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Physical World

The story of Snowball Earth

Ancient rocks suggest that ice entirely covered our planet on at least two occasions. This theory may help explain the rise of complex life that followed.

Firenadoes and drifting embers: The secrets of extreme wildfires

Researchers probe the weather-like physics of deadly infernos

Grim relics

Archaeology of the Nazi era is about digging for truth through science. Reinhard Bernbeck discusses the origins and ethics of this approach.

Drink your beets

Among the plethora of supplements that promise athletes an advantage, a natural juice gains traction as an evidence-based boost

The quest for autism’s causes, and what it reveals about all of us

The more researchers look, the more multifaceted the risk factors appear — and the more we learn about how the brain works and develops

Gut feelings

The same taste receptors found on the tongue are in the stomach, intestines and elsewhere, too. What are they doing there? Well, a lot.

Looking for economic prosperity without growth

The only way for humanity to solve its environmental problems may be to abandon our quest for continual economic expansion. It’s time to study what a future of degrowth might look like, some researchers say.

Why speech is a human innovation

Many animals have the equipment for spoken language, but only people have all the right neural connections

Unraveling breast cancer risk

Only about 10 percent of people with breast cancer have links to known gene variants, but another 20 percent have significant family history. Scientists are delving deeper into the genome to find what remains unexplained.

The power of brands, conscious and unconscious

Economists explore the complex forces that shape what ends up in your shopping cart and how that might change in the online marketplace 

Mixing it up in the web of life

Many types of marine plankton are either animal-like or plant-like. But a huge number are both, and they are upending ideas about ocean ecology.

The inheritance enigma

Retirement is a time for spending, not saving. And yet many people hold on to their wealth. Understanding why, and where that money ends up, is of increasing importance as the US population ages. 

The human factor in clean water

There are many cheap and effective ways to provide safe water to the world’s poor regions. But projects often fail due to inadequate planning, maintenance or persuasive power.

Genetics extends the long arm of the law

In an evolving branch of forensic science, genealogists help solve crimes, sometimes identifying suspects with the DNA of distant relatives they’ve never met. As cold cases yield, concerns about privacy issues persist.

Why forgetting may make your mind more efficient

Evidence builds for ways that the brain actively erases memories

Reaching out to touch virtual reality

New technologies mean we won’t just see and hear digital information. We’ll also feel it.

Fighting crime with statistics

Taking advantage of “natural experiments,” researchers analyze data to look at what works

Awesome ears: The weird world of insect hearing

Evolution made insect ears many times over, resulting in a dazzling variety of forms found in spots all over the body. Biologists are digging deep into some of those ears to figure out how and why they came to be.

The future of work: Will robots take my job?

Automation threatens to replace some workers but can grow overall employment. The one sure thing is that technology will change how we labor.

She sees dead bodies

An environmental historian looks at how Americans treat corpses and what it means

The financial crisis flared in an era of invisible high risk. Has the system been reformed?

Economists tracking changes post-recession say safeguards should reduce the vast vulnerabilities seen 10 years ago. But putting out fires may be harder.

Bad bosses: Dealing with abusive supervisors

From the boardroom to the basketball court, some managers rely on berating and bullying employees. Researchers have learned one thing: It doesn’t work.

Lost world: An ancient ninth planet that went missing

Clues hidden in today’s orbits hint at the violent origins of the solar system — and a rogue giant kicked out long ago.

Finding the fat: The US Farm Bill and health

America has grown obese on processed, sugary and deceptively cheap foods. Some blame policies enshrined in an unwieldy, bloated beast of legislation.