out how to predict the behavior of electrons — a mathematical discovery that …

What Made the Moon? New Ideas Try to Rescue a Troubled Theory

November 17th, 2017

Textbooks say that the moon was formed after a Mars-size mass smashed the young Earth. But new evidence has cast doubt on that story, leaving researchers to dream up new ways to get a giant rock into orbit.

In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium

October 12th, 2017

John Nash’s notion of equilibrium is ubiquitous in economic theory, but a new study shows that it is often impossible to reach efficiently.

The post In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium first appeared …

Pentagon Tiling Proof Solves Century-Old Math Problem

September 21st, 2017

A French mathematician has completed the classification of all convex pentagons, and therefore all convex polygons, that tile the plane.

Can Microbes Encourage Altruism?

August 31st, 2017

If gut bacteria can sway their hosts to be selfless, it could answer a riddle that goes back to Darwin.

The post Can Microbes Encourage …

Dark Matter Recipe Calls for One Part Superfluid

August 25th, 2017

A different kind of dark matter could help to resolve an old celestial conundrum.

The post Dark Matter Recipe Calls for One Part Superfluid

A Puzzle of Clever Connections Nears a Happy End

July 20th, 2017

The three young friends who devised the “happy ending” problem would become some of the most influential mathematicians of the 20th century, but were …

The Thoughts of a Spiderweb

July 13th, 2017

Spiders appear to offload cognitive tasks to their webs, making them one of a number of species with a mind that isn’t fully confined within the …

How to Quantify (and Fight) Gerrymandering

June 29th, 2017

Powerful new quantitative tools are now available to combat partisan bias in the drawing of voting districts.

The post How to Quantify …

A Long-Sought Proof, Found and Almost Lost

June 1st, 2017

When a German retiree proved a famous long-standing mathematical conjecture, the response was underwhelming.

The post A Long-Sought Proof, Found and Almost Lost first appeared on Quanta Magazine

A New Blast May Have Forged Cosmic Gold

May 18th, 2017

For decades, researchers believed that violent supernovas forged gold and other heavy elements. But many now argue for a different cosmic quarry. …

Why Did Life Move to Land? For the View

April 6th, 2017

The ancient creatures who first crawled onto land may have been lured by the informational benefit that comes from seeing through air.

The post Why Did Life Move to Land? For the View first appeared on Quanta …

New Number Systems Seek Their Lost Primes

March 30th, 2017

For centuries, mathematicians tried to solve problems by adding new values to the usual numbers. Now they’re investigating the unintended …

Researchers Tap a Sleep Switch in the Brain

March 16th, 2017

Powerful new experiments have uncovered some of the molecular underpinnings of sleep.

The post Researchers Tap a Sleep Switch in the Brain

Experiment Reaffirms Quantum Weirdness

March 9th, 2017

Physicists are closing the door on an intriguing loophole around the quantum phenomenon Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.”

The …

To Live Your Best Life, Do Mathematics

March 2nd, 2017

The ancient Greeks argued that the best life was filled with beauty, truth, justice, play and love. The mathematician Francis Su knows just where to find them.

The post To Live Your Best Life, Do Mathematics

Dividing Droplets Could Explain Life’s Origin

February 23rd, 2017

Researchers have discovered that simple “chemically active” droplets grow to the size of cells and spontaneously divide, suggesting they might have …

Infant Brains Reveal How the Mind Gets Built

February 16th, 2017

Is the brain a blank slate, or is it wired from birth to understand the world?

The post Infant Brains Reveal How the Mind Gets Built first appeared on Quanta Magazine

3-D Fractals Offer Clues to Complex Systems

February 9th, 2017

By folding fractals into 3-D objects, a mathematical duo hopes to gain new insight into simple equations.

The post 3-D Fractals Offer …

Grand Unification Dream Kept at Bay

February 2nd, 2017

Physicists have failed to find disintegrating protons, throwing into limbo the beloved theory that the forces of nature were unified at the beginning of time.

The post Grand Unification Dream Kept at Bay

The Case Against Dark Matter

December 8th, 2016

A proposed theory of gravity does away with dark matter, even as new astrophysical findings challenge the need for galaxies full of the invisible …

What Sonic Black Holes Say About Real Ones

November 24th, 2016

Can a fluid analogue of a black hole point physicists toward the theory of quantum gravity, or is it a red herring?

The post What Sonic …

Giant Genetic Map Shows Life’s Hidden Links

November 17th, 2016

In a monumental set of experiments, spread out over nearly two decades, biologists removed genes two at a time to uncover the secret workings of the …

The Art of Teaching Math and Science

January 26th, 2017

The impasse in math and science instruction runs deeper than test scores or the latest educational theory. What can we learn from the best teachers on the front lines?

The post The Art of Teaching Math and …

How to Cut Cake Fairly and Finally Eat It Too

November 10th, 2016

Computer scientists have come up with a bounded algorithm that can fairly divide a cake among any number of people.

The post How to Cut …

Strange Dark Galaxy Puzzles Astrophysicists

October 27th, 2016

The surprising discovery of a massive, Milky Way–size galaxy that is made of 99.99 percent dark matter has astronomers dreaming up new ideas about how galaxies form.

The post Strange Dark Galaxy Puzzles …

Hacker-Proof Code Confirmed

October 20th, 2016

Computer scientists can prove certain programs to be error-free with the same certainty that mathematicians prove theorems.

The post Hacker-Proof Code Confirmed first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Colliding Black Holes Tell New Story of Stars

October 13th, 2016

Just months after their discovery, gravitational waves coming from the mergers of black holes are shaking up astrophysics.

The post

The Neuroscience Behind Bad Decisions

September 22nd, 2016

Irrationality may be a consequence of the brain’s ravenous energy needs.

The post The Neuroscience Behind Bad Decisions first appeared on Quanta Magazine

What No New Particles Means for Physics

September 15th, 2016

Physicists are confronting their “nightmare scenario.” What does the absence of new particles suggest about how nature works?

The post What No New Particles Means for Physics first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Neutrinos Hint of Matter-Antimatter Rift

August 11th, 2016

A hint that neutrinos behave differently than antineutrinos suggests an answer to one the biggest questions in physics.

The post Neutrinos Hint of Matter-Antimatter Rift first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Biologists Search for New Model Organisms

August 18th, 2016

The bulk of biological research is centered on a handful of species. Are we missing a huge chunk of interesting biology?

The post

A Debate Over the Physics of Time

September 8th, 2016

According to our best theories of physics, the universe is a fixed block where time only appears to pass.

The post A Debate Over the Physics of Time first appeared on Quanta Magazine

A Bird’s-Eye View of Nature’s Hidden Order

August 5th, 2016

Scientists are exploring a mysterious pattern, found in birds’ eyes, boxes of marbles and other surprising places, that is neither regular nor …

How Feynman Diagrams Almost Saved Space

July 28th, 2016

Richard Feynman's famous diagrams weren’t just a way to do calculations. They represented a deep shift in thinking about how the universe is put …

The Oracle of Arithmetic

July 21st, 2016

At 28, Peter Scholze is uncovering deep connections between number theory and geometry.

The post The Oracle of Arithmetic first appeared …

New Life Found That Lives Off Electricity

July 7th, 2016

Scientists have figured out how microbes can suck energy from rocks. Such lifeforms might be more widespread than anyone anticipated.

The post New Life Found That Lives Off Electricity first appeared on

Simple Set Game Proof Stuns Mathematicians

June 17th, 2016

A new series of papers has settled a long-standing question related to the popular game in which players seek patterned sets of three cards. …

How Neanderthal DNA Helps Humanity

June 9th, 2016

Neanderthals and Denisovans may have endowed modern humans with genetic variants that helped them thrive in new environments.

