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Download the Nature Podcast 27 January 2024

In this episode:

0:55 The AI that deduces solutions to complex maths problems

Researchers at Google Deepmind have developed an AI that can solve International Mathematical Olympiad-level geometry problems, something previous AIs have struggled with. They provided the system with a huge number of random mathematical theorems and proofs, which it used to approximate general rules of geometry. The AI then applied these rules to solve the Olympiad problems and show its workings for humans to check. The researchers hope their system shows that it is possible for AIs to ‘learn’ basic principles from large amounts of data and use them to tackle complex logical challenges, which could prove useful in fields outside mathematics.

Research article: Trinh et al.

09:46 Research Highlights

A stiff and squishy ‘hydrospongel’ — part sponge, part hydrogel — that could find use in soft robotics, and how the spread of rice paddies in sub-Saharan Africa helps to drive up atmospheric methane levels.

Research Highlight: Stiff gel as squishable as a sponge takes its cue from cartilage

Research Highlight: A bounty of rice comes at a price: soaring methane emissions

12:26 The food-web effects of mass predator die-offs

Mass mortality events, sometimes called mass die-offs, can result in huge numbers of a single species perishing in a short period of time. But there’s not a huge amount known about the effects that events like these might be having on wider ecosystems. Now, a team of researchers have built a model ecosystem to observe the impact of mass die-offs on the delicate balance of populations within it.

Research article: Tye et al.

20:53 Briefing Chat

An update on efforts to remove the stuck screws on OSIRIS-REx’s sample container, the ancient, fossilized skin that was preserved in petroleum, and a radical suggestion to save the Caribbean’s coral reefs.

OSIRIS-REx Mission Blog: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Team Clears Hurdle to Access Remaining Bennu Sample

Nature News: This is the oldest fossilized reptile skin ever found — it pre-dates the dinosaurs

Nature News: Can foreign coral save a dying reef? Radical idea sparks debate

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