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Strange goings on at CERN, string theory with cats, Isaac Asimov on generating new ideas and more

Bygone era: when 3D visualization really was 3D (Courtesy: CERN)

Bygone era: when 3D visualization really was 3D. (Courtesy: CERN)

By Hamish Johnston

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” is probably the only famous sentence written by the English novelist L P Hartley. It also sums up nicely a collection of photographs of CERN in the 1960s and early 1970s showing among other things a jolly worker wearing a beret, scientists wearing white lab coats and ties, and a strange religious-like procession. There are also lots of photos of vintage kit, including one of those huge vacuum-valve-powered oscilloscopes (probably from Tektronix) that would be familiar to physicists of a certain age. My favourite photo is shown above. It was taken in 1965, when 3D data visualization was actually done in 3D! I believe that the collection was put together by CERN’s Alex Brown and you can enjoy looking at all 55 images in the collection here.

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Physics World 2014 Focus on Big Science is out now

By Michael Banks

This year has been a special one for the CERN particle-physics lab near Geneva as it turns 60 years old. It was back in 1954 when the CERN convention was ratified by its first 12 member states and the European Organization for Nuclear Research was officially established.

Cover of Physics World 2014 Focus on Big ScienceThe past few months have seen CERN celebrate in style with a whole host of symposia, meetings, plays, films, concerts and other events being held at the lab and at member states across Europe.

Indeed, researchers at CERN have had a lot to celebrate recently, following the discovery of the Higgs boson at the lab in 2012, and they will be hoping for yet more success when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) switches on next year following a two-year upgrade and maintenance programme.

In the latest Physics World focus issue on “big science” we look at what has been going on at CERN during the shutdown as the lab gears up to hunt new particles beyond the Higgs boson. Once back online, the LHC will be generating even more data than in its previous run and this focus issue also investigates how researchers are going to deal with the huge volumes of information that will be generated at many upcoming facilities, as well the need to train the next generation of researchers to use them.

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Candy corn in space, compact fusion reactors and physics in Palestine

 

By Hamish Johnston

Besides the great views of the Earth, one of the best things about being on the International Space Station (ISS) must be messing around in near-zero gravity. In the above video on Science Friday the American astronaut Don Pettit describes an “experiment” that he did on the ISS using candy corn, which are kernel-like sweets. He begins with a blob of floating water into which he inserts the candy corn pointy-end first. The points are hydrophilic so they tend to stay in the water, and eventually Pettit has a sphere of candy corn packed around the water. The flat ends of the candy corn have been soaked in oil to make them hydrophobic so the candy corn layer acts like a detergent film or one half of a cell membrane. It’s a fun video and I wonder how he got the idea in the first place?

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The STEM employment paradox, revisited

Orange figures holding up signs that say "hire me"

Unemployment rates among new STEM graduates are higher than average. (Courtesy: iStock/geopaul)

By Margaret Harris

Why, at a time when we hear so much about the UK’s shortage of scientific and technical skills, do unemployment rates among new science graduates remain stubbornly higher than average? This question has been bugging me for some time. Back in 2012, I wrote a blog post about it, suggesting that the answer might be a mismatch between what universities teach and what employers need. But that answer never really satisfied me, so for the graduate careers section in this month’s Physics World, I’ve examined the subject more carefully.

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Working at the interface of physics and biology

Face to face at the interface between physics and biology

Face to face at the interface between physics and biology.

By Michael Bishop

In the 60 years since James Watson and Francis Crick brought physics and biology together to unveil the molecular structure of DNA, the boundary between the two disciplines has continued to become increasingly blurred.

In this post-genomic era, ever more principles from physics have been applied to living systems in an attempt to understand complexity at all levels.

Yet cultural differences still exist between physicists and biologists, as is made clear in a set of excellent perspectives in the journal Physical Biology, published by IOP Publishing, which also publishes Physics World.

