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New York Times features mathematician Terence Tao

The New York Times has published a feature article on mathematician Terence Tao of UCLA, regarded by some as the most brilliant mathematician alive.

Terence Tao was born in Adelaide, Australia, the son of Chinese immigrants. His intelligence and mathematical precocity were evident at a very young age. He taught himself to read at age 2. At the age of 7, the local newspaper showed a photo of him in an 11th grade mathematics class, kneeling on his chair should that he could reach his desk. A few months later, he was promoted to 12th grade. At the age of

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Moore’s Law is 50 years old: Will it continue?

Introduction

If extraterrestrial astronomers or space travelers were to zoom a telescope to view present-day planet Earth, he/she/they might wonder at the strange appendages that many humans seems to have attached to their hands and ears… Yes, iPhones, Androids and now even smart watches have taken society by storm, for better or worse. Ditto for driverless cars, smart homes, Facebook, Snapchat, online banking, streaming movies, international video calling and a host of other modern conveniences and tools.

All of these wonders are made possible by “Moore’s Law,” that unwritten “law” that semiconductor technology advances roughly by a factor of two

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How certain are scientists that the earth is many millions of years old?

Introduction

In a 2012 interview, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a U.S. presidential candidate for 2016, was asked “How old do you think the Earth is?” He responded, somewhat coyly: “Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that.” Keep in mind that Rubio sits on the Science and Space Subcommittee in the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which oversees by far the largest scientific research budget in the world.

Paul C. Broun (R-Ga.), who serves on the U.S. House Science and Technology Committee, was

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Are there “missing links” in the human family tree?

Introduction

Creationist and and intelligent design writers frequently emphasize “gaps” in the fossil record, and, in particular, claim that there are “missing links” in the human family tree between “apes” and humans. So what are the facts here? Is there indeed an unbridgeable “gap” between apes and humans?

Hardly. To appreciate how far the study of prehuman fossils has come, even in the 1990s it was generally thought that the first hominins (the group that includes modern humans and their extinct predecessors) appeared about four million years ago, and then descended in a fairly “linear” fashion to Homo ancestors who

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Desperately seeking ET: Fermi’s paradox turns 65 (Part II)

Introduction

Why is it so hard to find ET? After 50 years of searching, the SETI project has so far found nothing. In the latest development, on April 14, 2015 Penn State researchers announced that after searching through satellite data on 100,000 galaxies, they saw no evidence, such as infrared signatures, indicative of advanced technological civilizations. Such civilizations might exist, but there was certainly no clear-cut evidence in their data.

In our Part I article, we mentioned how numerous scientists over the past 65 years, since Fermi first raised the question “Where is everybody?,” have examined Fermi’s paradox and have

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Where is ET? Fermi’s paradox turns 65

Introduction

Gravitational lensing revealing multiple copies of the same supernova

 

Sixty five years ago, in 1950, while having lunch with colleagues Edward Teller and Herbert York, who were chatting about a recent cartoon in the New Yorker depicting aliens abducting trash cans in flying saucers, Nobel physicist Enrico Fermi suddenly blurted out, “Where is everybody?” His question is now known as Fermi’s paradox.

Fermi’s line of reasoning was the following: (a) Most likely there are numerous (maybe millions) of other technological civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy alone; (b) if a society is less advanced than us

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I Prefer Pi: Background for Big Pi Day (3/14/15)

“I Prefer Pi” is appropriate title for Pi Day (3/14, i.e., March 14), as it is one of the few palindromes involving Pi = 3.141592653589793… (a palindrome is a phrase that reads the same forwards or backwards).

Pi Day is particularly memorable this year, since only once a century can one celebrate this event in a year where the longer version 3/14/15 continues two more correct digits of Pi. The Museum of Mathematics in New York City, among others, is taking Pi Day 2015 one step further, by celebrating at 9:26am, i.e., 3/14/15/926, adding three more digits. See MoMath’s website

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Is the nature of mathematical proof changing?

Prime numbers

In the field of mathematics, prime numbers are whole numbers that cannot be evenly divided by any integer other than itself and one. The first 12 prime numbers are: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37. Although the study of prime numbers is a very old field of mathematics, numerous intriguing questions remain. “Number theory,” as this field is known, is also increasingly indispensable in modern technology, as it underlies techniques for compressing and encrypting digital data.

One of the as-yet-unsolved questions in number theory is the twin prime conjecture, which asks if

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Does public opinion always agree with scientific fact?

New Pew Research Center poll on scientists’ views versus public views

A new poll by the Pew Research Center has highlighted some stark differences between views of leading scientists, in particular members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and those of the general U.S. public. The results are summarized in this NPR report, while the full results are available from the Pew website.

Here are some of the poll’s findings:

98% of AAAS scientists agree that humans have evolved over time, versus only 65% of the U.S. public. 88% of AAAS scientists agree that it is

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Amir Aczel’s Finding Zero

Amir Aczel, mathematician and author of a number of semi-popular books on mathematics and science (see, for example, Fermat’s Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem), has just published Finding Zero: A Mathematician’s Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers.

Aczel’s Finding Zero addresses a very significant historical question: What is the origin of positional decimal notation with zero, and the associated schemes we learn in grade school for doing basic arithmetic? We concur with Aczel that this discovery is clearly one of the most important scientific discoveries of the ancient world, although his characterization “the greatest

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