Questions It Looks Like Science Is Never Gonna Be Able to Answer

Science isn’t a discipline known for moving fast, breaking things or shooting first and asking questions later. If it was, it’d be a tech company (or James Bond). In fact, asking questions is kind of scientists’ whole deal. And once they’ve locked onto a good one, they’ll toil patiently and methodically for however long it takes — even hundreds of years.

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The Riemann Hypothesis

They say academia doesn’t pay, but whoever solves the Riemann hypothesis will win a million-dollar prize. That only speaks to how difficult the problem is, though — mathematicians have been trying to solve it for more than 160 years. It’s ridiculously complicated, but let’s just say that according to the hypothesis, proposed by Bernard Riemann, there’s a pattern to the distribution of prime numbers along the number line. But nobody’s ever found it. In 2024, a pair of mathematicians used “a number of clever and unexpected maneuvers” to get closer than ever to solving the problem, but they’ve still got a long way to go. When they get there, money may not even be a thing anymore.

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Goldbach’s Conjecture

If 160 years seems like a long time, try 282. That’s how long ago Russian mathematician Christian Goldbach theorized that “every even positive integer greater than 3 is the sum of two (not necessarily distinct) primes.” It sounds simple enough if you know nothing about math, but nobody’s been able to prove it one way or another in the years since. In fact, it holds the Guinness World Record for the longest-standing unsolved math problem. Maybe try offering a cash prize?

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The Clarendon Dry Piles

It sounds like a sex act that only exists on Urban Dictionary, but it may be even weirder. It’s two brass bells connected by a pair of batteries called dry piles powered by electrostatic forces. The amount of charge carried between the bells is so small that it appears to be a perpetual motion machine, but the truth is, the batteries are just draining extremely slowly. So slowly, in fact, that the bells have rung almost continuously, about 10 billion times, since 1840 and show no sign of stopping. It’s anyone’s guess when the batteries might die, but we’ll probably never know because the hardware will probably break first. No one even knows what these things are made of. We’re gonna go ahead and call it: This one’s aliens.

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The 500-Year Microbiology Experiment

It’s a stunning act of futility and optimism to bet on society surviving another 500 years, but that’s what scientists at the University of Edinburgh did in 2014 when they endeavored to find out if certain strains of dried bacteria can survive five centuries. The vials of bacteria are to be opened at regular intervals for testing, and the team has taken as many steps toward mitigating cultural differences as possible — for example, leaving instructions that each successive team should rewrite the instructions in modern language — but ultimately, we might be too busy getting Mad Maxxed to carry them out.