Related articlesSkip carousel
- Feb 5 20178 minutes
The Exotic Matter States Behind PCs, Visual Displays, and the Future of Water
You might have learned in school that there are three phases of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. That is a useful simplification for young students, but there are in fact many, many more. In the past century or so, we’ve discovered that there are hund
- Jan 12 201711 minutes
Why Most Planets Will Either Be Lush or Dead: Earth Science:The Gaia hypothesis implies that once alien life takes hold, it will flourish.
Can a planet be alive? Lynn Margulis, a giant of late 20th-century biology, who had an incandescent intellect that veered toward the unorthodox, thought so. She and chemist James Lovelock together theorized that life must be a planet-altering phenome
- Apr 7 20167 minutes
Why Nature Prefers Hexagons: The geometric rules behind fly eyes, honeycombs, and soap bubbles.
How do bees do it? The honeycombs in which they store their amber nectar are marvels of precision engineering, an array of prism-shaped cells with a perfectly hexagonal cross-section. The wax walls are made with a very precise thickness, the cells ar
- Jun 13 201312 minutes
The Coin Toss and the Love Triangle: Information Theory:There are two flavors of uncertainty in our lives. Math helps with both.
Chance appears to name a single, unitary thing. But its genealogy, its family history, turns out to be a tangled one. One way to understand its branching origins is to turn to literature: We may look, in turn, to two very different novels.Anton Chigu
- Apr 7 201611 minutes
Why Do Taxonomists Write the Meanest Obituaries?: The open nature of the science of classification virtually guarantees fights.
Constantine Rafinesque had only been dead a few months when Asa Gray sat down to eulogize him for the American Journal of Science. The year was 1841, and Gray, soon to join both the American Academy and the Harvard faculty, was well on his way to bec
- Dec 26 20163 minutes
States Are The Nuclear Industry’s Best Hope
Trump’s signaled he’s pro-nuclear, but it’s a low priority for Congress | “It’s going to be quite challenging to do anything at the federal level”
- Dec 12 20162 minutes
Why a Post-Nuclear World Would Look Nothing Like “Mad Max”
Mad Max: Fury Road envisions an embarrassing, nightmarish future. Worldwide droughts have driven humanity to nuclear war over water, destroying modern civilization, and disfiguring the earth into a planet-spanning Sahara. Decrepit old goons control t
- Dec 29 201619 minutes
Why Sex Is Mostly Binary but Gender Is a Spectrum: A short genetic history of one of the most profound dimensions of human identity.
Anyone who doubts that genes can specify identity might well have arrived from another planet and failed to notice that the humans come in two fundamental variants: male and female. Cultural critics, queer theorists, fashion photographers, and Lady G
- Dec 12 201612 minutes
A Possible Break In One Of Evolution's Biggest Mysteries
Whales have one of the strangest, least-understood histories of any animal—and barnacles might be the key to unlocking their secrets.
- Mar 27 20145 minutes
Why Light Inspires Ritual: For Aboriginal cultures, light is a physical and spiritual guide.
Some years ago, cultural anthropologist Veronica Strang was fishing on a trip to the Orinoco River in South America. When the fish didn’t bite, she settled for a walk along the riverbank. “The light filtering through the rainforest canopy threw a shi
- May 23 20165 minutes
Are We in the Anthropocene Yet?
In the early 1990s, a few miles west of El Kef, a town in Tunisia, geologists set a small golden spike in between two layers of clay that remains there to this day. They wanted to mark the tiny yet striking layer of iridium—a hard, dense, silvery-whi
- May 25 20164 minutes
We Have No Idea How Most Species Age
To humans, aging can seem to be inextricably linked with physical decline. In 1975, “on a whim,” the photographer Nicholas Nixon decided to illustrate this process. That year he took a picture of his wife and her three sisters standing together, shou
- Sep 13 20165 minutes
Benchtop Black Holes Help Physicists Glimpse the Quantum Universe
A black hole is a physicist’s playground: A place where some of the most bizarre and fundamental concepts in physics can be observed and tested. However, there is currently no way to directly observe black holes in action; these bodies of matter don’
- Sep 3 20142 minutes
The Few Tough Species That Survive the Rigors of Nothingness
In the 1800s, scientists imagined that life was brought to Earth by a rock that had been knocked off of a distant, life-filled planet. Now, over 100 years later, we are able to test this idea of “panspermia”—by sending life away from Earth and seeing
- Jul 10 20137 minutes
The Best Evidence for Dark Matter & the Uncertainty Therein
If I told you that I was 99.81 percent certain I had made a big discovery, you might suggest it was time to break out the champagne. If I said the discovery resolved one of the biggest outstanding problems in science and would probably let me punch a
- Mar 13 20143 minutes
The Lightning Beneath Our Feet: The strange lights that occur before earthquakes may originate underground.