The post How Neanderthal DNA Helps Humanity first appeared on Quanta Magazine

New Support for Alternative Quantum View

June 2nd, 2016

An experiment claims to have invalidated a decades-old criticism against pilot-wave theory, an alternative formulation of quantum mechanics that …

New Evidence for the Necessity of Loneliness

May 26th, 2016

A specific set of neurons deep in the brain may motivate us to seek company, holding social species together.

The post New Evidence for …

Tiny Tests Seek the Universe’s Big Mysteries

May 12th, 2016

The search for exotic new physical phenomena is being led by huge experiments like the Large Hadron Collider. But at the other end of the spectrum …

A Secret Flexibility Found in Life’s Blueprints

May 5th, 2016

A new study reveals that individual genes can create many different versions of the molecular machinery that powers the cell.

The post A …

Physicists Hunt for the Big Bang’s Triangles

April 28th, 2016

The story of the universe’s birth — and evidence for string theory — could be found in triangles and myriad other shapes in the sky.

The …

Debate Intensifies Over Dark Disk Theory

April 21st, 2016

In the new, free-for-all era of dark matter research, the controversial idea that dark matter is concentrated in thin disks is being rescued from scientific oblivion.

The post Debate Intensifies Over Dark …

Mapping the Brain to Build Better Machines

April 14th, 2016

A project to decipher the brain’s learning rules could revolutionize machine learning.

The post Mapping the Brain to Build Better Machines

Sphere Packing Solved in Higher Dimensions

April 7th, 2016

The Ukrainian mathematician Maryna Viazovska has solved the centuries-old sphere-packing problem in dimensions eight and 24.

The post

The Beasts That Keep the Beat

March 31st, 2016

New insights from neuroscience — aided by a small zoo’s worth of dancing animals — are revealing the biological origins of rhythm.

The …

Mathematicians Discover Prime Conspiracy

March 24th, 2016

A previously unnoticed property of prime numbers seems to violate a long-standing assumption about how they behave.

The post

After Black Holes Collide, a Puzzling Flash

March 10th, 2016

A satellite spotted a burst of light just as gravitational waves rolled in from the collision of two black holes. Was the flash a cosmic coincidence, …

The Quantum Secret to Superconductivity

March 3rd, 2016

In a virtuoso experiment, physicists have revealed details of a “quantum critical point” that underlies high-temperature superconductivity.

The post The Quantum Secret to Superconductivity first appeared on

How to Build Life in a Pre-Darwinian World

February 25th, 2016

Perhaps chemistry played a more instrumental role in the origin of life than scientists thought.

The post How to Build Life in a …

Gravitational Waves Discovered at Long Last

February 18th, 2016

Ripples in space-time have been detected a century after Einstein predicted them, launching a new era in astronomy.

The post Gravitational Waves Discovered at Long Last first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Scientists Debate Signatures of Alien Life

February 11th, 2016

Searching for signs of life on faraway planets, astrobiologists must decide which telltale biosignature gases to target.

The post

New Clues to How the Brain Maps Time

February 4th, 2016

The same brain cells that track location in space appear to also count beats in time. The research suggests that our thoughts may take place on a mental space-time canvas.

The post New Clues to How the Brain …

Quantum Weirdness Now a Matter of Time

January 28th, 2016

Bizarre quantum bonds connect distinct moments in time, suggesting that quantum links — not space-time — constitute the fundamental structure of the universe.

The post Quantum Weirdness Now a Matter of Time

String Theory Meets Loop Quantum Gravity

January 21st, 2016

Two leading candidates for a “theory of everything,” long thought to be incompatible, may be two sides of the same coin.

The post String Theory Meets Loop Quantum Gravity first appeared on Quanta Magazine

Landmark Algorithm Breaks 30-Year Impasse

January 14th, 2016

Computer scientists are abuzz over a fast new algorithm for solving one of the central problems in the field.

The post Landmark Algorithm …

Math Quartet Joins Forces on Unified Theory

December 17th, 2015

A new breakthrough that bridges number theory and geometry is just the latest triumph for a close-knit group of mathematicians.

