Quanta Magazine

Quanta Magazine Read and discuss the latest news and trends in mathematics, physics, computer science and life science research. At Quanta Magazine, scientific accuracy is every bit as important as telling a good story.

Since Quanta is a nonprofit foundation-funded publication, all of its resources go toward producing responsible, freely accessible journalism that is meticulously researched, reported, edited, copy-edited and fact-checked. And our editorial independence ensures the impartiality of our science coverage — our articles do not reflect or represent the views of the Simons Foundation. All editorial decisions, including which research or researchers to cover, are made by Quanta’s staff reporting to the editor in chief; editorial content is not reviewed by anyone outside of the news team prior to publication; Quanta has no involvement in any of the Simons Foundation’s grant-giving or research efforts; and researchers who receive funding from the foundation do not receive preferential treatment. The decision to cover a particular researcher or research result is made solely on editorial grounds in service of our readers.

Since Quanta is a nonprofit foundation-funded publication, all of its resources go toward producing responsible, freely accessible journalism that is meticulously researched, reported, edited, copy-edited and fact-checked. And our editorial independence ensures the impartiality of our science coverage — our articles do not reflect or represent the views of the Simons Foundation. All editorial decisions, including which research or researchers to cover, are made by Quanta’s staff reporting to the editor in chief; editorial content is not reviewed by anyone outside of the news team prior to publication; Quanta has no involvement in any of the Simons Foundation’s grant-giving or research efforts; and researchers who receive funding from the foundation do not receive preferential treatment. The decision to cover a particular researcher or research result is made solely on editorial grounds in service of our readers.

Mission: Quanta Magazine's mission is to enhance public understanding of research developments in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

Operating as usual

In an episode of “The Joy of x” podcast, mathematician John Urschel tells host Steven Strogatz about the year he spent j...
02/27/2021
John Urschel: From NFL Player to Mathematician | Quanta Magazine

In an episode of “The Joy of x” podcast, mathematician John Urschel tells host Steven Strogatz about the year he spent juggling full-time graduate work at MIT with playing professional football for the Baltimore Ravens. His advice? “Don’t do it.” https://www.quantamagazine.org/john-urschel-from-nfl-player-to-mathematician-20200225/

John Urschel, who retired from playing professional football with the Baltimore Ravens to become a mathematician, talks to host Steven Strogatz about the fascinations of graph theory that lured him aw

The D-Wave quantum annealer (a sort of quantum calculator) has carried out a quantum simulation a few million times more...
02/26/2021
Computing's Search for the Best Quantum Questions | Quanta Magazine

The D-Wave quantum annealer (a sort of quantum calculator) has carried out a quantum simulation a few million times more quickly than a rival CPU, John Timmer reports for Ars Technica.
https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/02/d-waves-hardware-outperforms-a-classic-computer/

The quantum system has beaten classical systems before, but setting up — much less interpreting — a fair and informative head-to-head competition is tricky, Stephen Ornes reported for Quanta in 2016.
https://www.quantamagazine.org/computings-search-for-the-best-quantum-questions-20160602/

Recent tests show that quantum computers made by D-Wave systems should solve some problems faster than ordinary computers. Researchers have begun to map out exactly which queries might benefit from th

Researchers have taught programs to excel at Atari games by asking them to balance the risks of exploring new environmen...
02/25/2021
Clever Machines Learn How to Be Curious | Quanta Magazine

Researchers have taught programs to excel at Atari games by asking them to balance the risks of exploring new environments against the rewards of revisiting old ones. In effect, the program have been given a sense of caution, Paul Rincon reports for the BBC.
https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-56194855

The research advances a method known as “reinforcement learning,” in which machines learn to navigate an unfamiliar world (like Mario’s 1-1) by exploiting a sense of curiosity, John Pavlus explained for Quanta in 2017.
https://www.quantamagazine.org/clever-machines-learn-how-to-be-curious-20170919/

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

Donald Richards is digging into the data to unearth underlying truths about our universe. Richards’ work has impacted th...
02/25/2021
Donald Richards Seeks Patterns in the Data of Life and the Universe | Quanta Magazine

Donald Richards is digging into the data to unearth underlying truths about our universe. Richards’ work has impacted the financial and agricultural sectors; it has improved cell phone data transmission, and it has even been used to classify galaxies.
https://www.quantamagazine.org/donald-richards-seeks-patterns-in-the-data-of-life-and-the-universe-20180411/

The statistician Donald Richards lives to uncover subtle patterns hiding in real-world data.

In a new column for Quanta, infectious disease epidemiologist Dr. Tara C. Smith explains how viruses like SARS-CoV-2 evo...
02/25/2021
How to Understand COVID-19 Variants and Their Effects on Vaccines

In a new column for Quanta, infectious disease epidemiologist Dr. Tara C. Smith explains how viruses like SARS-CoV-2 evolve: “When the virus chances upon beneficial mutations, it’s as if it won the lottery.” https://www.quantamagazine.org/how-to-understand-covid-19-variants-and-their-effects-on-vaccines-20210225/

Researchers are tracking the different strains of SARS-CoV-2 and studying how they spread through our population and our bodies.

