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How Animals Map 3D Spaces Surprises Brain Researchers

Leaping, scurrying, flying and swimming through their natural habitats, animals compile a mental map of the world around them — one that they use to navigate home, find food and locate other points of vital interest. Neuroscientists have chiseled away at the problem of how animals do this for decades. A crucial piece of the solution is an elegant neural...

How Wavelets Allow Researchers to Transform — and Understand — Data

In an increasingly data-driven world, mathematical tools known as wavelets have become an indispensable way to analyze and understand information. Many researchers receive their data in the form of continuous signals, meaning an unbroken stream of information evolving over time, such as a geophysicist listening to sound waves bouncing off of rock layers...

The Astronomer Who’s About to See the Skies of Other Earths

We know next to nothing about the other 6 billion or so Earth-like planets in the galaxy. With the imminent launch of the largest, most powerful space telescope ever built, Laura Kreidberg is optimistic this will soon change. Kreidberg is the 32-year-old founding director of a new department at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany,...

A New Link to an Old Model Could Crack the Mystery of Deep Learning

In the machine learning world, the sizes of artificial neural networks — and their outsize successes — are creating conceptual conundrums. When a network named AlexNet won an annual image recognition competition in 2012, it had about 60 million parameters. These parameters, fine-tuned during training, allowed AlexNet to recognize images that it had...

Mathematicians Prove Melting Ice Stays Smooth

Drop an ice cube into a glass of water. You can probably picture the way it starts to melt. You also know that no matter what shape it takes, you’ll never see it melt into something like a snowflake, composed everywhere of sharp edges and fine cusps. Mathematicians model this melting process with equations. The equations work well, but it’s taken 130...

Chemistry Nobel Prize Honors Technique for Building Molecules

Chemists are constantly tasked not just with designing useful new molecules — for novel drugs, energy-storing materials and countless other jobs — but with designing better ways to make those molecules. One big hurdle is that desirable chemical reactions are often slow or inefficient and can only become practical with the addition of catalysts, substances...

Work on Earth’s Climate and Other Complex Systems Earns Nobel Prize in Physics

Physicists have traditionally dealt with simple systems — a single atom, a gas in a box — for which the governing laws are clear and exact answers can be calculated. To describe bigger, slightly more complicated systems, they know how to simplify, stripping things down to their essence and ignoring details that don’t matter. A ball rolls the same way...

Medicine Nobel Prize Goes to Temperature and Touch Discoveries

We often appreciate the world around us in terms of its glorious sights, stirring sounds and evocative smells, all of which mark important stimuli and changes in our environment. But senses that are no less crucial to our survival yet often taken for granted are our abilities to register heat, cold and touch, a form of perception called somatosensation....

Anil Seth Finds Consciousness in Life’s Push Against Entropy

Anil Seth wants to understand how minds work. As a neuroscientist at the University of Sussex in England, Seth has seen firsthand how neurons do what they do — but he knows that the puzzle of consciousness spills over from neuroscience into other branches of science, and even into philosophy. As he puts it near the start of his new book, Being You:...

Major Quantum Computing Strategy Suffers Serious Setbacks

In 2018, researchers at the forefront of an entirely new approach to building quantum computers published, in the journal Nature, what looked to be a landmark achievement. Existing quantum computers are notoriously fragile, their quantum bits — qubits — prone to incurring random errors. But if the qubits could be made from strange configurations of...

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