Birdsong, quantum computing, Omicron mutations, etc.

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Science is about expanding the realm of human perception. Sometimes that means making the invisible visible, as when Galileo pointed a telescope at Jupiter, discovered moons around another planet, and changed our literal worldview. We now know that flowers, as beautiful as they are to us, communicate with birds and bees using ultraviolet patterns that we cannot see, and that elephants can sense vibrations traveling through the ground miles away. distance.

People watched the birds sing and call because there were people. Birds vocalize to attract mates, defend their territory, find each other, etc. Many birdsong sounds musical to us, with distinct notes repeating in pleasing patterns at a constant speed – melody, rhythm and tempo, essentially. But as Adam Fishbein and other bird researchers have recently discovered, what sounds so fascinating to us doesn’t make sense to them. The birds don’t seem to listen to the melody as much as they do the fine details of each note that humans can’t detect.

Most parasites are invisible, although some are not (like tapeworms, yuck). Beauty is in the bird’s ear or the scientist’s eye of the beholder, and there is a growing movement to recognize that pests can go extinct and need to be protected. As science journalist Rachel Nuwer writes, up to 40-50% of all animal species are parasites, and nearly every other species has at least one parasite that evolved to parasitize it.

Parasites are one of the problems plaguing fish farms. When you concentrate fish in huge enclosures, parasites and disease spread quickly and can escape wild animals. Today, savvy scientists and aquaculturists are experimenting with environmentally and financially sustainable fish farming practices. Author Ellen Ruppel Shell takes us to Maine, where the commercial fishery for cod, shrimp and mussels has collapsed, and where the climate emergency is pushing lobsters to cooler Canadian waters. Farmed shellfish and even the huge finfish farms being developed there could be the future of seafood.

The future of computing is the subject of our fascinating cover story this month, by quantum theorist Zaira Nazario. Quantum computing uses basic units called qubits (analogous to bits in classical computers but in the form of waves rather than 1s and 0s) that are bound together by quantum entanglement. Quantum computers can store and manipulate information at scales and speeds far beyond anything classical computers can do, but they also suffer from errors unprecedented in classical computers. Nazario specializes in correcting these mistakes, and here she recounts the challenges, discoveries, and delights of this mind-blowingly important work, with graphics that help make invisible quantum quirks visible.

The Ashaninka people have a different view of what is possible. They saw parts of the Amazon destroyed by loggers, miners and drug traffickers, and they explored sophisticated and creative methods to protect their homeland. In an unusual (for us) collaboration, anthropologist Carolina Schneider Comandulli and Apiwtxa Association share a community’s worldview and how it inspired them to create a sustainable, self-sufficient way of life and give back to others. other indigenous peoples of the Amazon and their allies the means to protect and rebuild the habitat. Turn here to enjoy the great photography that accompanies it.

We have just witnessed what is almost certainly the fastest spreading human virus in history, the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. Science journalist Megan Scudellari and graphic designer Veronica Falconieri Hays show why this variant is so good at what it does. Omicron has more genetic mutations than previous variants of concern, starting with mutations that allow it to hide from the human immune system. And more variations are coming. We hope you can stay as safe, healthy, and knowledgeable as possible, as science helps us see, hear, and fix the things we can’t easily perceive.

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