In “Perspectives on working at the physics–biology interface”, a group of eminent scientists give their accounts of working at the interface of physics and biology, describing the opportunities that have presented themselves and outlining some of the problems that they continue to face when working across two fields with quite different traditions.

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Blood Moons, teachers who moulded the minds of great physicists and more

Jocelyn Bell Burnell on her high-school physics teacher

Jocelyn Bell Burnell on her high-school physics teacher. (Courtesy: Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

By Tushna Commissariat

This week has been an exciting and busy one at Physics World HQ, what with two Nobel prizes that included physics – the actual Nobel prize for physics, of course, as well as this year’s chemistry Nobel, which was given to three physicists. Since last week’s Red Folder was full of Nobel trivia and facts, I will only point you to two more interesting Nobel-related articles. The first is an excellent article on the Slate website, by one of our regular freelance authors Gabriel Popkin, where he looks at female physicists who deserve a Nobel. His list is in no way exhaustive, but does well to highlight some excellent work done by women that deserves recognition, so do take a look at “These women should win a Nobel prize in physics”. Also, Ethan Siegel from the Starts With a Bang! blog has written an excellent essay to silence any would-be naysayers about the worthiness of giving the Nobel to the researchers who developed blue LEDs. In “Why blue LEDs are worth a Nobel Prize”, he outlines the history of LEDs and talks about just how many applications they have in today’s times.

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How to inspire scientists in developing nations

 

By Matin Durrani

I’ve now returned to the UK from my visit to the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, which has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding. As part of those celebrations, the ICTP has created a special half-hour video documentary (above), which shows how scientists in various parts of the globe have not only furthered their own careers through visits to the ICTP, but have also used that experience to improve science back in their home countries

The video, which I watched in Trieste, features scientists from everywhere from Nepal to Cuba, from Ethiopa to Peru, and from Cameroon to China – and, of course, Pakistan itself where the ICTP’s founder Abdus Salam was from. Entitled From Theory to Reality: ICTP at 50, it was made by Italian film-maker Nicole Leghissa, who spent two months travelling around the world to the locations seen in the film.

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Who was the real Abdus Salam?

Photo of members of Abdus Salam's family at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste

Honouring his achievements – members of Abdus Salam’s family at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste.

Matin Durrani in Trieste, Italy

It’s now my third day here at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in grand style. Two days ago we had a marvellous seven-course dinner at Duino Castle, including a hugely spectacular fruit-laden golden-jubilee cake, while yesterday there was a possibly even more sumptuous eight-course dinner hosted by the city that has been home to the centre for half a century.

But pervading all the events has been Abdus Salam, the Pakistani Nobel-prize-winning theoretical physicist who set up the centre in 1964. We know pretty much what Salam did from a scientific point of view, which was celebrated in his 1979 Nobel prize for unifying the weak and electromagnetic forces, but what exactly was he like as a person?

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Quantum dances at the intersection of science and culture

Quantum dancers in action

Quantum dancers in action. (Courtesy: Grégory Batardon/BAM)

By Robert P Crease

I’m fascinated by the interactions between science and culture, which is what led me to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which was hosting the US première of a dance piece called Quantum that had previously debuted where it had been created, at CERN. The event was staged in a simple, black-box space, with the audience seated around a square floor in three rows with no proscenium. But it was an upscale black box, with elegant seating upholstered in a blue-and-gold metallic sheen. Four industrial lights were suspended from the ceiling by long cables.

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Physics road trip through the north-east of Brazil

The new IIP building in Natal

Susan Curtis (left), Sarah Andrieu (centre) and Alvaro Ferraz admire the new IIP building in Natal.

By Susan Curtis

This week, several of us from IOP Publishing have been visiting the north-east of Brazil. Our prime focus has been the annual meeting of the Brazilian Materials Research Society in João Pessoa, where we launched a new Science Impact report highlighting materials research in Brazil. But during the week I travelled to Natal with my colleague Sarah Andrieu to visit Alvaro Ferraz, director of the International Institute of Physics (IIP).

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