“So 500 million years is a long time, right?” Stanford paleontologist Jonathan Payne placed a polished slab from the End-Permian* mass extinction on his office table—a block of ancient seafloor from China. The rock accumulated over thousands of years spanning…Read more

From a distance, sex looks simple enough, a bit of huffing and puffing and some rudimentary choreography. But the key scenes in the drama—conception and then development over the course of nine months—take place deep inside the body, hidden from…Read more

The concept of flying an airplane on nuclear power was bandied about shortly after fission was discovered in 1939, before the first chain-reacting atomic pile was successfully tested. As the American effort to develop an atomic bomb attained highest priority…Read more

Suggestibility can be a pretty good thing. It can alleviate pain, cure Parkinson’s, even bring communities closer together. But don’t be fooled. Holmes has his Moriarty. Spider-Man has his Venom. And the placebo has its own evil alter ego.  Welcome…Read more

 In the past, lots of people have hypothesised that it was the European settlers who brought TB to the Americas, explaining why the European strain predominates there. Part of this hypothesis was based on the unhappy knowledge that the Native…Read more

That a total solar eclipse would cross the western regions of North America on July 29, 1878, was inevitable, the natural result of heavenly cycles set in motion eons ago. Eclipses do not occur randomly; they follow patterns known since…Read more

There may be a very good reason why our consciousness condenses sensory messages into a synthetic code, devoid of gaps and ambiguities: such a code is compact enough to be carried forward in time, entering what we usually call “working…Read more

The natural numbers are what we get if we start at 1 and keep adding 1. In fact there is some argument about whether 0 counts as a natural number, but it doesn’t make much difference – we could just…Read more

If I shoot a ball around a billiard table and mark its path, then follow that by shooting another ball off in very nearly the same direction, the second ball will trace out a path very similar to the first…Read more