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Physical World

Humans beat robots, hands down

We can readily manipulate all kinds of objects; for them, versatility is a huge struggle. They need better mechanics — and a lot more of the intelligence that goes into handling things.

Pluto’s layered sky: Hazy with a chance of haze

Three years since New Horizons’ pioneering flyby, scientists consider how the probe has revolutionized our understanding of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere and mega-seasons

How to build a mountain range

Geologists explore the rise of the Andes, whose high-altitude peaks and plateau alter global climate.

3-D printing finds a custom foothold in manufacturing

From rocket thrusters to shoe soles, additive technologies expand their sights

Invisibility aside, metamaterials are making waves

Materials that manipulate light and sound in ways not seen in nature may be ready for prime time, improving imaging and communications

Marine wildlife is starting to suffocate

Global warming and agricultural runoff have driven the loss of oxygen in oceans around the world, with looming ecological consequences.

Tricks and traits that let insects take flight

The world’s earliest aeronauts possess a panoply of adaptations to help them navigate the skies.

The marks of extinction

The mass die-offs of Earth’s past may hold clues to our future

How to detect clandestine nuclear weapons programs

A “policy physicist” explores practical ways to sniff out uranium processing from afar

A crash of stars reveals the origins of heavy elements

Colliding neutron stars sent out a gravitational wave as well as new clues about where gold, platinum and other atoms are forged.

Has humankind driven Earth into a new epoch?

Our mark on Earth is so profound that some argue it’s time to bid goodbye to the current geological time period — the Holocene — in favor of a new one: the Anthropocene.

Thar she blows: The what, why and where of geysers

Scientists make progress in mapping the hidden force behind the watery eruptions

Searching for life among the stars

Astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger reckons the galaxy could contain as many as 40 billion habitable planets. Here, she speaks about the search for those faraway worlds and signatures of life.

How snowflakes grow

The cold, finicky science of ice crystal formation

Particles get a move on without motors

Nanospheres that react with their surroundings to propel themselves might find applications in drug delivery

Heterostructures get a quantum buildup

A summary of “Quantum-Matter Heterostructures” by H. Boschker and J. Mannhart that appears in the 2017 Annual Review of Condensed Matter Physics