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Science

Essays and videos exploring physics, evolution, cosmology and other frontiers in science
A close-up of an orange and black butterfly perched on a leaf with a soft, pastel-coloured background.
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essay

History of ideas

Chaos and cause

Can a butterfly’s wings trigger a distant hurricane? The answer depends on the perspective you take: physics or human agency

Erik Van Aken

Three colourful cell spheres with glowing pink and blue nuclei on a black background, showing cellular structures in vibrant detail.
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video

Biology

Explore a bioluminescent world of cellular life via cutting-edge microscopy

27 minutes

Close-up of a leafcutter ant cutting a vibrant green and pink leaf with distinct veins, showcasing the intricate patterns and the ant’s detailed body.
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video

Animals and humans

An artist and ants collaborate on an exhibit of ‘tiny Abstract Expressionist paintings’

5 minutes

Abstract depiction of two galaxies, one on the left with spiral arms and bright centre, and one on the right with swirling patterns and luminous core.
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video

Physics

There’s a striking link between quantum and astronomic scales. What could it mean?

5 minutes

Left: SEM image of slender, oval microscopic objects. Right: Yellow granular texture of a flower’s anther under a microscope.
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video

Biology

The astonishing resonances between patterns in nature, microscopic and cosmic

5 minutes

Satellite image of the Earth at night showing the Nile River illuminated with city lights, surrounded by darkness and sparse lighting areas.
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essay

Cities

Cities that grow themselves

They are spreading like branching plants across the globe. Should we rein cities in or embrace their biomorphic potential?

Josh Berson

A forest at night illuminated by many glowing fireflies, creating a magical atmosphere with their yellow lights.
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Biology

Living orbs of light

Solving the mystery of how and why fireflies flash in time can illuminate the physics of complex systems

Orit Peleg

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Ecology and environmental sciences

Nature’s playbook

From termite queens to the carbon cycle, nature knows how to avoid network collapse. Human designers should pay heed

Ruth DeFries

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Anthropology

What pastoralists know

Pastoralists are experts in managing extreme variability. In a volatile world economy, bankers should learn how they do it

Ian Scoones

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Complexity

All stars

Is a great team more than the sum of its players? Complexity science reveals the role of strategy, synergy, swarming and more

Jessica Flack & Cade Massey

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Complexity

Uncertain times

The pandemic is an unprecedented opportunity – seeing human society as a complex system opens a better future for us all

Jessica Flack & Melanie Mitchell

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essay

Evolution

Catastrophes and calms

Evolution is extraordinarily creative in the wake of a cataclysm. How does life keep steadily ticking over in between?

Renée A Duckworth

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Physics

From chaos to free will

A crude understanding of physics sees determinism at work in the Universe. Luckily, molecular uncertainty ensures this isn’t so

George Ellis

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The future

At the limits of thought

Science today stands at a crossroads: will its progress be driven by human minds or by the machines that we’ve created?

David C Krakauer

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Technology and the self

Collaborators in creation

Our world is a system, in which physical and social technologies co-evolve. How can we shape a process we don’t control?

Doyne Farmer, Fotini Markopoulou, Eric Beinhocker & Steen Rasmussen

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essay

Biology

Life ≠ alive

A cat is alive, a sofa is not: that much we know. But a sofa is also part of life. Information theory tells us why

Michael Lachmann & Sara Walker

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idea

Computing and artificial intelligence

How do you teach a car that a snowman won’t walk across the road?

Melanie Mitchell

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Philosophy of science

The blind spot

It’s tempting to think science gives a God’s-eye view of reality. But we forget the place of human experience at our peril

Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser & Evan Thompson

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idea

Complexity

When science hits a limit, learn to ask different questions

Chris Kempes & Van Savage

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idea

Engineering

What would it take to build a tower as high as outer space?

Sean Sun & Dan Popescu

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idea

Philosophy of science

Black holes are simpler than forests and science has its limits

Martin Rees

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Consciousness and altered states

The mathematics of mind-time

The special trick of consciousness is being able to project action and time into a range of possible futures

Karl Friston

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Addiction

The addiction habit

Addiction changes the brain but it’s not a disease that can be cured with medicine. In fact, it’s learned – like a habit

Marc Lewis