Researchers have detected a shower of energetic neutrinos and followed it back to its source in the cosmos — a colossal ...
02/24/2021
Neutrinos Linked With Cosmic Source for the First Time | Quanta Magazine

Researchers have detected a shower of energetic neutrinos and followed it back to its source in the cosmos — a colossal black hole shredding a nearby star, Daniel Clery reports for Science Magazine.
https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/02/rare-cosmic-neutrino-traced-star-swallowing-black-hole

The first time neutrinos were linked to a specific deep space object was in 2017, when physicists caught a stream of the ghostly particles arriving from a flaring supermassive black hole known as a blazar, Katia Moskvitch reported for Quanta at the time.
https://www.quantamagazine.org/neutrinos-linked-with-cosmic-source-for-the-first-time-20180712/

High-energy neutrinos have been traced back to a flaring supermassive black hole known as a blazar. The long-sought link opens the door to an entirely new way to study the universe.

From 2018: Songbirds and humans are among the few species that can imitate novel sounds. Neuroscientist Erich Jarvis fou...
02/24/2021
Erich Jarvis - In Birds' Songs, Brains and Genes, He Finds Clues to Speech | Quanta Magazine

From 2018: Songbirds and humans are among the few species that can imitate novel sounds. Neuroscientist Erich Jarvis found the surprising roots of that ability and its connection to spoken language. https://www.quantamagazine.org/erich-jarvis-in-birds-songs-brains-and-genes-he-finds-clues-to-speech-20180130/

The neuroscientist Erich Jarvis found that songbirds' vocal skills and humans' spoken language are both rooted in neural pathways for controlling learned movements.

Clumps of brain cells in lab dishes shift their genetic activity at around nine months old, as if preparing for birth, K...
02/23/2021
The Oldest Mini-Brains Have Lifelike Young Cells | Quanta Magazine

Clumps of brain cells in lab dishes shift their genetic activity at around nine months old, as if preparing for birth, Kelly Servick reports for Science Magazine. The find hints that the “organoids” may be useful for studying certain aspects of more mature brains.
https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/02/brain-cell-clusters-grown-lab-more-year-mirror-changes-newborn-s-brain

The longer organoids sit, the more interesting they become. As Jordana Cepelewicz reported for Quanta in 2017, mature mini-brains can produce non-neural cells known as astrocytes, which are otherwise difficult for researchers to grow.
https://www.quantamagazine.org/the-oldest-mini-brains-have-lifelike-young-cells-20170829/

"Organoid" brain tissue models grown in a lab for two years can help scientists study a critical period of development just before and after birth.

“I would say that when it comes to teaching, there’s a big problem that we haven’t solved yet, which is how to solve the...
02/23/2021
The Coach Who Led the U.S. Math Team Back to the Top

“I would say that when it comes to teaching, there’s a big problem that we haven’t solved yet, which is how to solve the issue of mathematics not necessarily being something that everyone thinks is great and everyone wants to do. That’s a big problem.” https://www.quantamagazine.org/po-shen-loh-led-the-u-s-math-team-back-to-first-place-20210216/

Po-Shen Loh has harnessed his competitive impulses and iconoclastic tendencies to reinvigorate the U.S. Math Olympiad program.

The case for a hypothesized Planet Nine may be weakening. A new analysis concludes that the observed cluster of ice ball...
02/22/2021
Planet Nine Is Put on Trial in Absentia

The case for a hypothesized Planet Nine may be weakening. A new analysis concludes that the observed cluster of ice balls that hint at the planet’s presence might in fact be an illusion, Lisa Grossman reports for Science News.
https://www.sciencenews.org/article/hidden-planet-nine-solar-system-evidence-may-not-hold-up

The debate over observational bias — whether astronomers have truly discerned a band of remote objects or whether their surveys just favor sightings in some zones over others — has raged for years, as Natalie Wolchover reported for Quanta in 2017. Only upcoming observations can settle the issue.
https://www.quantamagazine.org/planet-nine-is-put-on-trial-in-absentia-20170627/

Breathless media coverage notwithstanding, the cases for and against a hypothetical Planet Nine in the outskirts of the solar system remain inconclusive.

From 2018: “As an educator I know I have a duty to continually educate the world. But I’m just one little guy. At some p...
02/22/2021
Donald Richards Seeks Patterns in the Data of Life and the Universe | Quanta Magazine

From 2018: “As an educator I know I have a duty to continually educate the world. But I’m just one little guy. At some point, you know what, I’m going to go cook myself a nice dinner and have a glass of wine and let the world do whatever it wants.” https://www.quantamagazine.org/donald-richards-seeks-patterns-in-the-data-of-life-and-the-universe-20180411/

The statistician Donald Richards lives to uncover subtle patterns hiding in real-world data.

