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Top stories: Jack the Ripper, engineering coral, and the first woman to win math’s Nobel

Does a new genetic analysis finally reveal the identity of Jack the Ripper?

Forensic scientists say they have finally identified Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer who terrorized the streets of London more than a century ago. Genetic tests published this week point to Aaron Kosminski, a Polish barber who was 23 and a prime police suspect when the murders were committed in 1888. But critics say the evidence isn’t strong enough to declare this case closed.

Researchers embrace a radical idea: engineering coral to cope with climate change

As the world’s coral reefs wither in the face of rising temperatures, scientists in Australia are working to give corals a genetic helping hand. Strategies considered radical and intrusive even 5 years ago are now the subject of ambitious research initiatives, such as the National Sea Simulator in Townsville, Australia, a $25 million facility nestled in eucalyptus-lined hills on the shore of the Coral Sea. The goal is to find ways to tweak coral to help them resist bleaching—a potentially fatal condition triggered by underwater heat waves. But the work faces questions of whether it’s technically feasible, and whether such genetic tinkering in a wild ecosystem might have unexpected consequences.

Founder of geometric analysis honored with Abel Prize

Karen Uhlenbeck has won the 2019 Abel Prize, a Nobel-level honor in math, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced 19 March. Uhlenbeck pioneered the field of geometric analysis, which combines the technical power of analysis—a branch of math that extends and generalizes calculus—with the more conceptual areas of geometry and topology. She will receive an award of 6 million Norwegian kroner (approximately $700,000) and is the first woman to win the prize since it was first given in 2003.

Humans—like other animals—may sense Earth’s magnetic field

A study published today offers some of the best evidence yet that humans, like many other creatures, can sense Earth’s magnetic field. But it doesn’t settle other questions that have swirled around this contentious idea for decades: If we do have a subconscious magnetic sense, does it affect our behavior? And does it arise from an iron mineral found in our brains, as the authors believe?

Clever math enables MRI to map molecules implicated in multiple sclerosis, other diseases

MRI scanners can map a person’s innards in exquisite detail, but they say little about composition. Now, physicists are pushing MRI to a new realm of sensitivity to trace specific biomolecules in tissues, a capability that could aid in diagnosing Alzheimer’s and other diseases. The advance springs not from improved scanners, but from better methods to solve a notoriously difficult math problem and extract information already latent in MRI data.