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  • Essay

    How the periodic table went from a sketch to an enduring masterpiece

    Every field of science has its favorite anniversary.

    For physics, it’s Newton’s Principia of 1687, the book that introduced the laws of motion and gravity. Biology celebrates Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) along with his birthday (1809). Astronomy fans commemorate 1543, when Copernicus placed the sun at the center of the solar system.

    And for chemistry, no cause for...

    01/08/2019 - 11:29 Chemistry
  • News

    A newly approved drug could be a boon for treating malaria

    The first new treatment in 60 years for a particularly stubborn kind of malaria is raising hopes that it might help eradicate the disease, even though the treatment can cause a dangerous side effect.

    Called tafenoquine, the drug targets the parasite that causes relapsing malaria. Plasmodium vivax infects an estimated 8.5 million people, mainly in Asia and Latin America. Each time...

    08/09/2018 - 10:00 Health, Microbes, Genetics
  • Feature

    Meet the speedsters of the plant world

    Somewhere in the wetlands of South Carolina, a buzzing fly alights on a rosy-pink surface. As the fly explores the strange scenery, it unknowingly brushes a small hair sticking up like a slender sword. Strolling along, the fly accidentally grazes another hair. Suddenly, the pink surface closes in from both sides, snapping shut like a pair of ravenous jaws. The blur of movement lasts only a...

    05/16/2018 - 12:11 Plants, Biophysics, Physics
  • Reviews & Previews

    Fossils sparked Charles Darwin’s imagination

    Darwin’s FossilsAdrian ListerSmithsonian Books, $19.95

    Charles Darwin famously derived his theory of evolution from observations he made of species and their geographic distributions during his five-year voyage around the world on the H.M.S. Beagle. But in the introduction of On the Origin of Species, the naturalist also cites another influence: the thousands of fossils that he...

    04/08/2018 - 08:00 Evolution, History of Science, Paleontology
  • Essay

    How physicists will remember Stephen Hawking

    Stephen Hawking, a black hole whisperer who divined the secrets of the universe’s most inscrutable objects, left a legacy of cosmological puzzles sparked by his work, and inspired a generation of scientists who grew up reading his books.

    Upon Hawking’s death on March 14 at age 76, his most famous discovery — that black holes aren’t entirely black, but emit faint...

    04/03/2018 - 12:18 Physics, Science & Society
  • Editor's Note

    Great praise for categories, and seeing beyond them

    Classification is inevitable. It’s a widespread human tendency and a bedrock of scientific study. From rocks to stars to the stinkbug buzzing against my window, from parts of speech to diseases to the fundamental forces of nature, if an object or phenomenon can be described, it will be grouped with others like it and distinguished from those that differ.

    One of the best-known...

    11/01/2017 - 12:13 Animals, Evolution, Science & Society
  • Essay

    Defining ‘species’ is a fuzzy art

    The funniest thing I’ve ever said to any botanist was, “What is a species?” Well, it certainly got the most spontaneous laugh. I don’t think Barbara Ertter, who doesn’t remember the long-ago moment, was being mean. Her laugh was more of a “where do I even start” response to an almost impossible question.

    At first glance, “species” is a basic vocabulary word schoolchildren can ace on a...

    11/01/2017 - 09:00 Evolution, Conservation
  • Feature

    Hybrids reveal the barriers to successful mating between species

    It’s a tale as old as wine. Two organisms meet over a barrel of alcohol and decide to mate.

    Geneticist Maitreya Dunham didn’t see it happen. But she has molecular evidence that two yeast species produced a hybrid in an old warehouse turned microbrewery. The two species had grown apart, evolutionarily speaking, about 10 million to 20 million years ago, Dunham, of the University of...

    10/31/2017 - 10:00 Evolution, Molecular Evolution, Animals
  • News

    How bird feeders may be changing great tits’ beaks

    Some great tits in the United Kingdom are getting long in the beak — and it may have something to do with a British fondness for bird feeders.

    Parus major songbirds are thought to be relatively similar throughout Europe. But comparing DNA data from great tits in the United Kingdom with those in the Netherlands revealed key genetic differences between the two populations. The analysis,...

    10/23/2017 - 07:00 Evolution, Animals, Ecosystems
  • Reviews & Previews

    New book offers a peek into the mind of Oliver Sacks

    The River of ConsciousnessOliver SacksKnopf, $27

    The experience of reading the essays that make up The River of Consciousness is very much like peering into an ever-changing stream. Pebbles shift as the water courses by, revealing unexpected facets below.

    The essays, by neurologist Oliver Sacks and arranged into an anthology two weeks before his death in 2015, meander through...

    10/06/2017 - 09:00 Neuroscience, History of Science, Human Evolution