Five must-read stories from the past week include the first in a series of the sharpest views of Pluto; a Turing test in the form of an online game; a new, untraceable text-messaging system; the world’s first mathematical theory of humor; and an 18-year-old student who won $400,000 for his video explaining Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.
Cool Ways of Looking at the Special Theory of Relativity win Teen $400k
Last month, 18-year-old student Ryan Chester won $400,000 for his video explaining Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity as part of the inaugural Breakthrough Junior Challenge — an annual, global competition for science and math students, designed to inspire creative thinking about fundamental concepts in the life sciences, physics or mathematics.
Researchers Establish World’s First Mathematical Theory of Humor
How do you quantify something as complex and personal as humor? Researchers have developed a mathematical method of doing just that. The idea for the study was born from earlier research in which test subjects with aphasia were asked to review letter strings and determine whether they were real words or not. They noticed a trend: participants would laugh when they heard made-up non-words like snunkoople.
Untraceable Text-messaging System Comes with Statistical Guarantees
Researchers presented a new, untraceable text-messaging system designed to thwart even the most powerful of adversaries. The system provides a strong mathematical guarantee of user anonymity, while, according to experimental results, permitting the exchange of text messages once a minute or so. Because the system confuses adversaries by drowning telltale traffic patterns in “noise,” its creators have dubbed it “Vuvuzela.”
Online Game Reveals Something Fishy about Mathematical Models
How can you tell if your mathematical model is good enough? In a new study, researchers implemented a Turing test in the form of an online game with over 1700 players to assess how good their models were at reproducing collective motion of real fish schools. Researchers asked players who answered all six questions correctly to give feedback on how they differentiated between real schools and simulated ones.
New Horizons Returns First in Series of Sharpest Views of Pluto
New Horizons spacecraft has sent back the first in a series of the sharpest views of Pluto it obtained during its July flyby — and the best close-ups of Pluto that humans may see for decades. Each week, the piano-sized New Horizons spacecraft transmits data stored on its digital recorders from its flight through the Pluto system. These latest pictures reveal features less than half the size of a city block on Pluto’s diverse surface.