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Natalie Wolchover

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    Physicists Nail Down the “Magic Number” That Shapes the Universe

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. As fundamental constants go, the speed of light, c, enjoys all the fame, yet c’s numerical value says nothing about nature; it differs depending on whether it’s measured in meters per second or miles per hour. The fine-structure constant, by contrast, has no dimensions or units. It’s a pure […]

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    Why the Laws of Physics Are Inevitable

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Compared to the unsolved mysteries of the universe, far less gets said about one of the most profound facts to have crystallized in physics over the past half-century: To an astonishing degree, nature is the way it is because it couldn’t be any different. “There’s just no […]

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    How Our Universe Could Emerge as a Hologram

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. The fabric of space and time is widely believed by physicists to be emergent, stitched out of quantum threads according to an unknown pattern. And for 22 years, they’ve had a toy model of how emergent space-time can work: a theoretical “universe in a bottle,” as its discoverer, Juan Maldacena, has described it. The […]

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    Why Black Hole Interiors Grow (Almost) Forever

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Leonard Susskind, a pioneer of string theory, the holographic principle, and other big physics ideas spanning the past half-century, has proposed a solution to an important puzzle about black holes. The problem is that even though these mysterious, invisible spheres appear to stay a constant size as viewed from the outside, their interiors keep growing […]

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    Can Analogies Reveal the Laws of Physics?

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Hoping to gain insight into domains of nature that lie beyond experimental reach—the interiors of black holes, the subtleties of the quantum realm, the Big Bang—physicists are experimenting on “analogue” systems made of fluids and other easily manipulable materials that can be modeled by similar equations. Results […]

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    Why the Tiny Weight of Empty Space Is Such a Huge Mystery

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine‘s Abstractions blog. The controversial idea that our universe is just a random bubble in an endless, frothing multiverse arises logically from nature’s most innocuous-seeming feature: empty space. Specifically, the seed of the multiverse hypothesis is the inexplicably tiny amount of energy infused in empty space—energy known as the vacuum energy, dark […]

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    What Is the Sun Made Of and When Will It Die?

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Like any star in its prime, the sun consists mainly of hydrogen atoms fusing two by two into helium, unleashing immense energy in the process. But it’s the sun’s tiny concentration of heavier elements, which astronomers call metals, that controls its fate. “Even a very small fraction […]

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    Evidence Found for a New Fundamental Particle

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Physicists are both thrilled and baffled by a new report from a neutrino experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago. The MiniBooNE experiment has detected far more neutrinos of a particular type than expected, a finding that is most easily explained by the existence of a new elementary particle: a […]

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    19 Women Leading Math and Physics

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Abstractions In an interview with Quanta Magazine last fall, the eminent theoretical physicist Helen Quinn recalled her uncertainty, as a Stanford University undergraduate in the 1960s, about whether to pursue a career in physics or become a high school teacher. “There were no women in the faculty at Stanford at that time in the […]