I have just been chatting with Carlo Rubbia, who shared the 1984 Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of the W and Z particles.
Rubbia gave a fantastic talk yesterday about future sources of energy and he was eager to expand on this topic. In particular, he told me about a new technology he has been working on to produce energy from natural gas without releasing any carbon dioxide – a technique called “methane cracking“. While this sounds like a fantastic solution to climate change, at least in the short term, he admits there are lots of technical challenges to overcome.
Is the UK now a sinking ship? (Courtesy: iStock/NatanaelGinting)
By Matin Durrani, Editor, Physics World
Amid all the noise and recrimination following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union (EU) in last week’s national referendum by a majority of 52% to 48%, I was reminded of a comment that Nicola Clase – Sweden’s ambassador to Britain – made to Times columnist David Aaronovitch before the referendum. When he sought her views on a potential British exit from the EU (Brexit), Clase replied: “It’s like when a child desperately wants to pee in his pants and does it. At first there’s a feeling of relief and for a few moments it’s nice and warm. Then he’s just cold and wet.”
It was a flippant comment for sure, but not far wide off the mark. As a new week dawns, physicists in the UK – and beyond – are coming to terms with the enormity and liable consequences of the vote. A poll by Nature in March showed that the vast majority of UK scientists were overwhelmingly in support of the EU, with 83% saying “no” to an exit. Although, legally, the outcome of the referendum does not have to be acted upon, we can expect huge and completely unnecessary uncertainty over the next few months, if not longer.
Learned societies in the UK, such as the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World, as well as the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society, have been putting a brave face on the prospect of Britain quitting the EU. They underlined the importance of maintaining free movement of scientists to and from the UK, and ensuring British scientists continue to have access to EU research funds and EU-supported facilities. It will be great if those principles and policies remain in place – but there is no guarantee they will. In any case, why should the rest of the EU now want to bother making life easy for the UK as it negotiates a Brexit?
Electronic displays and low-energy lighting are two obvious applications for blue LEDs. Amano pointed out that LED lighting uses 1/8 the energy of incandescent bulbs and 1/2 that of fluorescent lights. But perhaps more importantly, he says that this low-energy operation means that light can be introduced to remote and poor parts of the world. This has the potential to boost education because it enables children in areas with no mains electricity to read and study at night.
Lakeside view: Lindau’s harbour on Lake Constance.
By Hamish Johnston at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany
I arrived in the German town of Lindau yesterday evening expecting it to be a sleepy little burg where I would struggle to find somewhere open to get a bite to eat. Instead I was greeted at the station by a cacophony of car horns and singing as Germany had just beat Slovakia and claimed its place in the next round of the Euro 2016 football tournament.
I’m here in the far south of Germany for the 66th Nobel Laureate Meeting. Tomorrow I will be hosting a “press talk” about how immigration continues to shape the scientific world. Last week’s momentous decision by the UK to leave the European Union is sure to come up in the panel discussion, which will include input from two chemistry Nobel laureates – Martin Karplus and Daniel Shechtman. I will also be joined on the panel by two early-career physicists: Winifred Ayinpogbilla Atiah from Ghana and Ana Isabel Maldonado Cid from Spain.
Causal connection: are cats feline physicists? (CC BY David Corby)
By Hamish Johnston
It’s been a very difficult week for some UK-based physicists for reasons that you can read about here. Therefore I thought this week’s Red Folder should be a bit of a tonic, so here’s a combination that’s guaranteed to put smile on even the glummest face: cats, physics and the Internet.
“Cats seem to grasp the laws of physics,” at least according to Saho Takagi and colleagues at Kyoto University in Japan. It seems that our feline friends have a firm understanding of causality, as shown by their ability to recognize that an effect (an object falling out of an overturned container) is preceded by its cause (the noisy shaking of the object in the upright container). The cats quickly realized that a noisily shaken container would yield an object, but the silent shaking of an empty container would not.
This summer many of you will watch smoke billowing out of buildings as yet another villain wreaks havoc on the New York skyline in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. I’m willing to bet that as you eat your popcorn you won’t be thinking about the Navier–Stokes equations of fluid dynamics. (Well, perhaps you will now that I’ve mentioned it!)
In fact, part of the reason that virtual smoke in films looks so realistic is because visual effects (VFX) specialists have applied the Navier–Stokes equations to their graphics. This was one of the interesting tidbits I learned from a talk yesterday in London by Rob Pieké, head of software at Moving Picture Company (MPC).
Pieké was speaking as part of a half-day event on “physics and film” organized by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World. The gist of his presentation was that basic physics principles are used in a variety of ways to create special effects that capture viewers’ attention. “The audience wants to see something fantastical but grounded in reality,” said Pieké. Another example he gave was how naturally bouncing hair in computer-generated characters is modelled on mass—spring systems. Each individual hair could be modelled on as many as 30 masses connecting by springs.
End of the line: will science journalists be flocking to CERN in August? (CC-BY/Darkzink)
By Hamish Johnston
Things are heating up in the blogosphere after two A-list physics bloggers have speculated that a tantalizing hint of new physics seen by the CMS and ATLAS experiments at CERN is vanishing now that the latest collision data are being analysed.
The hint is a bump at 750 GeV in the spectrum of photon pairs created when protons collide in the LHC. It is not predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics and has not yet reached a statistical significance of 5σ – the threshold for a discovery. If it turns out to be real, the bump could become one of the most important discoveries in particle physics made so far this century.
Zero resistance: the JINR is building superconducting magnets for both its new NICA facility and the FAIR heavy-ion collider being constructed at GSI Darmstadt.
By Susan Curtis
When our visit was running two hours behind schedule by lunchtime, I knew it was going to be a mind-expanding day. And there was certainly plenty to discover at the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, some 120 km north-west of Moscow.
An international research centre bringing together 18 member states, the JINR has been in the news for its discovery of new superheavy elements (SHEs). According to Andrei Popeko, deputy director of the JINR’s Flerov Laboratory for Nuclear Reactions, all of the last six elements were first synthesized at the laboratory’s U400 cyclotron, in most cases using samples prepared at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US. The JINR is now building the world’s first SHE factory that will boost production efficiency by a factor of 50, which will allow the lab’s scientists to investigate the chemical properties of these short-lived elements.
This event once again involved the collision and merger of two stellar-mass black holes, and since the “Boxing Day binary” is still on my mind, this week’s Red Folder is a collection of all the lovely images, videos, infographics and learning tools that have emerged since Wednesday.
LIGO physicist and comic artist Nutsinee Kijbunchoo has drawn a cartoon showing that while the researchers were excited about the swift second wave, they were a bit spoilt by the first, which was loud and clear – and could be seen by naked eye in the data. The black holes involved in the latest wave were smaller and a bit further away, meaning the signal was fainter, but actually lasted for longer in the detectors.