Forests absorb carbon dioxide and are thus an important buffer against climate change, for now. Understanding forest dynamics would enable both better management of forests and the ability to assess how they are changing.
Measuring tiny variations in the cosmic microwave background will enable major discoveries about the origin of the universe, including details of its early expansion and of physical phenomena at energies a trillion times greater than those of the largest earthbound accelerators.
A new generation of adaptive optics technology could transform infra-red and optical astronomy and bring fundamental new insights into the nature of massive black holes, dark matter, and extrasolar planets.
The stability of life on Earth depends on the biogeochemical cycles of carbon and other essential elements, which in turn depend on microbial ecosystems that are, at present, poorly understood. New approaches could help gauge the potential for another mass extinction.
Viral infections modify and transform the functioning of individual cells. They do this not just for humans, animals, and plants, but also for the microbes that drive the Earth’s carbon cycle. Could this tiniest form of life impact the balance of nature on a global scale?
Physicists are hot on the trail of a new fundamental particle, whose discovery would not only revolutionize particle physics and require major revisions to current theories, but might also help resolve astrophysical mysteries.
What’s out there in the vastness of the universe? Stars, of course, made of "normal" matter like our sun. But mostly what’s out there is dark matter and dark energy, which we can’t see and don’t yet understand.
This work was made possible by The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation