Math Duo Maps the Infinite Terrain of Minimal Surfaces

In the final months of 2011, Brian White would occasionally hear a tap on his Stanford University office door. Waiting outside would be two younger mathematicians, Fernando Codá Marques and André Neves, always with the same rough question: Did White have a few minutes to help them understand some confusing part of an obscure, several-hundred-page doctoral dissertation written three decades earlier?

The dissertation, by Jon Pitts, presented powerful machinery for constructing minimal surfaces — structures akin to soap films and bubbles — within a wide variety of shapes. Minimal surfaces, when they can be constructed, offer a lens through which to study the geometry of the surrounding space, and they turn up in a range of scientific settings, from the study of black holes … Read the rest

How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Science

No human, or team of humans, could possibly keep up with the avalanche of information produced by many of today’s physics and astronomy experiments. Some of them record terabytes of data every day — and the torrent is only increasing. The Square Kilometer Array, a radio telescope slated to switch on in the mid-2020s, will generate about as much data traffic each year as the entire internet.

The deluge has many scientists turning to artificial intelligence for help. With minimal human input, AI systems such as artificial neural networks — computer-simulated networks of neurons that mimic the function of brains — can plow through mountains of data, highlighting anomalies and detecting patterns that humans could never have spotted.

Of course, the use of computers to aid … Read the rest