Researchers have uncovered deep connections among different types of random objects, illuminating hidden geometric structures.


Standard geometric objects can be described by simple rules — every straight line, for example, is just y = ax + b — and they stand in neat relation to each other: Connect two points to make a line, connect four line segments to make a square, connect six squares to make a cube.


These are not the kinds of objects that concern Scott Sheffield. Sheffield, a professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studies shapes that are constructed by random processes. No two of them are ever exactly alike.


Consider the most familiar random shape, the random walk, which shows up everywhere from the movement of financial asset prices to the path of particles in quantum physics. These walks are described as random because no knowledge of the path up to a given point can allow you to predict where it will go next.

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It’s easy to assume that for extremely bright young pupils, life in the classroom is a snap. But when conventional school curricula fail to stimulate their hungry young brains, leaving them bored and stymied, these kids may get lost in the system. Some end up with C averages and slip into truancy, and many may never blossom to their full potential. It’s a big loss for lots of reasons, including the fact that these precocious kids represent a unique pool of talent for generating new ideas and innovations. And because of inadequate policies, we may be losing opportunities to nurture the Henry Fords and Marie Curies of the future.


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With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) era, strong demand has grown for wearable and transparent displays that can be applied to various fields such as augmented reality (AR) and skin-like thin flexible devices. However, previous flexible transparent displays have posed real challenges to overcome, which are, among others, poor transparency and low electrical performance. To improve the transparency and performance, past research efforts have tried to use inorganic-based electronics, but the fundamental thermal instabilities of plastic substrates have hampered the high temperature process, an essential step necessary for the fabrication of high performance electronic devices.



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According to our best theories of physics, the universe is a fixed block where time only appears to pass.


Last month, about 60 physicists, along with a handful of philosophers and researchers from other branches of science, gathered at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, to debate this question at the Time in Cosmology conference. The conference was co-organized by the physicist Lee Smolin, an outspoken critic of the block-universe idea (among other topics). His position is spelled out for a lay audience in Time Reborn and in a more technical work, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, co-authored with the philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger, who was also a co-organizer of the conference. In the latter work, mirroring Elitzur’s sentiments about the future’s lack of concreteness, Smolin wrote: “The future is not now real and there can be no definite facts of the matter about the future.” What is real is “the process by which future events are generated out of present events,” he said at the conference.


Andreas Albrecht, a physicist at the University of California, Davis, presents his work on the nature of time. Those in attendance wrestled with several questions: the distinction between past, present and future; why time appears to move in only one direction; and whether time is fundamental or emergent. Most of those issues, not surprisingly, remained unresolved. But for four days, participants listened attentively to the latest proposals for tackling these questions — and, especially, to the ways in which we might reconcile our perception of time’s passage with a static, seemingly timeless universe.

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