Quanta Science Podcast

Quanta Magazine

Listen to Quanta Magazine's in-depth news stories about developments in mathematics, theoretical physics, theoretical computer science and the basic life sciences. Quanta, an editorially independent magazine published by the Simons Foundation, seeks ...Show More
Looking for recently uploaded episodes
Quanta Writers and Editors Discuss Trends in Science and Math

1:05:34 | Nov 21st, 2018

Join writers and editors from Quanta Magazine for a stimulating panel discussion on the biggest ideas in math and science presented in two new books: Alice and Bob Meet the Wall of Fire and The Prime Number Conspiracy. Panelists will discuss whether ...Show More
Finally, a Problem That Only Quantum Computers Will Ever Be Able to Solve

11:50 | Jun 21st, 2018

Computer scientists have been searching for years for a type of problem that a quantum computer can solve but that any possible future classical computer cannot. Now they’ve found one. Read more at Music by Vibe Mountain.
Why Earth’s Cracked Crust May Be Essential for Life

26:47 | Jun 7th, 2018

Life needs more than water alone. Recent discoveries suggest that plate tectonics has played a critical role in nourishing life on Earth. The findings carry major consequences for the search for life elsewhere in the universe. Music by Audionautix.
Overtaxed Working Memory Knocks the Brain Out of Sync

13:52 | Jun 6th, 2018

Researchers find that when working memory gets overburdened, dialogue between three brain regions breaks down. The discovery provides new support for a broader theory about how the brain operates. Read more at Music by SYBS.
A New World’s Extraordinary Orbit Points to Planet Nine

09:11 | May 16th, 2018

Astronomers argue that there’s an undiscovered giant planet far beyond the orbit of Neptune. A newly discovered rocky body has added evidence to the circumstantial case for it.
A Thermodynamic Answer to Why Birds Migrate

17:19 | May 7th, 2018

New modeling studies suggest that birds migrate to strike a favorable balance between their input and output of energy. Read more at Music by Kevin MacLeod.
Machine Learning’s ‘Amazing’ Ability to Predict Chaos

20:08 | Apr 18th, 2018

In new computer experiments, artificial-intelligence algorithms can tell the future of chaotic systems.
Decades-Old Graph Problem Yields to Amateur Mathematician

08:59 | Apr 17th, 2018

By making the first progress on the “chromatic number of the plane” problem in over 60 years, an anti-aging pundit has achieved mathematical immortality.
Brainless Embryos Suggest Bioelectricity Guides Growth

20:46 | Mar 13th, 2018

Researchers are building a case that long before the nervous system works, the brain sends crucial bioelectric signals to guide the growth of embryonic tissues. Read more at Music by SYBS.
To Test Einstein’s Equations, Poke a Black Hole

16:30 | Mar 8th, 2018

Two teams of researchers have made significant progress toward proving the black hole stability conjecture, a critical mathematical test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Read more at Music by Vibe Mountain.
Oxygen and Stem Cells May Have Reshaped Early Complex Animals

16:30 | Mar 7th, 2018

An unlikely team offers a controversial hypothesis about what enabled animal life to get more complex during the Cambrian explosion.
Physicists Find a Way to See the ‘Grin’ of Quantum Gravity

20:57 | Mar 6th, 2018

A recently proposed experiment would confirm that gravity is a quantum force.
Why Don’t Patients Get Sick in Sync? Modelers Find Statistical Clues

11:22 | Mar 1st, 2018

The long, variable times that some diseases incubate after infection defies simple explanation. An idealized model of tumor growth offers a statistical solution.
Why Artificial Intelligence Like AlphaZero Has Trouble With the Real World

20:37 | Feb 21st, 2018

The latest artificial intelligence systems start from zero knowledge of a game and grow to world-beating in a matter of hours. But researchers are struggling to apply these systems beyond the arcade.
Scant Evidence of Power Laws Found in Real-World Networks

21:47 | Feb 15th, 2018

A new study challenges one of the most celebrated and controversial ideas in network science.
Smart Swarms Seek New Ways to Cooperate

16:07 | Feb 14th, 2018

New algorithms show how swarms of very simple robots can be made to work together as a group.
How the Universe Got Its Bounce Back

22:17 | Jan 31st, 2018

Cosmologists have shown that it’s theoretically possible for a contracting universe to bounce and expand. The new work resuscitates an old idea that directly challenges the Big Bang theory of cosmic origins.
A Domesticated Dingo? No, but Some Are Getting Less Wild

