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The Bunny, the Witch, and the War Room

Sharon Weinberger’s new book, The Imagineers of War, reveals some real-life X-Files

11 min read
photo of person with wired sensors attached to face
Photo: The Voohees

Among the Stanford Research Institute’s many classified research projects in the early 1970s was a contract supported by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Office of Technical Service, a division headed by Sidney Gottlieb, perhaps the most notorious scientist ever to work for the spy agency. The secret program was testing different forms of parapsychology, such as whether humans had the ability to use their minds to visualize or even influence remote objects. Believing the work was showing promise, Gottlieb one day invited the director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), Stephen Lukasik, over to his CIA office to discuss it.

Editor’s note: This article is based on a chapter of the author’s newly released book, The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World (Alfred A. Knopf).

Gottlieb, a chemist by training, was both an unconventional thinker and an unwavering patriot, who believed his work served the good of the nation. “Friends and enemies alike say Mr. Gottlieb was a kind of genius, striving to explore the frontiers of the human mind for his country,” read the 1999 New York Times obituary of Gottlieb, “while searching for religious and spiritual meaning in his life.” In the end, however, Gottlieb would be remembered most for what looked like a willful contempt of common decency.

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A Transistor for Sound Points Toward Whole New Electronics

“Topological” acoustic transistor suggests circuits with dissipationless flow of electricity or light

3 min read
Model of a honeycomb lattice

Model of a honeycomb lattice that serves as the basis for a "transistor" of sound waves—whose design suggests new kinds of transistors of light and electricity, made from so-called topological materials. Electrons in a topological transistor, it is suspected, would flow without any resistance.

Hoffman Lab/Harvard SEAS

Potential future transistors that consume far less energy than current devices may rely on exotic materials called "topological insulators" in which electricity flows across only surfaces and edges, with virtually no dissipation of energy. In research that may help pave the way for such electronic topological transistors, scientists at Harvard have now invented and simulated the first acoustic topological transistors, which operate with sound waves instead of electrons.

Topology is the branch of mathematics that explores the nature of shapes independent of deformation. For instance, an object shaped like a doughnut can be deformed into the shape of a mug, so that the doughnut's hole becomes the hole in the cup's handle. However, the object couldn't lose the hole without changing into a fundamentally different shape.

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Taking Cosmology to the Far Side of the Moon

New Chinese program plans to use satellites in lunar orbit to study faint signals from early universe

3 min read
crescent moon
Darwin Fan/Getty Images

A team of Chinese researchers are planning to use the moon as a shield to detect otherwise hard-to-observe low frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum and open up a new window on the universe. The Discovering the Sky at the Longest Wavelengths (DSL) mission aims to seek out faint, low-frequency signals from the early cosmos using an array of 10 satellites in lunar orbit. If it launches in 2025 as planned, it will offer one of the very first glimpses of the universe through a new lens.

Nine “sister” spacecraft will make observations of the sky while passing over the far side of the moon, using our 3,474-kilometer-diameter celestial neighbor to block out human-made and other electromagnetic interference. Data collected in this radio-pristine environment will, according to researchers, be gathered by a larger mother spacecraft and transmitted to Earth when the satellites are on the near side of the moon and in view of ground stations.

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