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Perelman and Majorana: Two Tales of Genius

A new biography of geometry genius Grigory Perelman is enjoyable, but not as successful as one of unheralded physicist Ettore Majorana

3 min read
Perelman and Majorana: Two Tales of Genius

On the evening of 26 March, 1938, a young Italian nuclear physicist boarded a ferry in Palermo, Sicily. At the time, Ettore Majorana—a working colleague of nuclear pioneer Enrico Fermi, a friend to uncertainty principle developer Werner Heisenberg, and an undisputed genius in his own right—seemed poised to shake up or even revolutionize physics. Instead, he was never heard from again. Some believe Majorana committed suicide. Others suspect he slipped away to start a new life elsewhere.

Less eerily but no less strangely, in December 2005, Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman quit his job at the Steklov Mathematical Institute in St. Petersburg. The preeminent genius who two years earlier proved the Poincaré conjecture, one of the greatest problems in mathematics, simply stopped working. He reportedly hasn't done any math since and today lives with his mother.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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