17:02 | Jan 23rd, 2018

Near an Australian desert mining camp, wild dingoes are losing their fear of humans. Their genetic and behavioral changes may echo those from the domestication of dogs.
Fossil Discoveries Challenge Ideas About Earth’s Start

19:39 | Jan 22nd, 2018

A series of fossil finds suggests that life on Earth started earlier than anyone thought, calling into question a widely held theory of the solar system’s beginnings.
Mathematicians Find Wrinkle in Famed Fluid Equations

16:30 | Dec 21st, 2017

Two mathematicians prove that under certain extreme conditions, the Navier-Stokes equations output nonsense.
Light-Triggered Genes Reveal the Hidden Workings of Memory

15:57 | Dec 14th, 2017

Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa’s lab is overturning old assumptions about how memories form, how recall works and whether lost memories might be restored from "silent engrams."
Secret Link Uncovered Between Pure Math and Physics

19:32 | Dec 1st, 2017

An eminent mathematician reveals that his advances in the study of millennia-old mathematical questions owe to concepts derived from physics.
How Bacteria Help Regulate Blood Pressure

08:50 | Nov 30th, 2017

Kidneys sniff out signals from gut bacteria for cues to lower blood pressure after meals. Our understanding of how the symbiotic microbes affect health is becoming much more molecular.
Choosy Eggs May Pick Sperm for Their Genes, Defying Mendel’s Law

15:25 | Nov 15th, 2017

The oldest law of genetics says that gametes combine randomly, but experiments hint that sometimes eggs select sperm actively for their genetic assets.
A Zombie Gene Protects Elephants From Cancer

10:25 | Nov 7th, 2017

Elephants did not evolve to become huge animals until after they turned a bit of genetic junk into a unique defense against inevitable tumors.
Best-Ever Algorithm Found for Huge Streams of Data

15:30 | Oct 24th, 2017

To efficiently analyze a firehose of data, scientists first have to break big numbers into bits.
Newfound Wormhole Allows Information to Escape Black Holes

16:12 | Oct 23rd, 2017

Physicists theorize that a new “traversable” kind of wormhole could resolve a baffling paradox and rescue information that falls into black holes.
New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning

15:57 | Sep 21st, 2017

A new idea is helping to explain the puzzling success of today’s artificial-intelligence algorithms — and might also explain how human brains learn.
Clever Machines Learn How to Be Curious

19:24 | Sep 19th, 2017

Computer scientists are finding ways to code curiosity into intelligent machines.
Interspecies Hybrids Play a Vital Role in Evolution

17:52 | Aug 24th, 2017

Hybrids, once treated as biological misfits, play a vital role in the evolution of many animal species. Now conservationists are trying to reconcile that truth with policies.
Mathematicians Tame Rogue Waves, Lighting Up Future of LEDs

14:06 | Aug 22nd, 2017

The mathematician Svitlana Mayboroda and collaborators have figured out how to predict the behavior of electrons — a mathematical discovery that could have immediate practical effects.
What Made the Moon? New Ideas Try to Rescue a Troubled Theory

21:21 | Aug 2nd, 2017

Textbooks say that the moon was formed after a Mars-size mass smashed the young Earth. But new evidence has cast doubt on that story, leaving researchers to dream up new ways to get a giant rock into orbit.
In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium

15:32 | Jul 18th, 2017

John Nash’s notion of equilibrium is ubiquitous in economic theory, but a new study shows that it is often impossible to reach efficiently.
Pentagon Tiling Proof Solves Century-Old Math Problem

10:44 | Jul 11th, 2017

A French mathematician has completed the classification of all convex pentagons, and therefore all convex polygons, that tile the plane.
Can Microbes Encourage Altruism?

15:43 | Jun 29th, 2017

If gut bacteria can sway their hosts to be selfless, it could answer a riddle that goes back to Darwin.
Dark Matter Recipe Calls for One Part Superfluid

14:38 | Jun 13th, 2017

A different kind of dark matter could help to resolve an old celestial conundrum.
A Puzzle of Clever Connections Nears a Happy End

11:33 | May 30th, 2017

The three young friends who devised the “happy ending” problem would become some of the most influential mathematicians of the 20th century, but were never able to solve their own puzzle. Now it receives its first big breakthrough.
The Thoughts of a Spiderweb

12:41 | May 23rd, 2017

Spiders appear to offload cognitive tasks to their webs, making them one of a number of species with a mind that isn’t fully confined within the head.
How to Quantify (and Fight) Gerrymandering

16:54 | Apr 4th, 2017

Powerful new quantitative tools are now available to combat partisan bias in the drawing of voting districts.
A Long-Sought Proof, Found and Almost Lost

