As a theoretical physicist, Frank Wilczek has made a career out of dreaming up new ways to understand our physical universe—and he’s usually right.
In the early 1980’s, he predicted the existence of a new quasiparticle, called the anyon—which was confirmed in experiments last summer. In 2004, Wilczek was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution decades earlier to the theory of quantum chromodynamics. And in addition to the anyon, he has predicted the existence of a hypothetical particle known as the axion, a possible component of cold dark matter.
More than 62 million years ago, a few million years after the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, a group of seafaring birds known as pelagornithids first appeared in the fossil record. They had long wings, and, unusually for a bird, teeth. They had a much simpler structure than modern mammal teeth, known as pseudoteeth.
While alive, pelagornithids successfully took over the planet. Their remains have been found on every continent, and their existence stretched for more than 50 million years. New research, published inScientific Reportslate last year, reveals that by the time the pelagornithids had been around for 12 million years, they’d already evolved to gigantic sizes never seen since in birds. They had 6-meter wingspans, nearly twice the size of modern albatrosses.