SN Prime | December 3, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 45
President Obama wasn’t the only winner in November’s election: Math also triumphed. At the forefront of the algorithmic charge was numbers nerd Nate Silver, who correctly predicted the presidential winner in all 50 states on his New York Times blog FiveThirtyEight.
Silver incorporated several factors into his calculations, including whether a candidate was an incumbent and how much money a candidate received in campaign contributions. But a hefty portion of Silver’s predictive secret sauce was the careful aggregation and weighting of resu...
SN Prime | November 19 & 26, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 44
At the push of a button, Dr. Josef Parvizi’s face melted. When Parvizi turned on the juice to two electrodes in his patient’s brain, “you just turned into somebody else,” the patient told the doctor from the hospital bed. “Your face metamorphosed. Your nose got saggy and went to the left. You almost looked like somebody I’ve seen before, but somebody different. That was a trip.”
Parvizi’s face wasn’t the only one that melted;
a technician in the room also had the honor. “The bottom of her face sort of metamorphosiz...
SN Prime | November 12, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 43
When scientists talk about computer models, they don’t mean little toy facsimiles of a PC or Mac. A computer model is a digital representation of some piece of reality. It’s a translation
of matter and motion into math, so a computer can calculate how a process will unfold under various circumstances.
Of course, even before computers, scientists still devised models. It was just harder to do
the math. Scientists did their own calculations, using models to guide their expectations of what a natural system would do or how an experiment wou...
SN Prime | October 29, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 41
Climate treaty negotiators might be wise to have a conversation with a game theorist.
So far, negotiators’ promises to reduce greenhouse gas production have been paltry and results paltrier, as both emissions and global temperatures have risen. A new game theoretic analysis published in the Oct. 23 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences both pinpoints why negotiations have accomplished so little and suggests how the parties might achieve better results.
Since 2009, climate treaty negotiations have focused on one value: 2 degrees Ce...
SN Prime | November 5, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 42
People might think they’re twins, but the North Pole and the South Pole are really more like
distant cousins who, at family reunions, can’t believe they are related.
To visit the North Pole, you have to take a
helicopter or plane that lands you on an ice runway just a few meters thick. Beneath your feet stretch several miles of water. Better hope the ice doesn’t crack.
To visit the South Pole, you land on another ice runway, but one solidly anchored to the bedrock beneath. This is why the National Science Foundation can build a huge...
SN Prime | October 8, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 38
Usually, scientific research papers appeal to their readers with results or ideas, not art. But as I was poking through some journals last week, an outlier caught my eye. Instead of the normal bland tables, bar graphs and trend lines, the first illustration in this paper looked more like a frat boy’s Facebook page the day after a rowdy throwdown.
Drunken party pictures are featured as
Figure 1 in the paper. Partiers mill around
a snack table (though the bottles of booze
didn’t seem to leave much room for the food);
a photobomber smil...
SN Prime | October 15, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 39
When NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity touched down on August 5, nerds of the Twitterverse went wild. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory team that sends out tweets on behalf of the rover (@MarsCuriosity) immediately posted the news: “I’m safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!! #MSL”
Curiosity is not the first rover to communicate to the masses via Twitter; her siblings Spirit, Opportunity and Phoenix tweet too. But their numbers of followers pale next to the more than 1 million tuned in to Curiosity.
This rover began its jo...
SN Prime | October 22, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 40
Nothing lasts forever, although some things seem to. Speeches at political conventions, the NBA play-offs and those fight scenes in the
Matrix movies just go on and on and on. Sometimes life itself seems like one never-ending wallpaper pattern, duplicated over and over again at regular intervals.
Whether life is really like that or not, lots of other things are. Take crystals, regular organizations of atoms assembled in repeating patterns. Snowflakes, for instance, are a particular type
of ice crystal, with six identical arms. Turn a flake...
SN Prime | October 1, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 37
Sometimes a bad day doesn’t know when to stop. It turns into a bad week, then a bad month, and maybe even the worst year you’ve ever had.
If you’re familiar with that sort of day, then you should have a lot of sympathy for the dinosaurs. They suffered through one of the worst times on Earth for hundreds of thousands of years — and then died out anyway.
As any 8-year-old can tell you, dinosaurs went extinct when a giant space rock slammed into the Earth 65 million years ago. It’s a great story, full of fiery apocalypse. But it’s...
SN Prime | September 24, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 36
In the wake of the third hottest U.S. summer
on record, with the Arctic sea ice at its smallest
extent on record and a drought driving food
prices to all-time records, it might be a good time to consider what the Maya have to teach
us about the end of the world.
No, not the mythical Maya who allegedly saw in the stars (or somewhere) that an apocalyptic transformation of humanity would take place on or around December 21, 2012. We’re talking about the real Maya, the ones who hacked
a grand civilization out of the Mesoamerican