14:36 | Mar 28th, 2017

When a German retiree proved a famous long-standing mathematical conjecture, the response was underwhelming.
A New Blast May Have Forged Cosmic Gold

12:07 | Mar 23rd, 2017

For decades, researchers believed that violent supernovas forged gold and other heavy elements. But many now argue for a different cosmic quarry.
Why Did Life Move to Land? For the View

0:00 | Mar 7th, 2017

The ancient creatures who first crawled onto land may have been lured by the informational benefit that comes from seeing through air.
New Number Systems Seek Their Lost Primes

0:00 | Mar 2nd, 2017

For centuries, mathematicians tried to solve problems by adding new values to the usual numbers. Now they’re investigating the unintended consequences of that tinkering.
Researchers Tap a Sleep Switch in the Brain

0:00 | Feb 14th, 2017

Powerful new experiments have uncovered some of the molecular underpinnings of sleep.
Experiment Reaffirms Quantum Weirdness

0:00 | Feb 7th, 2017

Physicists are closing the door on an intriguing loophole around the quantum phenomenon Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.”
To Live Your Best Life, Do Mathematics

0:00 | Feb 2nd, 2017

The ancient Greeks argued that the best life was filled with beauty, truth, justice, play and love. The mathematician Francis Su knows just where to find them.
Dividing Droplets Could Explain Life’s Origin

0:00 | Jan 19th, 2017

Researchers have discovered that simple “chemically active” droplets grow to the size of cells and spontaneously divide, suggesting they might have evolved into the first living cells.
Infant Brains Reveal How the Mind Gets Built

0:00 | Jan 10th, 2017

Is the brain a blank slate, or is it wired from birth to understand the world?
3-D Fractals Offer Clues to Complex Systems

0:00 | Jan 3rd, 2017

By folding fractals into 3-D objects, a mathematical duo hopes to gain new insight into simple equations.
Grand Unification Dream Kept at Bay

0:00 | Dec 15th, 2016

Physicists have failed to find disintegrating protons, throwing into limbo the beloved theory that the forces of nature were unified at the beginning of time.
The Case Against Dark Matter

0:00 | Nov 29th, 2016

A proposed theory of gravity does away with dark matter, even as new astrophysical findings challenge the need for galaxies full of the invisible mystery particles.
What Sonic Black Holes Say About Real Ones

0:00 | Nov 8th, 2016

Can a fluid analogue of a black hole point physicists toward the theory of quantum gravity, or is it a red herring?
Giant Genetic Map Shows Life’s Hidden Links

0:00 | Oct 25th, 2016

In a monumental set of experiments, spread out over nearly two decades, biologists removed genes two at a time to uncover the secret workings of the cell.
The Art of Teaching Math and Science

0:00 | Oct 11th, 2016

The impasse in math and science instruction runs deeper than test scores or the latest educational theory. What can we learn from the best teachers on the front lines?
How to Cut Cake Fairly and Finally Eat It Too

0:00 | Oct 6th, 2016

Computer scientists have come up with a bounded algorithm that can fairly divide a cake among any number of people.
Strange Dark Galaxy Puzzles Astrophysicists

0:00 | Sep 27th, 2016

The surprising discovery of a massive, Milky Way–size galaxy that is made of 99.99 percent dark matter has astronomers dreaming up new ideas about how galaxies form.
Hacker-Proof Code Confirmed

0:00 | Sep 20th, 2016

Computer scientists can prove certain programs to be error-free with the same certainty that mathematicians prove theorems.
Colliding Black Holes Tell New Story of Stars

0:00 | Sep 6th, 2016

Just months after their discovery, gravitational waves coming from the mergers of black holes are shaking up astrophysics.
The Neuroscience Behind Bad Decisions

0:00 | Aug 23rd, 2016

Irrationality may be a consequence of the brain’s ravenous energy needs.
What No New Particles Means for Physics

0:00 | Aug 9th, 2016

Physicists are confronting their “nightmare scenario.” What does the absence of new particles suggest about how nature works?
Neutrinos Hint of Matter-Antimatter Rift

0:00 | Jul 28th, 2016

A hint that neutrinos behave differently than antineutrinos suggests an answer to one the biggest questions in physics.
Biologists Search for New Model Organisms

0:00 | Jul 26th, 2016

The bulk of biological research is centered on a handful of species. Are we missing a huge chunk of interesting biology?
A Debate Over the Physics of Time

0:00 | Jul 19th, 2016

According to our best theories of physics, the universe is a fixed block where time only appears to pass.
A Bird’s-Eye View of Nature’s Hidden Order

