Things are winding down for the holidays at Physics World and we are all looking forward to recharging our batteries before we get stuck in to all the exciting physics that is sure to come our way in 2015.
If you are like me, you probably haven’t finished your Christmas shopping so here are a few suggestions that are sure to get a smile out of the physicists in your life. In the above video, author and scientist Neil Downie recommends a few traditional gifts as well as several quirky presents. I’m not sure that many people have a retort stand on their wish list, but I would certainly welcome a multimeter if I didn’t own one already.
From a particle collider made of LEGO to physicists taking on the ice-bucket challenge, physics has had its fair share of interesting stories this year. Here is our pick of the 10 best, in chronological order.
The designated survivor
The nuclear physicist and US energy secretary Ernest Moniz may be 14th in the US presidential line of succession, but if something really terrible had happened in late January, then he might have found himself leading the world’s biggest economy. That is because Moniz was appointed the “designated survivor” while US president Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address earlier this year.
Ernest Moniz: the designated survivor. (Courtesy: MIT Energy Initiative)
The speech, which is attended by the country’s top leaders, including the vice-president, members of the US cabinet and Supreme Court justices, is where US presidents outline their legislative agenda for the coming year. A designated survivor is a member of the cabinet who stays at a distant, secure and undisclosed location during the address to maintain continuity of government in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack that ends up killing officials in the presidential line of succession.
This year has been one of change for India. In May, some 800 million eligible voters went to the polls in an election that was won by the Bhartiya Janata Party. Led by Narendra Modi, the party went on to form a coalition government called the National Democratic Alliance.
Our Special Report, which you can read free online, kicks off by looking at how science is faring under Modi’s fledgling administration. Indeed, in September, Modi was personally on hand at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to laud engineers who had just carefully manoeuvred the Mars Orbiter Mission into position around the red planet – a feat that announced India as a major player in space exploration.
Modi’s personal interest in ISRO will not only please the organization’s chairman K Radhakrishnan, who we interview for the report, but could also be seen as a sign that the new administration is serious about boosting science in the country.
Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in the film The Theory of Everything. (Courtesy: Universal Pictures International)
By Tushna Commissariat
This week we heard about a possible new James Bond film villain and its none other than Stephen Hawking. According to this story in the Telegraph, he feels as if his trademark wheelchair and computerized voice would lend themselves perfectly to the part. On the same note, we saw this interesting feature on the Wired website that looks at the history behind Hawking’s very recognisable voice. Last month, I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of James Marsh’s Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, which includes a rather touching and funny scene of Hawking testing out his voice for the first time. You can read more about the film in the reviews section of the upcoming January issue of Physics World.
You may remember last year when particle physicist Sascha Mehlhase of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen unveiled a 560-piece LEGO model of CERN’s ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider.
Well, not to be outdone, LEGO fan Jason Allemann has now created a LEGO-inspired particle accelerator. Dubbed the LEGO Brick Collider (LBC), the design has been submitted to LEGO’s CUUSOO site, which lets fans share blueprints of their own models.
If someone puts you in an armlock, what should you do? If you happen to be a martial artist well-practised in the art of joint manipulation, or chin na, you will know the answer already: there is one simple move that will allow you to turn the tables on your aggressor, leaving them on the wrong end of a throw. However, if your skill set tends more toward manipulating mathematical symbols, there is still hope, for the answer is also closely tied to theoretical physics.
Rigatoni, fettucine, tagliatelle, penne? We think they’ve had their day.
It’s time to say hello to “anelloni” – a new kind of pasta created by two physicists from the University of Warwick in the UK. Consisting of giant loops, it’s the brainchild of Davide Michieletto and Matthew Turner, who invented the pasta in an attempt to demonstrate the complicated shapes that ring-shaped polymer molecules can adopt.
With its name derived from anello – the Italian word for “ring” – the new pasta is exclusively unveiled in an article that Michieletto and Turner have written in the December 2014 issue of Physics World magazine, which also contains their secret recipe for making it.
Giving a fired-up talk at a physics conference is a good way for aspiring researchers to make themselves known to the community, but unless you have a natural gift, lots of practice is required. That’s why many universities and labs host “slams” to encourage staff and students to talk about their research to a broader audience. Above is a video of the sold-out Fermilab Physics Slam 2014, which was held last week at the lab on the outskirts of Chicago.
Clever thinking: Baroness Neville-Rolfe celebrates the winners of the 2014 Institute of Physics innovation awards. (Courtesy: Richard Lewis)
By Matin Durrani
“Commercializing physics” is the theme of the November issue of Physics World and it was therefore timely that last night saw a special ceremony at the House of Commons to celebrate the winners of this year’s Innovation Awards from the Institute of Physics (IOP), which publishes the magazine.
The awards, which are now in their third year, are given by the Institute to firms in the UK and Ireland “that have built success on the innovative application of physics”.
Four firms were honoured this year: Gas Sensing Solutions, which makes carbon-dioxide sensors; Gooch & Housego, for an opto-acoustic device that can modulate laser beams for industrial processing; nuclear-power firm Magnox for a clever way of refuelling a reactor at the Wylfa power station; and MBDA for a novel “missile-system upgrade”.
Is it time for end-of-the-year lists already? At Physics World HQ, the answer is a definite “yes”, and we’re kicking off the season with our annual list of the year’s best physics books.
As in previous years, the entries on our “Book of the Year” shortlist are all well written, novel and scientifically interesting for a physics audience. They represent the best of the 57 books that Physics World reviewed in 2014, being highly commended by external experts (the diverse group of professional physicists and freelance science writers who review books for the magazine) and by members of our own editorial staff, who helped winnow the field down to a shortlist of 10.
This is the sixth year we’ve picked a “Book of the Year”, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stronger shortlist. Frankly, 2014 has been a fantastic year for science books, and for physics books in particular. You’ll see that quality reflected in the list below, where first-person accounts of the latest discoveries rub shoulders with historical analyses of the foundations of the field. There’s room in our shortlist for books about acoustic physics, exoplanets, geophysics, materials science, radiation safety and scientific ethics – plus a whimsical tour of the physics of fantasy and science fiction.