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Physicists have sent quantum information through a simulated wormhole in a ‘toy’ universe that exists only inside a quantum computer. The tunnel is analogous to passages through space-time that might connect the centres of black holes in the real Universe. “The surprise is not that the message made it across in some form, but that it made it across unscrambled,” write the authors of an analysis published alongside the study in Nature. Some scientists think that such experiments could help to unite the theories of quantum mechanics and gravity in the simplified realm of toy universes, leading ultimately to the answer to one of the biggest problems in physics: a real-world quantum theory of gravity.
Go deeper with an expert analysis by theoretical physicists Adam Brown and Leonard Susskind in the Nature News & Views article (7 min read, Nature paywall)
Two games that have been long considered extremely difficult for artificial intelligence to master have fallen to machines. DeepMind’s artificial intelligence (AI) system DeepNash has used a combination of reinforcement learning and a deep neural network to master Stratego, a game that requires strategic thinking in the face of imperfect information. And a team at Meta AI has built Cicero, an AI that can negotiate and cooperate in the multi-player game Diplomacy. The achievements could pave the way for real-world applications.
Conferences suffer from male-dominated ‘question and manswer’ sessions at both in-person and virtual events, even if they have a good gender balance. Researchers observed a four-day online bioinformatics conference and found that ‘senior men’ (older than 35 years) asked, on average, 9.3 more questions than a junior woman, while senior women asked just 2.3 more questions than a junior man. Possible solutions are more time for question and answer sessions, giving the first query opportunity to a junior woman or taking a short break after the talk to allow the audience to formulate their ideas.
Reference: bioRxiv preprint
Features & opinion
Microbiologist Salvador Luria escaped fascist Italy for the United States, where his socialism, support for desegregation and workers’ rights, and opposition to biological and nuclear weapons caught the attention of the FBI. The agency monitored his every move, even after he won the Nobel prize for his work bacteriophages — viruses that invade and often kill bacteria. Science historian Rena Selya’s well-researched book distils the phage pioneer’s turbulent life, writes reviewer and science journalist Alison Abbott — although it regrettably glosses over his thrilling escape across France by bicycle.
Futures: Science fiction from Nature
In the latest short stories for Nature’s Futures series:
• A customer-service rep in space fails to grasp the severity of the situation in In response to your request for a modification to the atmosphere of break bulk cargo hold 17.
• Stories offer a tenuous link between communities cut off by a planetary disaster in A map of what comes next.
Andrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes Greta Thunberg on climate solutions and an enchantingly illustrated survey of trees.
Ant pupae were previously thought to be immobile sacks that don’t contribute anything to the colony until they metamorphose into adults. But Orli Snir, a social-evolution and behaviour researcher, and her colleagues discovered that pupae produce a nourishing fluid that is drunk by adult ants and fed to larvae. “I was extremely surprised,” Snir tells the Nature Podcast. “This is only a very small example of the intricate network that exists in ant societies.”