0:00 | Jul 12th, 2016

Scientists are exploring a mysterious pattern, found in birds’ eyes, boxes of marbles and other surprising places, that is neither regular nor random.
How Feynman Diagrams Almost Saved Space

0:00 | Jul 5th, 2016

Richard Feynman's famous diagrams weren’t just a way to do calculations. They represented a deep shift in thinking about how the universe is put together.
The Oracle of Arithmetic

0:00 | Jun 28th, 2016

At 28, Peter Scholze is uncovering deep connections between number theory and geometry.
New Life Found That Lives Off Electricity

0:00 | Jun 21st, 2016

Scientists have figured out how microbes can suck energy from rocks. Such lifeforms might be more widespread than anyone anticipated.
Computing’s Search for Quantum Questions

11:36 | Jun 2nd, 2016

Recent tests show that quantum computers made by D-Wave systems should solve some problems faster than ordinary computers. Researchers have begun to map out exactly which queries might benefit from these quantum machines.
Simple Set Game Proof Stuns Mathematicians

0:00 | May 31st, 2016

A new series of papers has settled a long-standing question related to the popular game in which players seek patterned sets of three cards.
How Neanderthal DNA Helps Humanity

0:00 | May 26th, 2016

Neanderthals and Denisovans may have endowed modern humans with genetic variants that helped them thrive in new environments.
New Support for Alternative Quantum View

0:00 | May 16th, 2016

An experiment claims to have invalidated a decades-old criticism against pilot-wave theory, an alternative formulation of quantum mechanics that eliminates the most baffling features of the subatomic universe.
New Evidence for the Necessity of Loneliness

0:00 | May 10th, 2016

A specific set of neurons deep in the brain may motivate us to seek company, holding social species together.
Tiny Tests Seek the Universe’s Big Mysteries

0:00 | May 3rd, 2016

The search for exotic new physical phenomena is being led by huge experiments like the Large Hadron Collider. But at the other end of the spectrum lie tabletop experiments — small-scale probes of hidden dimensions, dark matter and dark energy.
A Secret Flexibility Found in Life’s Blueprints

0:00 | Apr 26th, 2016

A new study reveals that individual genes can create many different versions of the molecular machinery that powers the cell.
Physicists Hunt for the Big Bang’s Triangles

0:00 | Apr 19th, 2016

The story of the universe’s birth — and evidence for string theory — could be found in triangles and myriad other shapes in the sky.
Debate Intensifies Over Dark Disk Theory

0:00 | Apr 12th, 2016

In the new, free-for-all era of dark matter research, the controversial idea that dark matter is concentrated in thin disks is being rescued from scientific oblivion.
Mapping the Brain to Build Better Machines

0:00 | Apr 6th, 2016

A project to decipher the brain’s learning rules could revolutionize machine learning.
Sphere Packing Solved in Higher Dimensions

0:00 | Mar 30th, 2016

The Ukrainian mathematician Maryna Viazovska has solved the centuries-old sphere-packing problem in dimensions eight and 24.
The Beasts That Keep the Beat

0:00 | Mar 22nd, 2016

New insights from neuroscience — aided by a small zoo’s worth of dancing animals — are revealing the biological origins of rhythm.
Mathematicians Discover Prime Conspiracy

0:00 | Mar 14th, 2016

A previously unnoticed property of prime numbers seems to violate a long-standing assumption about how they behave.
After Black Holes Collide, a Puzzling Flash

0:00 | Mar 2nd, 2016

A satellite spotted a burst of light just as gravitational waves rolled in from the collision of two black holes. Was the flash a cosmic coincidence, or do astrophysicists need to rethink what black holes can do?
The Quantum Secret to Superconductivity

0:00 | Feb 22nd, 2016

In a virtuoso experiment, physicists have revealed details of a “quantum critical point” that underlies high-temperature superconductivity.
How to Build Life in a Pre-Darwinian World

0:00 | Feb 16th, 2016

Perhaps chemistry played a more instrumental role in the origin of life than scientists thought.
Gravitational Waves Discovered at Long Last

34:47 | Feb 11th, 2016

Ripples in space-time have been detected a century after Einstein predicted them, launching a new era in astronomy.
Scientists Debate Signatures of Alien Life

0:00 | Feb 2nd, 2016

Searching for signs of life on faraway planets, astrobiologists must decide which telltale biosignature gases to target.
New Clues to How the Brain Maps Time

0:00 | Jan 26th, 2016

The same brain cells that track location in space appear to also count beats in time. The research suggests that our thoughts may take place on a mental space-time canvas.
Quantum Weirdness Now a Matter of Time

