Discover September/October 2020

Discover Magazine will amaze you, enlighten you, and open your eyes to the awe and wonder of science and technology. Discover reveals secrets, solves mysteries, and debunks old myths. Discover shares new findings and shows you what makes our universe tick.

United States
Kalmbach Publishing Co. - Magazines
8 期号


science for the people

Four decades ago, a scrappy staff backed by one of the nation’s biggest news magazines launched a publication to bring science to the people. And the people were ready for it. We’d just come off the energy crisis, the organized environmental movement was still relatively young, and researchers were positioning technology to vault us into the 21st century. Time Inc.’s Discover hit the newsstand in October 1980, with a cover story on computers-turned-artists. The visual feature highlighted the beauty of mathematics translating formulas and principles into works of art. It was indicative of the magazine’s enduring focus: the human experience as it intersects with science. Forty years later, you’ll still find the science that matters in our pages: relevant research that’s intertwined with people’s lives and that helps them look to — and…


ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE (“Buying Into Sustainability,” May 2020) Anna Funk ends her interview with Karen Winterich noting that concrete positives rather than negatives are what is needed to improve the environment, yet the same author’s previous article (“It’s Not That Easy Being Green”) is almost all negative and feeds into the “I can’t do anything right so might as well do nothing” mindset. I agree that some approaches are more effective than others, but the article could have used a box of “9 Things You Can Do to Help.” — Tim Morse, Chester, Conn. THE BIG BAG DEBATE (“It’s Not That Easy Being Green,” May 2020) Item 3 mentions research showing it takes far fewer resources to make a single-use plastic bag than any reusable bag. I don’t doubt that research; however, it seems to ignore…

brain power puzzle

Discover reader David Unangst wrote to us with a question about a possible error in the May 2020 article, “This Is Your Brain on Tech.” I have been a loyal reader of your magazine for longer than I care to remember. I found the “This Is Your Brain on Tech” article to be fascinating. But! The human brain can store an amazing amount of information. It’s not clear we can measure how much, nor how we could convert its analog biological capacity to binary computer bits, but let’s assume we figured out how to do this. The billion-bit brain capacity quoted in the article may well be a conservative underestimate of the brain’s capacity. However, the example given, “It can store about a billion bits of data: 50,000 times the information in…

the latest news and notes

BRILLIANT BIOFILM This would look pretty cool on a T-shirt, right? The psychedelic pattern is actually an adhesive cluster of microorganisms (in this case, Vibrio cholerae bacteria) called a biofilm. Consisting of both living cells and the extracellular structure they create, the biofilm sticks to different surfaces, sometimes forming threedimensional wrinkles as it grows. In a recent study, scientists at Princeton University examined how these cellular crinkles coalesce. The research team found that on soft surfaces, some biofilms start out flat before becoming creased due to friction, generating zigzag patterns that look like spokes on a wheel. They say the findings could help scientists prevent biofilms — and the bacteria they harbor — from spreading where they aren’t wanted, like in infections or on medical equipment. — ALEX ORLANDO; PHOTO BY…

detroit’s brainy new autos

Reeling from the invasion of small, fuel-efficient foreign cars, the U.S. auto industry is fighting back this fall with the aid of an ingenious Yankee invention: the “computer on a chip,” or microprocessor. With a healthy infusion of tiny silicon chips, Detroit’s 1981 cars will get better gas mileage, give off far less pollution and provide their owners with a remarkable variety of convenient, useful and amusing devices to make driving safer, less expensive and more fun. The statistics point dramatically to the auto industry’s growing reliance on microprocessors. Both Chrysler and Ford are quintupling their use of chips, Chrysler from 200,000 during the 1980 model year to 1 million in its 1981 models, Ford from 300,000 to 1.5 million. Some 4 million 1981 General Motors cars will be fitted with…

2020 hindsight microprocessors, everywhere

Though novel 40 years ago, it’s difficult to imagine a world today without “those clever microprocessors.” These computer chips are in your cellphone, your laptop and, yes, your car — and their computing power has grown exponentially since their creation in the 1970s. Think of the vehicle features that are commonplace today: anti-lock brakes, backup cameras, electric power steering, even sensors that turn your lights off when you’ve left the vehicle. All these systems use microprocessors to execute their functions. Even if you sought out the most bare-bones car model on the market, you’d find it still has airbags, which are required by law and use microprocessors to determine when they need to deploy in an accident. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, each chip houses a swath…