Scientific American - 11.2019

(Nancy Kaufman) #1
4 Scientific American, November 2019


Leslie C. Aiello
President, Wenner-Gren Foundation
for Anthropological Research
Robin E. Bell
Research Professor, Lamont-Doherty
Earth Observatory, Columbia University
Emery N. Brown
Edward Hood Taplin Professor
of Medical Engineering and of
Computational Neuro science, M.I.T.,
and Warren M. Zapol Prof essor of
Anesthesia, Harvard Medical School
Vinton G. Cerf
Chief Internet Evangelist, Google
Emmanuelle Charpentier
Scientific Director, Max Planck Institute
for Infection Biology, and Founding
and Acting Director, Max Planck Unit
for the Science of Pathogens
George M. Church
Director, Center for Computational
Genetics, Harvard Medical School
Rita Colwell
Distinguished University Professor,
University of Maryland College Park
and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School
of Public Health
Kate Crawford
Director of Research and Co-founder,
AI Now Institute, and Distinguished
Research Professor, New York University,
and Principal Researcher,
Microsoft Research New York City

Drew Endy
Professor of Bioengineering,
Stanford University
Nita A. Farahany
Professor of Law and Philosophy,
Director, Duke Initiative for
Science & Society, Duke University
Edward W. Felten
Director, Center for Information
Technology Policy, Princeton University
Jonathan Foley
Executive Director and William R. and
Gretchen B. Kimball Chair, California
Academy of Sciences
Jennifer Francis
Senior Scientist,
Woods Hole Research Center
Kaigham J. Gabriel
President and Chief Executive Officer,
Charles Stark Draper Laboratory
Harold “Skip” Garner
Executive Director and Professor, Primary
Care Research Network and Center for
Bioinformatics and Genetics, Edward Via
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Michael S. Gazzaniga
Director, Sage Center for the Study of
Mind, University of California,
Santa Barbara
Carlos Gershenson
Research Professor, National
Autonomous University of Mexico

Alison Gopnik
Professor of Psychology and
Affiliate Professor of Philosophy,
University of California, Berkeley
Lene Vestergaard Hau
Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and
of Applied Physics, Harvard University
Hopi E. Hoekstra
Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology,
Harvard University
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Founder and CEO, Ocean Collectiv
Christof Koch
President and CSO,
Allen Institute for Brain Science
Morten L. Kringelbach
Associate Professor and
Senior Research Fellow, The Queen’s
College, University of Oxford
Robert S. Langer
David H. Koch Institute Professor,
Department of Chemical Engineering,
M .I.T.
Meg Lowman
Director and Founder, TREE Foundation,
Rachel Carson Fellow, Ludwig Maximilian
University Munich, and Research
Professor, University of Science Malaysia
John Maeda
Global Head, Computational Design +
Inclusion, Automattic, Inc.

Satyajit Mayor
Senior Professor,
National Center for Biological Sciences,
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
John P. Moore
Professor of Microbiology and
Immunology, Weill Medical College
of Cornell University
Priyamvada Natarajan
Professor of Astronomy and Physics,
Yale University
Donna J. Nelson
Professor of Chemistry,
University of Oklahoma
Robert E. Palazzo
Dean, University of Alabama at
Birmingham College of Arts and Sciences
Rosalind Picard
Professor and Director,
Affective Computing, M.I.T. Media Lab
Carolyn Porco
Leader, Cassini Imaging Science Team,
and Director, CICLOPS, Space Science
Lisa Randall
Professor of Physics, Harvard University
Martin Rees
Astronomer Royal and Professor
of Cosmology and Astrophysics,
Institute of Astronomy,
University of Cambridge

Daniela Rus
Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor
of Electrical Engineering and Computer
Science and Director, CSAIL, M.I.T.
Eugenie C. Scott
Chair, Advisory Council,
National Center for Science Education
Terry Sejnowski
Professor and Laboratory Head of
Computational Neurobiology Laboratory,
Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Meg Urry
Israel Munson Professor of Physics
and Astronomy, Yale University
Michael E. Webber
Co-director, Clean Energy Incubator,
and Associate Professor,
Department of Mechanical Engineering,
University of Texas at Austin
George M. Whitesides
Professor of Chemistry and Chemical
Biology, Harvard University
Amie Wilkinson
Professor of Mathematics,
University of Chicago
Anton Zeilinger
Professor of Quantum Optics, Quantum
Nanophysics, Quantum Information,
University of Vienna

Curtis Brainard is acting editor in chief of Scientific American.
Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard

Lucy in the Sky

with Crystals

When our creative director, Michael Mrak, sent around the il ­
lustration for this month’s cover story—a conceptual rendering of
so­called time crystals—our features editor, Seth Fletcher, re ­
sponded, “Cool. Very prog rock.” The artwork certainly seems
ready ­made for a Pink Floyd album (Roger Waters, if you’re read­
ing this, the offer’s on the table) or at least one of those velvet
blacklight posters. And time crystals are indeed pretty trippy stuff.
Whereas conventional crystals are orderly states of matter
whose patterns repeat at regular intervals in space, these more
exotic materials have patterns that repeat at regular intervals in
time. Theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek
and his wife, Betsy Devine, coined the term “time crystals” in
2012, and scientists created the first bona fide examples in the
lab in 2017. Still a nascent field of research, it is one that could
lead to unprecedentedly precise measurements of time and dis­
tance, with myriad applications. For more mind­bending details,
turn to Wilczek’s article, “Crystals in Time,” on page  28.
Coincidentally, a few of the concepts that appear in Wilczek’s
story—phase transitions, symmetry breaking and “exquisite”
accuracy—also come up, in a more disheartening context, in
mathematician Bruce  M. Boghosian’s piece about the origins of
economic inequality, “The Inescapable Casino,” on page  70. It
turns out that they have been “hiding in plain sight,” he writes.

Models developed by physicists and mathematicians, which dis­
play features of physical systems, reveal that in free­market
economies capital naturally trickles up from the poor to the rich,
leading to oligarchy. And these models match the extreme con­
centration of wealth that we see in the world today.
Inequality is also at the heart of journalist Rachel Nuwer’s
account of biodiversity research in postconflict Colombia (“Con­
servation after Conflict,” on page 36). The country, which emerged
from decades of civil war in 2016, is home to nearly 63,000 known
species and likely many more. Ironically, the years of strife acted
to protect this rich natural history, which is now coming under
threat as farmers, extractive industries and others move into once
dangerous areas. But biologists can now travel more freely as well,
and the race is on to tally Colombia’s abundant fauna. Yet docu­
mentation alone won’t save those species. Economic disparity led
to war in the first place, so putting biodiversity in service of bet­
ter livelihoods for Colombians is a critical part of the equation.
Almost everywhere we look, science and society are inextrica­
bly intertwined, which is why we must hold researchers to such
high standards. Take, for instance, contributing editor Lydia Den­
worth’s description (page 44) of efforts to improve studies of
social media’s impact on young people. Science will only ever sug­
gest how to resolve our problems, however—the rest is up to  us.
Fortunately, the next generation appears up to the challenge,
and we were proud to sponsor the Scientific American Innovator
Award at the Google Science Fair, held in August. The 16­ year­old
winner was Tuan Dolmen of Turkey, who found a way to harness
energy from tree vibrations to power digital applications in agri­
culture. Explore Tuan’s project at

Illustration by Nick Higgins
© 2019 Scientific American
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