An earthquake shook the central Italian city of L’Aquila in the early morning of April 6, 2009. In the months that followed, scientists collected dozens of accounts from people who claimed to have seen “luminous phenomena” both before and after the s
- Feb 5 20155 minutes
Your DNA Is Nothing Special: It’s time to relax about genetic testing.
When we think of storing information today, we conjure up rows of giant computer servers that house endless streams of digital data. All the world’s information, it seems, will one day be preserved as ones and zeros in permanent, stable, and indestru
- Feb 20 20171 minute
The Right Kind of Shine
“Dewy” skin is the hottest look, even when it’s freezing out
- Oct 17 20161 minute
‘Clean Coal’ Is Far From Clean
And, despite what Trump said in the debate, it isn’t likely to save miners’ jobs either
- Dec 12 20161 minute
How to Optimize the World’s Energy System
JOE KAESER IN THE DEVELOPED WORLD, WE ARE SURROUNDED by electronics, from the computers on our desks to the smartphones in our pockets to the thermostats in our homes to our data in the virtual cloud. For this reason, you might imagine that our crit
- Oct 1 20161 minute
MANY RENEWABLE energy advocates think the best way to store solar and wind energy may be to use what are known as “flow batteries,” which hold liquid electrolytes in tanks and then pump them through a reactor to produce electricity. A major advantage
- Aug 28 201412 minutes
My Own Personal Nothingness: From a childhood hallucination to the halls of theoretical physics.
My most vivid encounter with Nothingness occurred in a remarkable experience I had as a child of 9 years old. It was a Sunday afternoon. I was standing alone in a bedroom of my home in Memphis Tennessee, gazing out the window at the empty street, lis
- Jan 20 20174 minutes
How Will We Know Trump’s Inaugural Crowd Size?
It involves satellites and weather balloons.
- Jan 22 20171 minute
Bottled Versus Tap
BOTTLED Where it comes from: Nearly half of New York’s comes from city reserves. How it’s regulated: The Food and Drug Administration treats it as a food, and it can’t require food companies to publish detailed reports on where their products come
- Dec 1 20132 minutes
Prefab Homes are Seeing Green
Customizable, sustainable residences get big funding
- Jun 2 20167 minutes
The Surprising Importance of Stratospheric Life: The science of bacteria in the atmosphere is getting its moment in the sun.
Rippling like a jellyfish, a helium balloon big enough to envelop the Empire State Building lofted over the New Mexico desert. Its passengers, suspended below in a boxy white gondola, were hardy specimens: millions of cells of a remarkably resilient
- Jun 19 20146 minutes
Why I Traveled the World Hunting for Mutant Bugs: A researcher who works through painting tells her story.
When Chernobyl happened, I knew it was time for me to act. Nineteen years earlier, I had first drawn malformed and mutated flies while working in the zoological department at the University of Zurich as a scientific illustrator. Zoologists had fed po
- Jul 11 20132 minutes
The Feminine Smells That Get Sperm Moving
Sperm are the cheetahs of the microscopic world: Made of little more than molecular muscle and batteries, tipped with a payload of genetic information, they are optimized for speed. But to orient themselves before their epic, seven-inch sprint (it’s
- Jun 18 20158 minutes
The Real Landscapes of the Great Flood Myths: In Tibet, a geologist learns how folk stories may record actual catastrophes.
I came to Tibet in the spring of 2002 to investigate a geologic mystery: How had the mighty Tsangpo River cut through the rising Himalaya to carve the deepest gorge in the world? Origin questions like this one fascinate me. I’m a geomorphologist—I st
- Jul 18 20132 minutes
The Problematic, Newfangled Hack That Is the Human Leg
If you were to design a leg for a bipedal animal from scratch, what would it look like? Don’t bother looking down at your own body for inspiration—you won’t find a good model there. If you want to make a really good bipedal leg, you should make one