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Lucky physicists, runways renamed as magnetic poles shift, what happen to the Zuma spacecraft?

Lucky ping: the invention of the microwave oven (Courtesy: Perimeter Institute)

Lucky ping: the invention of the microwave oven (Courtesy: Perimeter Institute)

By Hamish Johnston

“In the fields of observation, fortune favours the prepared mind,” is a quote attributed to Louis Pasteur and it encapsulates the role of luck in scientific investigation. The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada has put together a list of eight scientific breakthroughs that benefited from a little luck. Examples include Ernest Rutherford and colleagues measuring alpha-particle backscattering when they were really interested in how the particles travelled through the target – which resulted in the discovery of the atomic nucleus. But my favourite is how the microwave oven was invented, as described above.

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Citizen science, astronaut growth, water-flipping physics

Image of a five-planet system

Planet hunting (courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt)

By Michael Banks

This week the American Astronomical Society is meeting in Washington, D.C. At the conference it was announced yesterday that a citizen-scientist project called Exoplanet Explorers had used data from the Kepler mission to detect a new five-planet system.

The 27 authors include, among others, the astronomer and broadcaster Chris Lintott and the particle physicist and broadcaster Brian Cox. Exoplanet Explorers was featured prominently on the Australian TV show Stargazing Live in April and another author on the paper is the Australian TV presenter Julia Zemiro, who is affiliated with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. You can read the paper here. Continue reading

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Name that column

By Margaret Harris

Covering the commercial side of physics has its challenges. Because physics is such a diverse subject, people who train as physicists find their way into a host of different industries. Once there, they tend to blend in with graduates of other scientific disciplines, who are both more numerous and more likely to have their field in their job title: “physicist” is a relatively uncommon title compared to, say, “engineer”. It also doesn’t help that companies, unlike universities, almost never encourage employees to set up official, publicly accessible websites with contact info and details of what they’re working on right now.

But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, and one of Physics World’s resolutions for 2018 (right behind laying off the biscuits and getting more exercise) is to put more emphasis on covering industrial and applied physics. As part of that, we’re introducing a new column in the magazine that will explore the interactions between physics, industry and business in general. In this way, we hope to raise the profile of physicists in industry and, by extension, to emphasize the value that physicists bring to the commercial sector.

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US candidates on science policy, your satellite idea could bag a share in £50,000

No denying: Democratic Party candidate Elizabeth Moro (Courtesy: Elizabeth Moro)

No denying: Democratic Party candidate Elizabeth Moro. (Courtesy: Elizabeth Moro)

By Hamish Johnston

The Science Debate organization sent out questions about science policy to candidates in the 2018 US elections and the answers are in (at least some of them). Prospective US representatives, senators and state governors were queried on 10 topics ranging from climate change to the importance of science to American prosperity.

James Henry, a Democratic Party candidate in Florida, pointed out: “If you look at your monthly credit card statement and remember the kinds of products and services you spent your money on recently, many of the items purchased probably did not even exist 10 or 20 years ago.” This, he added, is why “It is critical that the government encourage a proactive approach to technology”.

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See in the new year with the January 2018 issue of Physics World

By Matin DurraniImage of the cover of the January 2018 issue of Physics World magazine

Happy new year and welcome back to Physics World after our winter break. Why not get 2018 off to a great start with the January 2018 issue of Physics World, which is now out in print and digital format.

In our fantastic cover feature this month, Imre Bartos from Columbia University in New York examines the massive impact on physics that last year’s spectacular observation of colliding neutron stars will have.

Elsewhere, Bruce Drinkwater from the University of Bristol explains how he is using ultrasonics to monitor the damaged Fukushima nuclear-power plant in Japan, while science writer Jon Cartwright looks at how technology can help blind physicists.

Don’t miss either our interview with Fermilab boss Nigel Lockyer and do check out our tips for how to brush up your CV if you’re chasing a job in industry.

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The 10 quirkiest physics stories of 2017

By Michael Banks

From the law of defecation to CERN emojis, physics has had its fair share of quirky stories this year. Here is our pick of the 10 best, not in any particular order.

Marten on display

Marten on display at the Natural History Museum of Rotterdam

Stuffed. (Courtesy: Natural History Museum of Rotterdam)

You may remember the strange story last year of a marten that entered an electrical outbuilding at CERN and gnawed through a 66 kV transformer. The move ended up frying the weasel-like creature and triggering a wide power outage at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). But when another marten met its doom in November 2016 by chewing on an 18 kV transformer, the animal was kept for posterity, rather than being disposed of like its chum. The 18 kV marten was stuffed and earlier this year went on display at the Rotterdam Natural History Museum’s Dead Animal Tales exhibition. “With a growing human population size and ongoing habitat destruction and urbanization, man and animal more often share the same environment. We have to be prepared for more collisions,” museum director Kees Moeliker told Physics World. “This tiny creature shutting down the LHC is, in a way, poetic, and as such deserves a place of honour in our exhibit.”

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A very LIGO Christmas

A special Physics World comic for Christmas 2017

Light speed: LIGO gets a surprise signal (click to expand)

 

By Tushna Commissariat

Every December, we like to do something special for you, dear readers, as the year draws to an end. As you are undoubtedly aware, some of the most exciting news in physics this year came from the world of gravitational-wave research and multimessenger astronomy, in the first ever observation of a neutron-star merger. Indeed, this global discovery bagged our 2017 Breakthrough of the Year award, while the pioneers of gravitational-wave astronomy won this year’s Nobel prize in physics.

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Reviewing a year in industry

By Margaret Harris

Normally when someone talks about their “year in industry”, they’re referring to a period spent working for a company. My own “year in industry” has been rather different: instead of spending 2017 working in a physics-based industry, I’ve been reporting on half a dozen different ones. From nuclear energy and nanotechnology to optics and instrumentation, I’ve heard from physicists who’ve founded new firms, developed new products and navigated their way through tricky waters with financial backers. Here are a few highlights.

 

From hype to hyperloopPress02_HyperloopTT_highres

2017 was another high-profile year for physicist and entrepreneur Elon Musk, with his company SpaceX landing a re-used Falcon 9 rocket back in March and his other firm, Tesla Motors, starting to deliver its much-anticipated Model 3 to mere mortals just this week. But in between, there was also a little bit of hype about Musk and hyperloops: vacuum-based systems that could, according to proponents, transport passengers cheaply at more than half the speed of sound. It sounds far-fetched, but as Jon Cartwright revealed in this feature article for August’s Physics World Focus on Vacuum and Instruments, it’s an idea with a long history.

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World’s smallest Christmas card and a fusion Christmas number one

 

By Hamish Johnston

We are winding down for Christmas here at Physics World and taking a well-deserved break before we launch into 2018.

Over the next week or so, stay tuned for festive content including a comic caption competition on Christmas Day that is inspired by this year’s Nobel prize.

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New constellations, happy birthday Kristian Birkeland, ‘There once was a chemist from Bath…’

Reach for the stars: constellation Serena (Courtesy: University of Birmingham)

Reach for the stars: constellation Serena (Courtesy: University of Birmingham)

By Hamish Johnston

Astronomers at the University of Birmingham have dreamt-up a set of modern constellations in a bid to inspire young people to take an interest in the cosmos. The constellations are related to eight admirable people including J K Rowling, Usain Bolt, Malala Yousafzai, David Attenborough, Mo Farah and Michael Bond. But my favourite is the tennis racquet shaped constellation Serena, named after Serena Williams.

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