Category Archives: Physics

A bizarre form of water may exist all over the universe

Joshua Sokol writes: Recently at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics in Brighton, New York, one of the world’s most powerful lasers blasted a droplet of water, creating a shock wave that raised the water’s pressure to millions of atmospheres and its temperature to thousands of degrees. X-rays that beamed through the droplet in the same… Read More »

The interplay that brings together order and disorder

Alan Lightman writes: Planets, stars, life, even the direction of time all depend on disorder. And we human beings as well. Especially if, along with disorder, we group together such concepts as randomness, novelty, spontaneity, free will and unpredictability. We might put all of these ideas in the same psychic basket. Within the oppositional category… Read More »

A quantum experiment suggests there’s no such thing as objective reality

MIT Technology Review reports: Back in 1961, the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Eugene Wigner outlined a thought experiment that demonstrated one of the lesser-known paradoxes of quantum mechanics. The experiment shows how the strange nature of the universe allows two observers—say, Wigner and Wigner’s friend—to experience different realities. Since then, physicists have used the “Wigner’s Friend”… Read More »

Inside the struggle to define life

Ian Sample writes: All the brain cells of life on Earth still cannot explain life on Earth. Its most intelligent species has uncovered the building blocks of matter, read countless genomes and watched spacetime quiver as black holes collide. It understands much of how living creatures work, but not how they came to be. There… Read More »

Emergence: How complex wholes arise from simple parts

John Rennie writes: You could spend a lifetime studying an individual water molecule and never deduce the precise hardness or slipperiness of ice. Watch a lone ant under a microscope for as long as you like, and you still couldn’t predict that thousands of them might collaboratively build bridges with their bodies to span gaps.… Read More »

The crisis inside the physics of time

Marcia Bartusiak writes: Poets often think of time as a river, a free-flowing stream that carries us from the radiant morning of birth to the golden twilight of old age. It is the span that separates the delicate bud of spring from the lush flower of summer. Physicists think of time in somewhat more practical… Read More »

Studying time is like holding a snowflake

Brian Gallagher writes: In April, in the famous Faraday Theatre at the Royal Institution in London, Carlo Rovelli gave an hour-long lecture on the nature of time. A red thread spanned the stage, a metaphor for the Italian theoretical physicist’s subject. “Time is a long line,” he said. To the left lies the past—the dinosaurs,… Read More »

The peculiar numbers that could underlie the laws of nature

  Natalie Wolchover writes: In 2014, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, Canada, named Cohl Furey rented a car and drove six hours south to Pennsylvania State University, eager to talk to a physics professor there named Murat Günaydin. Furey had figured out how to build on a finding of Günaydin’s from 40… Read More »

What are the limits of manipulating nature?

In Scientific American, Neil Savage writes: Matt Trusheim flips a switch in the darkened laboratory, and an intense green laser illuminates a tiny diamond locked in place beneath a microscope objective. On a computer screen an image appears, a fuzzy green cloud studded with brighter green dots. The glowing dots are color centers in the… Read More »

Free will, video games, and the most profound quantum mystery

David Kaiser writes: The word “predictable” first entered the English language two centuries ago. Its début came in neither a farmer’s almanac nor a cardsharp’s manual but in The Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature, a Unitarian periodical. In 1820, one Stephen Freeman wrote a dense treatise in which he criticized the notion that… Read More »