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How Cells Pack Tangled DNA Into Neat Chromosomes

A human cell carries in its nucleus two meters of spiraling DNA, split up among the 46 slender, double-helical molecules that are its chromosomes. Most of the time, that DNA looks like a tangled ball of yarn — diffuse, disordered,… Continue Reading →

Why Self-Taught Artificial Intelligence Has Trouble With the Real World

Until very recently, the machines that could trounce champions were at least respectful enough to start by learning from human experience. To beat Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997, IBM engineers distilled centuries of chess wisdom into a formula that… Continue Reading →

Physicists Mourn Joe Polchinski, Developer of Deep Ideas and Paradoxes

In physics, we sometimes make progress through conflict. Thought experiments uncover apparent contradictions that sharpen our theories. In addition, there’s often a trade-off between the precision of a calculation and its relevance to an ultimate goal. The physicist Joe Polchinski… Continue Reading →

Scant Evidence of Power Laws Found in Real-World Networks

A paper posted online last month has reignited a debate about one of the oldest, most startling claims in the modern era of network science: the proposition that most complex networks in the real world — from the World Wide… Continue Reading →

Smart Swarms Seek New Ways to Cooperate

In a lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, physicists run experiments with robots that look as though they came from the dollar store. The robots can’t move through space. They can’t communicate. Mostly they flap their little arms, like… Continue Reading →

Neutron Lifetime Puzzle Deepens, but No Dark Matter Seen

When physicists strip neutrons from atomic nuclei, put them in a bottle, then count how many remain there after some time, they infer that neutrons radioactively decay in 14 minutes and 39 seconds, on average. But when other physicists generate… Continue Reading →

Evolution Saves Species From ‘Kill the Winner’ Disasters

At a meeting of the American Society of Naturalists in 1960, the noted British ecologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson posed what he called “the paradox of the plankton.” Look at a flask of seawater; it will be filled with diverse species of… Continue Reading →

When Probability Meets Real Life

It is natural for scientific thinkers to try to apply rational methods to assess risk in everyday life. Should you get a flu shot, for example, if you’re under 40 and in good health? Should you jump out of an… Continue Reading →

The Argument Against Quantum Computers

Sixteen years ago, on a cold February day at Yale University, a poster caught Gil Kalai’s eye. It advertised a series of lectures by Michel Devoret, a well-known expert on experimental efforts in quantum computing. The talks promised to explore… Continue Reading →

With Strategic Zaps to the Brain, Scientists Boost Memory

For the past two decades, neuroscientists have been treating movement and neurological disorders with deep brain stimulation, a technique in which electrodes planted in specific regions of the brain send electrical impulses through targeted neural circuitry. More recently, they’ve been… Continue Reading →

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