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CSP

Corey S Powell

Science Journalist, New York

Corey S Powell is an editor and journalist with a special fondness for all things astronomical and particulate. He has been at Discover, Scientific American and Aeon. He is the author of God in the Equation (2003), and co-author of Unstoppable (2016), Undeniable (2014) and Everything All at Once (2017) with Bill Nye, with whom he also makes the Science Rules! podcast. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Written by Corey S Powell

Edited by Corey S Powell

Spiritual hyperplane | Aeon
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History of science

Spiritual hyperplane

How spiritualists of the 19th century forged a lasting association between higher dimensions and the occult world

Paul Halpern

Want faster data and a cleaner planet? Start mining asteroids | Aeon
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Space exploration

Want faster data and a cleaner planet? Start mining asteroids

Philip Metzger

How the whalers of Moby-Dick could help put humans on Mars | Aeon
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Space exploration

How the whalers of Moby-Dick could help put humans on Mars

Matthew Bruen

Armchair science | Aeon
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History of science

Armchair science

Thought experiments played a crucial role in the history of science. But do they tell us anything about the real world?

Dan Falk

Life goes deeper | Aeon
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Earth science and climate

Life goes deeper

The Earth is not a solid mass of rock: its hot, dark, fractured subsurface is home to weird and wonderful life forms

Gaetan Borgonie & Maggie Lau

Let’s open our sealed-off lives to semi-permeable architecture | Aeon
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Architecture

Let’s open our sealed-off lives to semi-permeable architecture

Rachel Armstrong

Who first buried the dead? | Aeon
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Rituals and celebrations

Who first buried the dead?

Evidence of burial rites by the primitive, small-brained Homo naledi suggests that symbolic behaviour is very ancient indeed

Paige Madison

How natural is numeracy? | Aeon
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Mathematics

How natural is numeracy?

Where does our number sense come from? Is it a neural capacity we are born with — or is it a product of our culture?

Philip Ball

Universe in a bubble | Aeon
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Cosmology

Universe in a bubble

Maybe we don’t have to speculate about what life is like inside a bubble. It might be the only cosmic reality we know

J Richard Gott

To find aliens, we must think of life as we don’t know it | Aeon
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Space exploration

To find aliens, we must think of life as we don’t know it

Ramin Skibba

The most wonderful words in science: ‘We have no idea… yet!’ | Aeon
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History of science

The most wonderful words in science: ‘We have no idea… yet!’

Daniel Whiteson

Operation: neutrino | Aeon
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Physics

Operation: neutrino

How the neutrino went from ghost particle to vital physics tool – a tale of bombs, espionage and subtle flavours

David Kaiser



Recent Comments

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How thinking about infinity changes kids’ brains on math

Corey S Powell

The connection between music and math is a powerful and under-appreciated teaching tool. There are many historical examples (William Herschel, who discovered Uranus and infrared rays, was trained as a musician but became fascinated in astronomy through the mathematical connection), but I also see this in my two young daughters. As soon as they started thinking about rhythm, notes, and time signatures, other ideas about fractions and division and addition suddenly made sense in a whole new way. Schools are already teaching math and music, but I have not seen anything in the standard curriculum that puts the two together in a deep, systematic manner.

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‘Chemophobia’ is irrational, harmful – and hard to break

Corey S Powell

It is interesting, though not surprising, to see the prevalence of distrust in the food industry, and in all synthetic chemicals (even ones identical to those occurring in larger doses in natural foods). The intent here is not to declare all synthetic chemicals above reproach, but find ways to instill a healthy balance in public perceptions. I think it’s worth returning to a few of James Kennedy’s key points:

• Chemicals should be evaluated for safety based on their chemistry, not on their point of origin. This does not mean that synthetic chemicals should be given a free ride. It means that natural chemicals should be treated with just as much caution, since many of them carry the...

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The superfluid Universe

Corey S Powell

For some helpful context about this debate (and about related discussions of dark matter and cold fusion elsewhere on Aeon), I highly recommend this recent essay by Sabine Hossenfelder, “Why Trust A Theory? Physicists And Philosophers Debate The Scientific Method.” It’s available here:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2015/12/10/why-trust-a-theory-physicists-and-philosophers-debate-the-scientific-method/

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In space, there really might be no place like home

Corey S Powell

As interesting as it is to speculate about alien body plans, the most important lesson from terrestrial life (at least for the foreseeable future) is about chemistry, not morphology. The chemistry of life tells you what kind of biosignatures to look for. You want to make sure you are being as creative as possible in your thinking, and yet as specific as possible in distinguishing a biological signal from an abiotic one. In essence, this is the problem of how to define life, but expressed in specific chemical terms.

