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A puzzling neutrino detector, the best way to crumple cans

Standard model: Super Kamiokande jigsaw puzzle (Courtesy: ICRR)

Standard model: Super Kamiokande jigsaw puzzle (Courtesy: ICRR)

By Michael Banks

If you are looking for a Christmas present for a puzzle lover, the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research (ICRR) in Tokyo, Japan, has just the thing. It’s created a 300-piece jigsaw puzzle of the Super Kamiokande neutrino detecter in Kamioka, Japan. The detector is a giant stainless-steel tank filled with 50, 000 tonnes of ultra-pure water and lined with 13,000 photo-multiplier tubes that detect the Cherenkov radiation released when a neutrino collides with a water molecule. In other words, it’s a jigsaw puzzle featuring water and lots and lots of identical tubes.

Costing ¥1500 (£10) and with a finished size of 38 x 26 cm, a limited number of the jigsaws went on sale in late October. But its fiendish nature doesn’t seem to have put anyone off: the puzzle sold out within days. Jigsaw enthusiasts, however, will be pleased to know that, as, the ICRR is planning to release more. Continue reading

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Physics World‘s shortlist for Book of the Year 2017

Book of the Year 2017 covers

By Tushna Commissariat

The first week of December can only mean one thing – it’s time to reveal the shortlist for the Physics World book of the year. We’ve based our choice on the 54 books we’ve reviewed over the last 12 months in Physics World, picking our favourite 10 using the same three criteria that have been in place since we launched our book of the year award in 2009. These are that the books must be well written, novel and scientifically interesting to physicists.

Following on from a tumultuous 2016, this year has seen much political strife and human-rights crises, along with the rise of the unexpected demon of “fake news”. Unsurprisingly, the books we reviewed in Physics World this year reflected a lot of these global issues, which means that, along with the usual mix of popular-physics titles, the 2017 shortlist has a few books that at first sight might not seem to have direct links to physics. However, we feel these titles are nevertheless important and relevant to physicists (and of course scientists in general).

Given the number of strong and interesting books on our shortlist, it’s going to be hard to pick a single winner. That, however, is what we shall endeavour to do, via the Physics World podcast next week, when we’ll announce the award-winning book and discuss some of our other favourites on the shortlist. Let us know which ones you have read and are your favourite, and which you may be adding to your Christmas list.

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Star Wars fact or fiction, Wikipedia editor in space, stellarator tour

Fact and fiction: Carsten Welsch (Courtesy: Cockcroft Institute)

Fact and fiction: Carsten Welsch. (Courtesy: Cockcroft Institute)

By Hamish Johnston

What is it about Star Wars that captivates the imaginations of physicists? Earlier this week Carsten Welsch, who is head of physics at the University of Liverpool and head of communication for the nearby Cockcroft Institute, gave a presentation called “Physics of Star Wars” to an audience of hundreds of secondary school children, undergraduate and PhD students and university staff.

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It’s a cracker – the December 2017 issue of Physics World is now out

Physics World December 2017 coverBy Matin Durrani

The December 2017 issue of Physics World, which is now out in print and digital format, has some great treats for you.

We’ve got two ice-related features – one by Jennifer Ouellette on a new “inverse” Mpemba effect, which suggests that cold water could warm faster than hot, and the other by two Norwegian researchers studying how best to treat wintry roads with salt.

Then there’s our festive reviews special, where we cast our eye over some of the best end-of-year reads, ranging from the physics of everyday life to extrasolar planets. Plus we review the “tremendous” new documentary about the Voyager missions.

Finally don’t miss our insight into quantum-computing careers at Google plus our great end-of-year LIGO-related caption competition.

Remember that if you’re a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read the whole of Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOSAndroid and Web browsers.

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CMS publishes 700 papers, extreme data centres, flat-Earth space programme launches tomorrow

Big data: analysis of CMS papers. See Rao's article for an interactive version (Courtesy: Achintya Rao/CMS)

Big data: analysis of CMS papers. See Rao’s article for an interactive version (Courtesy: Achintya Rao/CMS)

By Hamish Johnston

CERN’s CMS collaboration has passed a milestone of sorts at the end of October – it published its 700th research paper. And physicists working on the giant detector on the Large Hadron Collider haven’t stopped there as the tally is now 712 and rising.

CERN’s Achintya Rao has delved into the CMS archives and has chosen his top seven papers. These include the first-ever paper about the detector, which was published in 2008 and, embarrassingly, gets the weight of the detector wrong. Rao has also put together an interactive infographic that looks at 680 papers that analyse data collected by CMS.

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Adaptive optics in biology

By Matin Durrani

For centuries, astronomers looking up at the heavens through a telescope had a problem on their hands – the quality of their images depended on the strength and direction of the wind in the air. Trouble is, the Earth’s atmosphere isn’t uniform because its density – and thus its refractive index – varies from point to point as the wind blows. Result: distorted images.