0:00 | Jan 19th, 2016

Bizarre quantum bonds connect distinct moments in time, suggesting that quantum links — not space-time — constitute the fundamental structure of the universe.
String Theory Meets Loop Quantum Gravity

0:00 | Jan 12th, 2016

Two leading candidates for a “theory of everything,” long thought to be incompatible, may be two sides of the same coin.
Landmark Algorithm Breaks 30-Year Impasse

0:00 | Dec 14th, 2015

Computer scientists are abuzz over a fast new algorithm for solving one of the central problems in the field.
Math Quartet Joins Forces on Unified Theory

0:00 | Dec 8th, 2015

A new breakthrough that bridges number theory and geometry is just the latest triumph for a close-knit group of mathematicians.
The Incredible Shrinking Sex Chromosome

0:00 | Dec 1st, 2015

Nature offers species a panoply of ways to determine an organism’s sex. That flexibility suggests we need not be concerned about losing sex chromosomes, but it raises the question of why such a fundamental property is so variable.
Nature’s Critical Warning System

0:00 | Nov 18th, 2015

Scientists are homing in on a warning signal that arises in complex systems like ecological food webs, the brain and the Earth’s climate. Could it help prevent future catastrophes?
How Humans Evolved Supersize Brains

0:00 | Nov 10th, 2015

Scientists have begun to identify the symphony of biological triggers that powered the extraordinary expansion of the human brain.
Mongrel Microbe Tests Story of Complex Life

0:00 | Oct 29th, 2015

A newly discovered class of microbe could help to resolve one of the biggest and most controversial mysteries in evolution — how simple microbes transformed into the complex cells that produced animals, plants and fungi.
Theorists Draw Closer to Perfect Coloring

0:00 | Oct 20th, 2015

A theorem for coloring a large class of “perfect” mathematical networks could ease the way for a long-sought general coloring proof.
A Twisted Path to Equation-Free Prediction

0:00 | Oct 13th, 2015

Complex natural systems defy analysis using a standard mathematical toolkit, so one ecologist is throwing out the equations.
The Mutant Genes Behind the Black Death

0:00 | Oct 6th, 2015

Only a few genetic changes were enough to change an ordinary stomach bug into the bacteria responsible for the plague.
A New Map Traces the Limits of Computation

0:00 | Sep 29th, 2015

A major advance in computational complexity reveals deep connections between the classes of problems that computers can — and can’t — possibly do.
Visions of Future Physics

0:00 | Sep 22nd, 2015

Nima Arkani-Hamed is championing a campaign to build the world’s largest particle collider, even as he pursues a new vision of the laws of nature.
How the Body’s Trillions of Clocks Keep Time

0:00 | Sep 15th, 2015

Cellular clocks are almost everywhere. Clues to how they work are coming from the places they’re not.
Einstein’s Parable of Quantum Insanity

0:00 | Sep 10th, 2015

Einstein refused to believe in the inherent unpredictability of the world. Is the subatomic world insane, or just subtle?
A New Design for Cryptography’s Black Box

0:00 | Sep 2nd, 2015

A recent cryptographic breakthrough has proven difficult to put into practice. But new advances show how near-perfect computer security might be surprisingly close at hand.
A Life in Games

33:33 | Aug 28th, 2015

The mathematician John Horton Conway’s myriad accomplishments — including the Game of Life, sprouts and the surreal numbers — are the product of a mind at play.
How Mutant Viral Swarms Spread Disease

0:00 | Aug 25th, 2015

A new understanding of viral swarms is helping researchers predict how viruses will evolve and where disease is likely to spread.
A Surprise Source of Life’s Code

34:12 | Aug 18th, 2015

Emerging data suggests the seemingly impossible — that mysterious new genes arise from “junk” DNA.
How Life and Luck Changed Earth’s Minerals

34:12 | Aug 11th, 2015

Did the minerals on our planet arise in a predictable fashion, or did they result from chance events? The answers could eventually help scientists identify planets likely to harbor life.
At Tiny Scales, a Giant Burst on Tree of Life

19:39 | Jul 28th, 2015

A new technique for finding and characterizing microbes has boosted the number of known bacteria by almost 50 percent, revealing a hidden world all around us.
The New Laws of Explosive Networks

21:44 | Jul 14th, 2015

Researchers are uncovering the hidden laws that reveal how the Internet grows, how viruses spread, and how financial bubbles burst.
New Letters Added to the Genetic Alphabet

23:56 | Jul 10th, 2015

Scientists hope that new genetic letters, created in the lab, will endow DNA with new powers.