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  • warped spacetime
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  • Feature

    Einstein's genius changed science's perception of gravity

    Albert Einstein opened humankind’s eyes to the universe.

    Before Einstein, space seemed featureless and changeless, as Isaac Newton had defined it two centuries earlier. And time, Newton declared, flowed at its own pace, oblivious to the clocks that measured it. But Einstein looked at space and time and saw a single dynamic stage — spacetime — on which matter and energy strutted,...

    10/04/2015 - 05:30 Astronomy, Physics, History of Science
  • News

    Time travel nixed in metamaterial world

    Unable to study the Big Bang in person, physicists have now simulated it in a bit of plastic and metal.

    This desktop model tries to re-create the forward movement of time that drives history ever onward. In this experiment, as in many others before, time travel is impossible.

    “It’s a toy representation of what actually happens in our universe,” says Igor Smolyaninov, a...

    04/15/2011 - 14:42 Matter & Energy, Atom & Cosmos
  • 50 Years Ago

    From the August 21, 1937, issue

    A TOWER TO STOP THE SUN

    Hot lately, isn't it? . . . Seems like there's more thunderstorms, too . . . Caused by sunspots? . . . Papers say they've been getting bigger lately—more of them, coming in bunches . . . Wonder how scientists find out all that kind of thing? . . .

    Vague, conjectural, scrappy talk that you may hear on any simmering street corner, or in the moist spots where...

    08/22/2007 - 19:36 Humans & Society
  • Feature

    Fractal or Fake?

    Jackson Pollock couldn't possibly have been thinking of fractals when he started flinging and dripping paint from a stick onto canvas. After all, mathematicians didn't develop the idea of a fractal until a couple of decades later. But if one physicist is right, Pollock ended up painting fractals anyway. And that mathematical quality may explain why Pollock's seemingly chaotic streams of paint...

    02/20/2007 - 10:14 Humans & Society
  • Feature

    Visions of Infinity

    Even the most brilliant innovators get their inspiration from somewhere.

    For the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, such a creative impetus came from a particular illustration in a 1957 mathematical article about symmetry. It gave him what he later described as "quite a shock" and inspired him to create four artworks: the...

    11/22/2004 - 17:38 Numbers
  • Feature

    Oddballs

    In 1998, mathematician Thomas C. Hales made headlines by settling a nearly 400-year-old question: What is the best space-saving way to stack oranges? Johannes Kepler, the natural philosopher who first realized that planets orbit the sun in ellipses, conjectured in 1611 that fruit sellers already had it right: The best packing is the familiar pyramidal arrangement seen in markets all over the...

    09/28/2004 - 12:22 Numbers
  • Feature

    Math Lab

    Many people regard mathematics as the crown jewel of the sciences. Yet math has historically lacked one of the defining trappings of science: laboratory equipment. Physicists have their particle accelerators; biologists, their electron microscopes; and astronomers, their telescopes. Mathematics, by contrast, concerns not the physical landscape but an idealized, abstract world. For exploring...

    04/20/2004 - 21:33 Numbers
  • Feature

    Unlocking Puzzling Polygons

    Polygons come in all sorts of shapes: triangles, squares, hexagons, stars, and a host of other straight-edged forms.

    That's not as easy to do as it may sound. Imagine, for example, the outline of a set of fearsome jaws with interlocking teeth.

    Computational geometers and assorted others puzzled over this problem for more than a...

    08/26/2003 - 16:16 Numbers
  • Feature

    In Search of a Scientific Revolution

    Plenty of people claim to have theories that will revolutionize science. What's rare is for other scientists to take one of these schemes seriously. Yet that's what's happened since May 2002 when theoretical physicist Stephen Wolfram self-published a book in which he alleged to have found a new way to address the most difficult problems of science. Tellingly, he named this treatise A New Kind...

    08/12/2003 - 12:48 Humans & Society
  • Feature

    Drama in Numbers

    As the curtain rises, an illuminated mathematical expression dominates the scene. "Do you see that theorem?" the narrator asks. "In 1637, Pierre de Fermat . . . wrote it down in the margin of a book. Then he added this tantalizing note." A spotlight suddenly reveals a bearded, bewigged, flashily dressed Fermat, who promptly sings,

    "I have discovered a truly...

    12/16/2002 - 13:38 Numbers