From the archives: Cassandra Extavour, a developmental biologist at Harvard, studies the evolution of multicellular orga...
02/21/2021
Exploring the Evolution of Multicellularity With Cassandra Extavour | Quanta Magazine

From the archives: Cassandra Extavour, a developmental biologist at Harvard, studies the evolution of multicellular organisms, particularly the division of labor between germ cells and other cells. https://www.quantamagazine.org/exploring-the-evolution-of-multicellularity-with-cassandra-extavour-20130925/

An interview with the developmental biologist Cassandra Extavour on the origins of multicellular organisms and the evolution of cooperation.

Po-Shen Loh has led the U.S. International Mathematical Olympiad team to four first-place rankings in the last six years...
02/20/2021
The Coach Who Led the U.S. Math Team Back to the Top

Po-Shen Loh has led the U.S. International Mathematical Olympiad team to four first-place rankings in the last six years as the team’s head coach. “My goal as coach wasn’t going to be to win, it was going to be to maximize the number of [participants] that I read about in The New York Times in 20 years.” https://www.quantamagazine.org/po-shen-loh-led-the-u-s-math-team-back-to-first-place-20210216/

Po-Shen Loh has harnessed his competitive impulses and iconoclastic tendencies to reinvigorate the U.S. Math Olympiad program.

From 2018: Neuroscientist Erich Jarvis discusses the “continuum hypothesis of vocal learning” that may have led to human...
02/20/2021
Erich Jarvis - In Birds' Songs, Brains and Genes, He Finds Clues to Speech | Quanta Magazine

From 2018: Neuroscientist Erich Jarvis discusses the “continuum hypothesis of vocal learning” that may have led to human speech. https://www.quantamagazine.org/erich-jarvis-in-birds-songs-brains-and-genes-he-finds-clues-to-speech-20180130/

The neuroscientist Erich Jarvis found that songbirds' vocal skills and humans' spoken language are both rooted in neural pathways for controlling learned movements.

Cygnus X-1 — the OG black hole — may have about 50% more heft than expected, weighing in at 21 suns. The new measurement...
02/19/2021
Growing Inventory of Black Holes Offers a Radical Probe of the Cosmos

Cygnus X-1 — the OG black hole — may have about 50% more heft than expected, weighing in at 21 suns. The new measurement casts doubt on how much stars shrink before dying, Maria Temming reports for Science News.
https://www.sciencenews.org/article/first-black-hole-discovery-cygnus-massive

Once limited to indirect observations of a few black holes, astrophysicists are now reveling in the dozens of direct detections of the merging monsters revealed by gravitational waves. The observations form a swiftly growing catalog that traces the universe’s development in a whole new way, Thomas Lewton recently reported for Quanta.
https://www.quantamagazine.org/new-black-holes-offer-physicists-a-radical-probe-of-the-cosmos-20210217/

One black hole is nice, but astrophysicists can do a lot more science with 50 of them.

“In recent years, I’ve been talking to students all over the country. Invariably, the young women come up and say, ‘We d...
02/19/2021
The NASA Engineer Who’s a Mathematician at Heart

“In recent years, I’ve been talking to students all over the country. Invariably, the young women come up and say, ‘We didn’t know women did work like that!’ Girls need to know that women do this work.” https://www.quantamagazine.org/the-nasa-engineer-whos-a-mathematician-at-heart-20210119/

Christine Darden worked at NASA for 40 years, helping make supersonic planes quieter and forging a path for women to follow in her footsteps.

New from the Quanta Science Podcast: This is a story about a mathematician and a geophysicist who turn lofty math into l...
02/19/2021
Geometry Reveals How the World Is Assembled From Cubes

New from the Quanta Science Podcast: This is a story about a mathematician and a geophysicist who turn lofty math into literal stone. https://www.quantamagazine.org/geometry-reveals-how-the-world-is-assembled-from-cubes-20201119/

Subscribe to the Quanta Science Podcast here:

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/quanta-science-podcast/id1021340531

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

New from the Quanta YouTube channel: Po-Shen Loh has led the U.S. International Mathematical Olympiad team to four first...
02/18/2021

New from the Quanta YouTube channel: Po-Shen Loh has led the U.S. International Mathematical Olympiad team to four first-place rankings in the last six years as the team’s head coach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsskCxQ4sks

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About Quanta Magazine

Quanta Magazine’s goal is to enhance public understanding of science. Our reporters focus on developments in mathematics, theoretical physics, theoretical computer science and the basic life sciences. At Quanta, scientific accuracy is every bit as important as telling a good story. And having editorial independence ensures the impartiality of our science coverage, so while our publication was launched by the Simons Foundation, our articles do not necessarily reflect or represent the foundation’s views. https://www.quantamagazine.org/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/QuantaNews Twitter: https://twitter.com/QuantaMagazine Sign up for our weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/6FnWj

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