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Physical World

Out of Antarctica, churnings of climate change

The interplay of carbon dioxide, winds and Southern Ocean waters could be reaching an environmental tipping point

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What makes food ‘local’?

More people are choosing what to eat based on where it was grown, made or created. An anthropologist looks at the myriad ways we link food to place — and whether it really could make a difference.

Rethinking clinical trials for next-generation cancer drugs

Therapies tailored to a tumor’s genetic markers show promise, but figuring out who’s most likely to benefit presents new challenges for scientists

Why real-life places still matter in the age of texting and Twitter

Interactions in physical spaces, whether around the watercooler or at the neighborhood bar, are crucial to forming social ties

Out of the mouth of babes

Learning a language is child’s play, but linguists are still trying to understand how children do it so easily

Animal Weapons | Things to Know

VIDEO: How an evolutionary “arms race” leads to flashy horns, pincers and more across the animal kingdom

Robots designed to self-construct

Robot researcher Mark Yim offers a look inside the promising field of modular reconfigurable robotics — bots that can shift form to tackle an array of tasks

Regeneration: The amphibian’s opus

Certain salamanders can regrow lost body parts. How do they do it? And could people someday do the same?

Plumbing 101: Building the body’s tubes and branches

Lungs, blood vessels, kidneys and more: Our bodies are full of branching pipes. Their development follows a handful of basic principles.

Growing a body, one tiny tug at a time

For decades, genetics and biochemistry have formed the bedrock of developmental biology. But it turns out that physical forces — the way cells push, pull and squeeze each other — play a huge role, too.

How do bodies position arms, legs, wings and organs?

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS: Embryos use a ruler, of sorts, so they can create the right structures at the right spots from head to tail.

How do body parts grow to their right sizes?

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS: Some cells seem to know what to do. Others apparently take their cues from outside. But really, “We don’t get it.”

How do bodies map out left and right?

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS: Early in development, an embryo must “break symmetry” to position organs and other parts correctly.

How does the embryo make all its parts at just the right moments?

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS: If events weren’t properly timed, pandemonium would ensue. Researchers are ferreting out the internal clocks that control developmental sequence and scheduling.

Will we ever fully know how a body gets built?

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS: Research has yielded a parts list of the genes and cell types involved in development. Now it’s time for the computationally intensive task of figuring out how they interact to form a living being. 

Detention nation

As locking up immigrants has become common in the US, scholars tackle ‘crimmigration’ and its complexities

Why green energy finally makes economic sense

Solar and wind generators have suddenly become just as cheap as other ways to produce electric power

Treating the growing trauma of family separation

War, disasters, trafficking and immigration are tearing millions of children from their parents all around the world. A psychologist explores how to help them recover.

When courtroom science goes wrong — and how stats can fix it

COMIC: Bite marks, shoe prints, crime-scene fibers: Matches to suspects are often far shakier than courtroom experts claim. Better statistical methods — among them, a little beast known as the “likelihood ratio” — can cut down on wrong convictions.

The monarch’s stupendous migration, dissected

COMIC: The feisty orange-black butterfly uses a toolbox of biological tricks to find its way down to Mexico for winter and flap north again in spring. Here’s how scientists figured out those tricks — and what they don’t yet understand.

Unpersuasive: Why arguing about climate change often doesn't work

COMIC: In the US, where political parties have increasingly staked claims on one side of the issue or the other, beliefs may be more about belonging than facts

Physicists probe validity of Einstein’s gravity on cosmic scales

New tests could verify general theory of relativity, or find flaws

Sell-by dates | Things to Know

VIDEO: Time stamps on packaging prompt consumers to toss a lot of food, but what do they actually say about safety?

Space is the place for impossible molecules

Compounds with noble gases don’t form naturally on Earth. But in the interstellar medium, they are helping scientists probe the history of the universe.