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Texas bound

By Michael Banks

Suitcase packed, I am now on the way to San Antonio for the 2015 American Physical Society (APS) meeting, which begins on Monday.2015 APS March meeting logo

More than 9000 physicists will be heading to Texas for one of the biggest physics meetings of the year.

Having just put the finishing touches to my schedule for the five-day conference, we should be set to hear exciting results on mechanically programmable materials, the first metamaterial superconductor and the latest in flexible, stretchable electronics.

Yet there is also a more fun side to the conference with delegates also learning about modelling zombie outbreaks as well as participating in the famous APS physics sing-along.

So keep tabs on physicsworld.com for all the latest from the 2015 APS meeting.

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A journal for brief ideas, Heisenberg’s mirror, space-mission stickers and more

Mission accomplished: these graphics were created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. (Courtesy: spaceprobe.es)

Mission accomplished: these graphics were created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. (Courtesy: spaceprob.es)

By Hamish Johnston

Dr Heisenberg’s Magic Mirror of Uncertainty” is the name of a series of photographs taken in 1999 by the American photographer Duane Michals. The picture over at that link is lovely, but I don’t really see the connection to quantum mechanics. I suspect my artist friends would accuse me of being a scientific literalist, which doesn’t bother me one bit.

More to my liking are the graphics pictured above, which have been created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. The pair run a website called spaceprob.es, which “catalogues the active human-made machines that freckle our solar system and dot our galaxy”. Here is their page on Voyager 2, which is packed with facts about the mission’s instruments and many accomplishments. These and other illustrations of space missions can be bought as stickers and posters – the perfect gift for the space enthusiast in your life.

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What makes a physics experiment go viral?

 

By Tushna Commissariat

Physics experiments are not normally the stuff of “viral” videos on the Internet, but that is precisely what happened when physics students at the University of Bath in the UK decided to get creative with the Leidenfrost effect. If you are a regular reader of Physics World, you may get that déjà vu feeling when you watch the video above of water droplets zipping about the “Leidenfrost maze” built by (at the time undergraduates) Carmen Cheng and Matthew Guy – but rest assured you have seen it right here on this blog in 2013 when editor Hamish Johnston wrote about it before it amassed a whopping 120,150 views on YouTube.

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The LEGO Large Hadron Collider

LEGO Large Hadron Collider

LEGO Large Hadron Collider.

By Michael Banks

Avid readers of this blog may remember the 560-piece LEGO model of CERN’s ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which was built by particle physicist Sascha Mehlhase of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen.

Not to be outdone, LEGO fan Jason Allemann then created a LEGO-inspired particle accelerator – dubbed the LEGO Brick Collider – that was submitted to the LEGO Ideas site, which lets fans share blueprints of their own models.

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Science cleans up at the Oscars

Still of Stephen and Jane from the film The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything depicts Stephen Hawking’s relationship with first wife Jane. (Courtesy: Universal Pictures International)

By Tushna Commissariat

In a sweeping win for science-themed films at this year’s Oscars, British actor Eddie Redmayne has won the best actor award for his portrayal of the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in the film The Theory of Everything. Redmayne, 33, plays Hawking in the biographical film that was inspired by the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen written by Hawking’s former wife Jane, who is portrayed in the film by the British actress Felicity Jones. The Theory of Everything was also nominated for best picture, original score and adapted screenplay, while Jones was nominated in the best actress category. Redmayne’s success at the Oscars comes after his win in the best actor category at this year’s Bafta awards, which also saw The Theory of Everything pick up best film. The movie chronicles Jane’s relationship with Hawking – from the early days of their courtship to Hawking’s diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the age of 21 and his success in physics until the two divorced in 1995. I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of the film, and I thought it was a very worthy candidate for the awards season. You can read my review of the film here.

