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Zvi Bern is riding a winning streak more befitting a poker shark in Vegas than a theoretical particle physicist at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is famous in his field for betting colleagues that he can calculate with increasing precision the behavior of gravitons, hypothetical particles that are believed to impart the force of gravity. At stake in each wager is a fine bottle of wine. Against all odds, Bern’s wine collection is growing.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been on the losing side of these bets,” said Kelly Stelle, a professor of particle physics at Imperial College London and Bern’s frequent opponent. Each loss has its consolation prize, however. As Bern and his team pull off increasingly sophisticated calculations, the odds improve that they possess the framework of a working theory of quantum gravity, which would describe the quantum-scale source of the force that moors planets to stars and keeps feet on the ground.

“I keep on telling him, he can’t lose,” Bern said.

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