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See Inside Scientific American Volume 310, Issue 2

Knowledge Quest: From Proton Anomalies to the Progress of Science in Scientific American

Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina introduces the February 2014 issue of Scientific American
John Dalton' atoms


Atoms diagrammed by British chemist John Dalton, from an 1896 publication.
Credit: Science Source

"We have reached out into the universe and pulled back an anomaly," write Jan C. Bernauer and Randolf Pohl in our cover story, "The Proton Radius Puzzle." "And so we have a great chance to learn something new."

Their task was a straightforward one: measure the radius of a proton. After using two complementary techniques to get precise measurements, however, the answers they got were not the same. And the values were not just slightly different; they were different by more than five times the uncertainty in either measurement. How could that happen? Could it be that we don't understand the physics of precise measurements or that we don't understand the seemingly familiar proton as well as we thought?

As I look over this feature and the rest of the pages we are preparing for the printer, I find myself again reflecting on how often the lesson that science teaches humanity is "what you thought just isn't so simple." And the scientists' response is not the frustration you might expect but a passion to get to the bottom of yet another delicious mystery. I find that quest very inspiring. The drive to learn and share that knowledge to improve the world not only powers science but underpins everything that we do at Scientific American.

We can support our ambition through some surprising tools, as you will learn in "Why Gaming Could Be the Future of Education." Author Alan Gershenfeld explains that new research shows video games have great educational potential to exercise higher-order skills such as problem solving and evidence-based reasoning. Gershenfeld plans to bring further insights to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in January and is a speaker in a discussion I am moderating on science literacy.

Last (literally), when you get to Graphic Science, you will have a chance to engage in some of your own reflection about the progress of science as chronicled on our most recent nine decades of covers since Scientific American's founding in 1845. As you will see in the images and the data about coverage topics, the magazine—the longest continuously published in the U.S.—not only has chronicled the arc of science over the years but has, like any creature on the planet, itself evolved and adapted over that time span.

Available for libraries and academic institutions for the past few years, our digital archives are now also ready for individual access for the first time. As any science-interested person would do, we invite you to explore the evidence for yourself—and we hope you, too, find it illuminating.

This article was originally published with the title "Knowledge Quest."

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