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Physical World

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.

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A preventable malignancy

Some parts of the world are on the path to largely eradicating cervical cancer, but the story is less rosy for other populations, including US Hispanics. Why, and what can be done about it?

The human hand in fish evolution

Fishery practices that go for the big ones may be counterproductive when mostly the small survive

The tricky task of tallying carbon

To slow or stop global warming, the world agrees it must cut carbon dioxide emissions. But monitoring each nation’s output of greenhouse gases is not always straightforward.

In the bank

Britain is profiling the genes, health and lifestyles of its citizens and handing the results to scientists across the world.

Living with chronic illness: Why some cope and others don’t

What helps some people diagnosed with cancer, heart disease or diabetes stay relatively happy and healthy, while others are devastated? Psychologist Vicki Helgeson explains the traits and mindsets that can make the difference.

What are California megafires? | Things to Know

VIDEO: Megafires, which burn over 100,000 acres, can cause catastrophic damage. Researchers are studying fire behavior in the lab and in the field in order to fight these flames more effectively.

Why scientists need to be better at data visualization

The scientific literature is riddled with bad charts and graphs, leading to misunderstanding and worse. Avoiding design missteps can improve understanding of research.  

What are fire whirls? | Things to Know

VIDEO: Researchers examine the behavior of these tornado-like fire columns

Fast facts about the Milky Way | Things to Know

VIDEO: Our galaxy may seem humble, but here are a few things to know about what makes it an exceptional place

Election polls aren’t broken, but they still can’t predict the future

Polling can take the pulse of a population’s sentiment, but swing voters, skewed samples and other issues have always limited its ability to pick a winner

Getting the microbe story, straight from the mouth

A trio of researchers has mapped the living things that make the tongue, gums and palate home

Profiling the perpetrators of past plagues

The ancient pathogens in old graves are as dead as the people they once infected. Still, they tell a vivid tale.

GPS is going places

Here are five things you didn’t know the navigation system could do

Measuring surgical quality

Not all surgeons are equally skilled with a scalpel. Doctors are developing new ways to test — and improve — operating room performance.

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

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.

Revenge is bittersweet at best

Research is starting to reveal how the urge for vengeance may have evolved, when it can be useful and what could prevent the violence it can provoke

The quest for better baby formula

Replicating human milk is no easy feat — nor is separating the science from the hype

Lessons from scorching hot weirdo-planets

Hot Jupiters were the first kind of exoplanet found. A quarter-century later, they still perplex and captivate — and their origins hold lessons about planet formation in general.

How a poisonous plant became breakfast, lunch and dinner for monarchs

By engineering mutations into fruit flies, scientists reconstructed how the butterflies may have evolved resistance to the toxins found in milkweed, allowing their caterpillars to feast on the plant

How maternal mood shapes the developing brain

Stress and anxiety during pregnancy can mean a higher risk of offspring developing ADHD, depression or other conditions. Medical psychologist Catherine Monk explains how prenatal mental care benefits mothers and babies.

Now in development: off-the-shelf stem cells

Their potential as universal donors promises to make regenerative medicine more broadly practical