“Is space digital?” staff editor Michael Moyer poses this fundamental question in our issue’s cover story. We often speak of the fabric of space, as if it were continuous, but is it instead a kind of patchwork of jittering, foamy quantized bits? Craig Hogan, a physicist at the University of Chicago and director of the Fermilab Particle Astrophysics Center, is hoping to find out. He and his colleagues plan an experiment that will attempt to measure how information, matter and spacetime behave at the tiniest of scales—the Planck scale. If the experiment succeeds, it will change what we currently think we know about the nature of space and time, suggesting a new architecture of physics.
You can find another lesson in how little things can make a big difference by contemplating the surprising—and endless—journey of a handful of dust around the globe, as revealed in “Swept from Africa to the Amazon,” by journalist Jeffrey Bartholet. Long underappreciated, puny motes of natural dust turn out to have a tremendous influence on climate, cloud formation, and the fertilization of oceans and rain forests. “The story of dust,” Bartholet writes, “is actually about the challenges of trying to figure out what is happening to the planet we inhabit.” Indeed.
SCIENCE IN ACTION
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
—Benjamin Franklin, 1706–1790
Kids are born scientists. They ask great questions, and as Franklin—one of the original “scientific Americans”—pointed out, we should foster their efforts to learn the answers firsthand. One such opportunity is the Google Science Fair. The online competition, launched in 2011, drew more than 7,000 entries from 91 countries; the fair has three age categories for 13- to 18-year-olds. Last July I was a finalist judge and master of ceremonies for the amazing awards event at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. The grand prizewinner, Shree Bose, won $50,000 for her work in improving a cancer therapy [see “Her Summer Pastime? Cancer Research,” by John Matson; Advances, Scientific American, September 2011].
This year Scientific American is delighted to help expand the awards honors by sponsoring a $50,000 Science in Action award for a project that addresses a social, environmental or health issue to make a practical difference in the lives of a group or community. We will also bring that winner to the awards event in California in July and establish mentoring for a year. More information, along with an inspiring video of a Science in Action–style project by one of last year’s finalists, Harine Ravichandran of India, is at www.ScientificAmerican.com and at www.google.com/sciencefair.
Entries are due March 30. I can’t wait to see what questions the young scientists of tomorrow have been asking this time around.
This article was originally published with the title A Sea of Spacetime Foam?.