Cover of Carl Kempf's Physics World Discovery ebook Adaptive Optics in Biology

Carl Kempf’s new short-form Physics World Discovery ebook is free to read

In 1953, however, astronomer Horace Babcock proposed a clever solution, which was to bounce incoming light off a device that can rapidly correct for changes in optical path-length, which flattens the wave-front and so counteracts the effects of aberration. Any remaining wave-front errors are measured after the correction, before a feedback control loop uses the measurement to continuously adjust the corrections applied to the wave-front.

That was the principle behind “adaptive-optics” technology, which has since gone on to become a routine and invaluable part of astronomy. Turns out, however, that the same principles can be used in microscopy too, leading to many applications of adaptive optics in medicine and biology too, as I’ve discovered by commissioning and editing a new short-form Physics World Discovery ebook by Carl Kempf.

Kempf is a senior systems engineer at the California-based firm Iris AO, Inc, which is heavily into adaptive-optics technology, having worked on sensing, actuation, and control systems for high-precision devices for more than 30 years. I’m pleased to say that Kempf’s short ebook, Adaptive Optics in Biology, is now available for you to read free in EPUB, Kindle and PDF format via this link.

To give you some more idea of what the book is about and his career to date, I put some questions to Kempf, which you can read below. Don’t forget either that there are plenty of other books in the Physics World Discovery series, ranging from multimessenger astronomy to quantitative finance.

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Meteoroid seen from space, Nobel laureates speak their minds on group awards and keeping up with technology

 

By Hamish Johnston

Fix your eyes on the upper-right portion of the above video and pay particular attention about seven seconds into the footage. You will see a fireball falling through Earth’s atmosphere. The video was taken from the International Space Station by the Italian astronaut and prolific photographer Paolo Nespoli.

Was the fireball a piece of space junk, or perhaps a tiny piece of asteroid? And how fast was it moving? For an analysis of what Nespoli may have seen, go to: “The backstory: Paolo spots a meteoroid from the ISS”. There you will also find a fantastic gallery of photographs taken by Nespoli.

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LIGO bags another black-hole merger

The other ones: five observed black-hole mergers, plus a suspected merger with a dashed outline (Courtesy: LIGO)

The other ones: five observed black-hole mergers, plus a possible merger shown with dashed outlines (Courtesy: LIGO)

By Hamish Johnston

They have done it again. Physicists working on the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors in the US have announced the observation of another black-hole merger.

This event was spotted on 8 June 2017 and involved two black holes combining to form a black hole 18 times more massive than the Sun. The Virgo detector in Italy did not see the event because it was not switched on. This is the fifth observation of gravitational waves from merging black holes seen by LIGO, which along with Virgo also detected a signal in August from the merger of two neutron stars. Unlike the neutron-star event, no electromagnetic radiation was seen from the merger.

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Discover why the philosophy of physics is vital

Cover of Robert P Crease's Physics World Discovery ebook "Philosophy of Physics"

Think about it: Robert P Crease’s new short-form Physics World Discovery ebook is now available to read for free

By Matin Durrani

Avid readers of Physics World will know that we have for many years published a monthly column called “Critical Point” written by Robert P Crease, a historian and philosopher of science from Stony Brook University in New York, in which he examines the interface between physics and the wider culture.

I’ve always felt Crease’s work is interesting but I’m aware that many physicists scoff at the notion of philosophers trying to understand how science works. It’s a waste of time, right?

Following a meal at a vegetarian restaurant round the corner from his apartment in Manhattan earlier this year, I managed to persuade Crease to write one of our new, short-form ebooks that go under the the Physics World Discovery banner. My challenge was for him to explain to physicists just what it is philosophers of physics do – and why their work is important.

You can read Crease’s book Philosophy of Physics, which has just been published, for free in either epub, Kindle or PDF formats via this link. To whet your appetite, Crease has answered some questions about his approach to philosophy and why the book is worth reading. Don’t forget there are plenty of other books in the Physics World Discovery series, ranging from multimessenger astronomy to quantitative finance.

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Name a distant world, fireworks through a diffraction grating, radio telescope helps Puerto Rican relief

Double act: artist's impression of the (486958) 2014 MU69 flyby (Courtesy: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Carlos Hernandez)

Double act: artist’s impression of the (486958) 2014 MU69 flyby. (Courtesy: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Carlos Hernandez)

By Hamish Johnston

Here is an opportunity to put your mark on the solar system. NASA and the team behind the New Horizons spacecraft are asking the public to nickname the mission’s next flyby target. Located in the Kuiper belt and called “(486958) 2014 MU69”, the target is likely to be two objects – each about 20 km across – in a very close orbit. So, a name like “Cheech and Chong” could be a winner. To enter, go to “Help us nickname a distant world”.

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