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Oscar-nominated physics, putting the jump into popping corn and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

There is nothing quite like a bowl of hot, buttery popcorn – and it seems as if even physicists are enthralled by it as they dig into the pops and jumps of this tasty snack. A recent article in the New York Times caught our attention this week, as it talked about how a French research duo used high-speed video cameras and a hot plate to see just why a kernel of corn not only pops, but also leaps up as it puffs. The team found that as the kernel’s hull is breached, we hear the popping sound and this is swiftly followed by the jump that happens when a puffy bit of the inside pushes out and makes the corn jump, a bit like a muscle twitch. Take a look at the lovely slow-motion video above of individual kernels leaping about like perfect puffy ballet dancers.

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Read all about it

By Michael Banks

Cover of the book "Tricked!" by Paul FramptonThe 71-year-old theoretical physicist Paul Frampton, who was arrested in Argentina in 2012 with 2 kg of cocaine in his luggage, has released his own version of events.

The British-born physicist was in Argentina after thinking he had struck up a correspondence on the Internet with Czech-born lingerie model Denise Milani.

However, when he arrived, Milani was nowhere to be seen and Frampton was apparently asked by someone else to carry a suitcase for her, which turned out to contain the drugs.

Despite protesting his innocence, Frampton was sentenced in November 2012 to 56 months in jail in Buenos Aires, some of which he spent under house arrest.

Now, in a 45-page e-book – Tricked!: the Story of an Internet Scam – Frampton outlines “the true story of an adventure that I would rather not have had”. According to the book’s blurb, it provides an “important lesson” that is “essential reading for everybody who uses the Internet”.

It could be the best £3.83 you ever spend.

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Physics World 2015 Focus on Medical Imaging now live

By Tami Freeman

Medical imaging is a multidisciplinary science encompassing a wide range of powerful techniques with applications in both patient care and fundamental biological studies. In this latest Physics World focus issue, we examine how imaging technologies such as X-ray computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging and other nuclear, ultrasound and optical imaging techniques have evolved in recent years. We also take a look at what improvements can be expected in the future.

Created in collaboration with our sister website medicalphysicsweb, the new focus issue on medical imaging can be accessed free of charge in digital-magazine format.

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Coming soon(ish) to a galaxy near you

Image of Smith's Cloud taken by the Green Bank Telescope.

Image of Smith’s Cloud taken by the Green Bank Telescope. (Courtesy: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

By Margaret Harris at the AAAS meeting in San Jose

A giant cloud of hydrogen gas is barrelling towards the Milky Way faster than the speed of sound, and dark matter may hold it together long enough to produce a spectacular outburst of new stars in the night sky – but not for another 30 million years.

The cloud – which is known as Smith’s Cloud after Gail Bieger-Smith, who discovered it as an astronomy student in 1963 – is one of several starless blobs of hydrogen known to exist in the space between galaxies. According to Felix “Jay” Lockman, principal scientist at the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Green Bank Telescope, such gas clouds are, in effect, “construction debris” left over from an earlier age of galaxy formation. “These are parts for remodelling your house that didn’t arrive by the time the contractor left,” Lockman told an audience at the 2015 AAAS meeting in San Jose, California.

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A sight for blind eyes

Diagram of a system showing how images get to the retina

A schematic of the prosthetic vision system developed by Daniel Palanker. (Courtesy: Daniel Palanker)

By Margaret Harris at the AAAS meeting in San Jose

“Restoration of sight to the blind” is a brave claim, one with an almost Biblical ring to it. For Daniel Palanker, though, it is beginning to look as if it is an achievable goal. A medical physicist at the University of Stanford, Palanker has developed a prosthetic vision system that replaces damaged photoreceptors in the retina with an array of tiny photodiodes. When infrared images are projected onto this array, the photodiodes convert the light pulses into electrical signals, which are then picked up by the neurons behind the retina and transmitted to the brain. The result is an artificially induced visual response that, while not as good as normal vision, could nevertheless provide “highly functional restoration of sight” to people with conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

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