If planned Mars sample return missions happen in the 2020s as planned, the analysis will be informed by the biochemistries of extremophiles living in cold, highly saline...

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Cosmologists should be more skeptical of dark matter

Corey S Powell

My short answer: No. My slightly longer answer: No, it is no more speculative than many other areas of science that are built on deductions and investigations founded on phenomena that are only indirectly observed. Scientists studied the nature of hereditary material long before they discovered the double helix of DNA. They studied the nature of elements long before they could detect and manipulate individual atoms. And so it is with dark matter. There is a well-documented phenomenon (a gravitational effect that cannot be explained by visible matter), and a wide variety of studies aimed at trying to understand it.

If you look at the history behind today’s ideas about dark matter, y...

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Save the soil to save the Earth: A Q & A with Ronald Amundson

Corey S Powell

My hunch–more impressionistic than scientific–is that human colonization of new worlds will happen eventually, but it will be accomplished by sending self-assembled biological or AI representatives of ourselves. Perhaps it will be possible to send a small ship that builds incubators from local materials, then creates robotic guardians to raise the humans who emerge from them. As improbable as that may sound, it still strikes me as more plausible than sending living, breathing, adult humans on a centuries-long (or longer) voyage to another star system. But the technology to do that (assuming it’s even possible) seems like it must be centuries off.

Terraforming Mars seems is another ...

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Science needs more average, non-white, non-male scientists

Corey S Powell

To me, there is an important benefit and risk in telling stories about great role female or minority models plucked from history. Those people faced more intense forms of discrimination than most prospective scientists do today (at least, if we accept that overall our society has been making progress in lowering barriers and increasing opportunities). There is, therefore, an implicit inspirational message in those stories: intellectual achievement knows no color, and perseverance can pay off even in the face of extreme difficulty.

The real question here is whether that inspirational message outweighs the implicit counterpoint: that women and minorities need extreme intellect and ex...

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Our chemical Eden

Corey S Powell

I see two basic paths to closing in on a meaningful answer. One is to find evidence of life on other worlds and studying its biochemistry in detail. The most likely locations (based on present knowledge) are Mars, Europa, Enceladus, and Titan. Titan is interesting because it is a very low-temperature environment full of exotic organic chemistry. It might stages of chemical organization that are early precursors to life, essentially frozen in a primitive state. Europa and Enceladus have buried oceans that very likely are energized by hydrothermal vents. Potentially they could support the same kind of organisms that arose on Earth 4 billion years ago. And then there is Mars, which is most E...

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A tyrannosaur of one’s own

Corey S Powell

To my mind, the question here is about the different ways humans try to connect with the natural world, across space and time. There is a powerful connection that comes with acquiring data–in this case, information about ancient ecosystems, dinosaur physiology and biomechanics, etc. But there is also a powerful connection simply in holding a fossil in one’s hands, as Steve Campbell notes in his comment here. The intellectual ideas grow from the study of a physical object, and the physical ownership conveys an intellectual bond. I do think there is some common ground between the two, even if they are starting from different places–and even if, as Mark Norell of AMNH notes, the needs of the...

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Virtual fossils revolutionise the study of human evolution

Corey S Powell

I would love to see more open communication in high-controversy areas of research such as cold fusion and unconventional space propulsion. Right now there is a circular quality to this work. Most of its proponents are on the fringe of the scientific mainstream (or beyond); they conduct their research in a semi-secretive manner; other researchers are unable to replicate the results or adequately judge their validity; the researchers complain that they are not taken seriously; they remain on the fringe. I’d love to break out of that.

Probably what we would find is that the alleged breakthrough secrets are errors, noise, misinterpretation, or even willful misrepresentations. But maybe...

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Black-hole computing

Corey S Powell

One thing that strikes me about this latest research is the substantial number of practical implications of Einstein’s theoretical ideas: from his work on the theory behind lasers, to his ideas on the photoelectric effect (the basis behind modern digital cameras and video), to the time-altering effect of special and general relativity (needed to keep GPS signals in sync).

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