The post Math Quartet Joins Forces on Unified Theory first appeared on Quanta …

The Incredible Shrinking Sex Chromosome

December 10th, 2015

Nature offers species a panoply of ways to determine an organism’s sex. That flexibility suggests we need not be concerned about losing sex chromosomes, but it raises the question of why such a fundamental property is …

Nature’s Critical Warning System

November 26th, 2015

Scientists are homing in on a warning signal that arises in complex systems like ecological food webs, the brain and the Earth’s climate. Could it …

How Humans Evolved Supersize Brains

November 19th, 2015

Scientists have begun to identify the symphony of biological triggers that powered the extraordinary expansion of the human brain.

The …

Mongrel Microbe Tests Story of Complex Life

November 12th, 2015

A newly discovered class of microbe could help to resolve one of the biggest and most controversial mysteries in evolution — how simple microbes …

Theorists Draw Closer to Perfect Coloring

November 5th, 2015

A theorem for coloring a large class of “perfect” mathematical networks could ease the way for a long-sought general coloring proof.

The …

A Twisted Path to Equation-Free Prediction

October 22nd, 2015

Complex natural systems defy analysis using a standard mathematical toolkit, so one ecologist is throwing out the equations.

The post A …

The Mutant Genes Behind the Black Death

October 15th, 2015

Only a few genetic changes were enough to change an ordinary stomach bug into the bacteria responsible for the plague.

The post The Mutant …

A New Map Traces the Limits of Computation

October 8th, 2015

A major advance in computational complexity reveals deep connections between the classes of problems that computers can — and can’t — possibly do.

The post A New Map Traces the Limits of Computation first …

Visions of Future Physics

October 1st, 2015

Nima Arkani-Hamed is championing a campaign to build the world’s largest particle collider, even as he pursues a new vision of the laws of nature. …

How the Body’s Trillions of Clocks Keep Time

September 25th, 2015

Cellular clocks are almost everywhere. Clues to how they work are coming from the places they’re not.

The post How the Body’s Trillions of …

Einstein’s Parable of Quantum Insanity

September 16th, 2015

Einstein refused to believe in the inherent unpredictability of the world. Is the subatomic world insane, or just subtle?

The post Einstein’s Parable of Quantum Insanity first appeared on Quanta Magazine

A New Design for Cryptography’s Black Box

September 10th, 2015

A recent cryptographic breakthrough has proven difficult to put into practice. But new advances show how near-perfect computer security might be …

A Life in Games

March 24th, 2016

The mathematician John Horton Conway’s myriad accomplishments — including the Game of Life, sprouts and the surreal numbers — are the product of a mind at play.

The post A Life in Games first appeared on

How Mutant Viral Swarms Spread Disease

September 3rd, 2015

A new understanding of viral swarms is helping researchers predict how viruses will evolve and where disease is likely to spread.

The post

A Surprise Source of Life’s Code

August 27th, 2015

Emerging data suggests the seemingly impossible — that mysterious new genes arise from “junk” DNA.

The post A Surprise Source of Life’s Code first appeared on Quanta Magazine

How Life and Luck Changed Earth’s Minerals

August 20th, 2015

Did the minerals on our planet arise in a predictable fashion, or did they result from chance events? The answers could eventually help scientists …

At Tiny Scales, a Giant Burst on Tree of Life

August 6th, 2015

A new technique for finding and characterizing microbes has boosted the number of known bacteria by almost 50 percent, revealing a hidden world all around us.

The post At Tiny Scales, a Giant Burst on Tree of …

The New Laws of Explosive Networks

July 30th, 2015

Researchers are uncovering the hidden laws that reveal how the Internet grows, how viruses spread, and how financial bubbles burst.

The post The New Laws of Explosive Networks first appeared on Quanta Magazine

New Letters Added to the Genetic Alphabet

July 30th, 2015

Scientists hope that new genetic letters, created in the lab, will endow DNA with new powers.

The post New Letters Added to the Genetic Alphabet first appeared on Quanta Magazine

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