SN Prime | October 10 & 17, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 17
lot of the world’s biggest problems are what you might call crises of
powerful nations conquer small, unstable ones expecting that invading troops
will be greeted as liberators. On Wall Street, people who should know better
buy dubious investments under the assumption that they’ll be able to unload
them before the bubble bursts. And on Main Street, people already deep in debt
purchase houses they can’t afford, reassuring themselves that prices can only
go up. Meanwhile, the 7 billion humans
SN Prime | October 3, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 16
recently, topology was seen as being among the most abstract fields of
mathematics, one that bore out Henry John Stephen Smith’s 19th century toast:
“Pure mathematics — may it never be of use to anyone!”
But now the field, which deals with the shape of many-dimensional objects, has
unexpectedly proved its usefulness in, of all places, medicine. Researchers
have used topology to discover a new subgroup of breast cancer patients with a
100 percent survival rate. More generally, the method may prove powerful for
SN Prime | September 26, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 15
turns out that the old adage about statistics and damned lies wasn’t a joke.
Sticks and stones may be bonebreakers, and words inflict no (physical) pain,
but numbers can kill.
2004, for instance, a statistical analysis suggested that antidepressant drugs
raised the risk of suicide in youngsters and adolescents, leading the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration to require a “black box” warning label. And guess what
happened? Suicide rates among kids went up. It seems likely that the dramatic
warning discouraged some kids...
SN Prime | September 19, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 14
a clean room at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California sits the next great
hope of the United States’ Earth-monitoring program. About the size of a
minibus, it is covered in gold foil, riddled with electrical wires, and very
$1.5-billion satellite is state-of-the-art, carrying five advanced instruments
to measure everything from sea-surface temperature to atmospheric winds. NASA
plans to launch the satellite in October, as the bridge between the current and
next generation of operational
SN Prime | June 10, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 1 Before downing your next beer, pause to contemplate the bubbles. You’ll find that they grow and shrink in odd, hard-to-predict ways. A mathematician and an engineer have found a simple and surprising equation to describe this process, using a field of mathematics no one expected to be relevant. Now, new simulations are building on that result to illuminate more than just foams. Metals and ceramics are made of crystals that grow and shrink the same way that beer bubbles do, affecting the properties of the materials. The new work may thus lead ...
SN Prime | June 17, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 2 Scholars are turning the disappearance of humans’ closest cousins into a numbers game. More than 150 years ago, German schoolteacher Johann Carl Fuhlrott realized that fossils from a local limestone quarry were almost, but not quite, human. More recently, scholars have expanded their research beyond bones and stones to figure out what became of the Neandertals. And a Danish physicist is taking an actuarial approach to the puzzle: Bent Sørensen of Roskilde University thinks numbers may explain why humans sit around today puzzling over the Neanderta...
| June 24, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 3
Teenage girls aren’t the
only ones with Justin Bieber fever.
In April a sneaker
autographed by the pop star sold for $1,425 on eBay. The buyer? A 52-year-old
man from Ontario. That might seem like a lot for a used shoe, but it’s small
change compared with the more than $40,000 brought in by Bieber’s auctioned
hair clippings. That’s right, hair. As in, all mammals have it.
So why do people pay
extreme sums for possessions, or even pieces, of celebrities? Well, one
explanation lies in the very word fever.
SN Prime | July 1, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 4
pathway to Oz has been open a lot this spring. Tornadoes have pummeled much of
the U.S. Southeast and Midwest, with many more victims than the Wicked Witch of
the East. 2011 is already one of the deadliest tornado seasons in U.S. history.
meteorologists are taken aback. Nearly 1,500 tornadoes have killed at least 536
people, notably in Alabama in April and Joplin, Mo., in May. The last year this many Americans died from tornadoes, Franklin Roosevelt
have tried to link this outbreak to climate ch...
SN Prime | July 15, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 5
you wanted to write a computer program to simulate intelligence, you could
start with two simple commands.
food: Yes. Be food: No.
is all about enhancing your ability to survive, and getting food while avoiding
being eaten are essential ingredients in any survival recipe. Evolution built
brains to get food to the gut and keep bad things away. As Caltech
neurobiologist John Allman once expressed it, “the brain is the gut’s way of
protecting itself — and making sure it gets good stuff into it.”
SN Prime | July 25, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 6
computers elicit dreams of great computational feats to come. But they also
promise a nightmare: They could break today’s security codes, rendering them no
more secure than a TSA-approved luggage lock.
for the first time, researchers have shown a security method to be immune to
the type of attack that could bring down RSA, the cryptosystem in almost
universal current use.
cryptography methods are generally
based on some mathematical problem that is hard to solve without special
information. Breaking RSA, fo...