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  • Science & the Public

    Forget Pi Day. We should be celebrating Tau Day

    As a physics reporter and lover of mathematics, I won’t be celebrating Pi Day this year. That’s because pi is wrong.

    I don’t mean that the value is incorrect. Pi, known by the symbol π, is the number you get when you divide a circle’s circumference by its diameter: 3.14159… and so on without end. But, as some mathematicians have argued, the mathematical constant was poorly chosen, and...

    03/14/2018 - 11:30 Numbers
  • News in Brief

    Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking dies at 76

    Physicist Stephen Hawking, a black hole whisperer who divined secrets of the universe’s most inscrutable objects, died March 14 at age 76. In addition to his scientific research, Hawking, a professor at the University of Cambridge, was known for his popular science books, including the best-selling A Brief History of Time, which captivated readers with lucid explanations of the universe’s...

    03/14/2018 - 10:06 Cosmology, Physics
  • Reviews & Previews

    How biology breaks the ‘cerebral mystique’

    The Biological MindAlan JasanoffBasic Books, $30

    At a small eatery in Seville, Spain, Alan Jasanoff had his first experience with brains — wrapped in eggs and served with potatoes. At the time, he was more interested in finding a good, affordable meal than contemplating the sheer awesomeness of the organ he was eating. Years later, Jasanoff began studying the brain as part of his...

    03/12/2018 - 07:00 Neuroscience, History of Science, Psychology
  • News in Brief

    These giant viruses have more protein-making gear than any known virus

    Two newly discovered giant viruses have the most comprehensive toolkit for assembling proteins found in any known virus. In a host cell, the viruses have the enzymes needed to wrangle all 20 standard amino acids, the building blocks of life.

    Researchers dubbed the viruses Tupanvirus deep ocean and Tupanvirus soda lake, combining the name of the indigenous South American god of thunder,...

    02/27/2018 - 14:06 Microbiology
  • Growth Curve

    Let your kids help you, and other parenting tips from traditional societies

    Hunter-gatherers and farming villagers don’t write parenting handbooks, much less read them. But parents in WEIRD societies — Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic — can still learn a few childrearing lessons from their counterparts in small-scale societies.

    It’s not that Western parents and kids are somehow deficient. But we live in a culture that holds historically...

    02/09/2018 - 08:00 Parenting
  • Feature

    When it’s playtime, many kids prefer reality over fantasy

    Young children travel to fantasy worlds every day, packing just imaginations and a toy or two.

    Some preschoolers scurry across ocean floors carrying toy versions of cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. Other kids trek to distant universes with miniature replicas of Star Wars robots R2-D2 and C-3PO. Throngs of youngsters fly on broomsticks and cast magic spells with Harry Potter and...

    02/06/2018 - 11:45 Psychology, Anthropology, Archaeology
  • Reviews & Previews

    ‘Death: A Graveside Companion’ offers an outlet for your morbid curiosity

    Death: A Graveside CompanionJoanna Ebenstein (ed.)Thames & Hudson, $40

    Death: A Graveside Companion makes for an unusual coffee-table book, with its coppery etched Grim Reaper on the cover. Yet you may be surprised by how much fun it is to pore through the book’s lavish artwork of skulls, cadavers and fanciful imaginings of the afterlife.

    There is, after all, a reason for...

    02/04/2018 - 08:00 Science & Society, History of Science, Anthropology
  • Reviews & Previews

    ‘Machines That Think’ predicts the future of artificial intelligence

    Machines That ThinkToby WalshPrometheus Books, $16

    Movies and other media are full of mixed messages about the risks and rewards of building machines with minds of their own. For every manipulative automaton like Ex Machina’s Ava (SN: 5/16/15, p. 26), there’s a helpful Star Wars droid. And while some tech titans such as Elon Musk warn of the threats artificial intelligence presents...

    02/02/2018 - 15:20 Artificial Intelligence, Computing, Science & Society
  • Feature

    How to keep humans from ruining the search for life on Mars

    T he Okarian rover was in trouble. The yellow Humvee was making slow progress across a frigid, otherworldly landscape when planetary scientist Pascal Lee felt the rover tilt backward. Out the windshield, Lee, director of NASA’s Haughton Mars Project, saw only sky. The rear treads had broken through a crack in the sea ice and were sinking into the cold water.

    True, there are signs of...

    01/10/2018 - 11:30 Planetary Science, Astrobiology
  • The Name Game

    86 stars get official names

    In December, astronomers and space enthusiasts received an early present: 86 newly official star names.

    Such designations are often derived from Arabic, Greek or Latin origins. But the new monikers also draw inspiration from ancient mythologies and historical star names from indigenous cultures around the world, including in China, Australia and southern Africa. The star names were...

    01/02/2018 - 09:00 Astronomy, Cosmology, Planetary Science