Sometimes, nature does something unexpected – something so rare, transient or remote that only a lucky few of us get to see it in our lifetimes. In the July issue of Physics World, we reveal the physics behind our pick of the weirdest natural phenomena on our planet, from dramatic rogue waves up to 30 m tall, to volcanic lightning that can be heard “whistling” from the other side of the world, and even giant stones that move while no-one is watching. We also tackle tidal bores on rivers and the odd “green flash” that is sometimes seen at sunset.
Plus, we’ve got six fabulous full-page images of a range of weird phenomena, including salt-flat mirrors, firenadoes, “ice towers”, beautifully coloured nacreous clouds, mysterious ice bubbles of gas trapped in columns, as well as my favourite – the delicately wonderful “frost flowers” seen very occasionally on plants.
Recently I blogged about quark novae, which are a passion of the University of Calgary astrophysicist Rachid Ouyed. I caught up with Ouyed at the Canadian Association of Physicists Congress in Edmonton last month, where between sessions he was busy writing a paper about quark novae.
I managed to coax him away from his calculations for long enough to record the above video, in which he talks about quark novae – huge explosions that some astrophysicists believe could occur shortly after some supernovae. Ouyed also talks about the quark stars that may be left behind and how quark novae could affect how astronomers measure cosmological distances.
A galaxy far away: this false colour image of CR7 was taken by several telescopes. (Courtesy: David Sorbal et al.)
By Hamish Johnston
Over the past decade or so the Real Madrid football club has acquired a string of high profile players dubbed the “Galácticos”. Now the most expensive of these footballers – the Portuguese forward and Real Madrid number 7 Cristiano Ronaldo – has a distant galaxy named after him. The galaxy is dubbed “CR7” and was discovered by a team of astronomers led by David Sobral of the University of Lisbon using several different telescopes.
CR7 actually has two meanings, the second being “COSMOS Redshift 7”. COSMOS refers to the Cosmological Evolution Survey, which is using a number of telescopes to search for very old galaxies.
The closing panel. From left to right: Patrick Brady, Stefania Gori, Immanuel Bloch, Sara Seager and Ian O’Neill.
By Hamish Johnston
I have just returned from the Perimeter Institute (PI) in Waterloo, Canada where I enjoyed a fantastic few days immersed in discussions involving some of the sharpest minds in physics. The great and good were at the PI for the first Convergence conference and from what I have heard, the participants are calling it a great success.
While at the Convergence conference at the Perimeter Institute (PI), Physics World’s Louise Mayor and I had dinner with Sean Gryb. He did his PhD at the PI and is now doing a postdoc at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In the above video he shares some of his highlights of the conference.
Gryb is working on “shape dynamics”, which is a new idea for re-evaluating Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity (GR). The idea was initiated by Julian Barbour and Gryb became involved in the development of shape dynamics while he was at PI. He now belongs to a small international band of physicists who are developing the concept. While shape dynamics is an alternative treatment of GR, the ultimate goal of their work seems to be the creation of a new framework for a theory of quantum gravity – an important goal of theoretical physics.
Today is the third day of Graphene Week, a conference at the University of Manchester devoted to the fundamental science and applications of 2D materials. While many of the talks require a PhD in materials science to even understand the title (I for one am struggling), one session taking place this evening has the refreshingly simple title: Women in Graphene. Intrigued, I caught up with the session organizer Katarina Boustedt from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.
Graphene Week is an annual event organized by the Graphene Flagship, the EU’s biggest ever research initiative with a budget of €1 billion. As promoting equality is a key part of the Flagship’s mission, Boustedt has launched this initiative to support women working in 2D materials research. Tonight’s two-hour session is designed to start the conversation and find out the types of support that women researchers would like.
The search for ripples in space–time known as gravitational waves is one of my favourite scientific endeavours. So here at the Perimeter Institute’s Convergence conference, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to talk to Nergis Mavalvala, one of the speakers here.
A physicist at MIT, Mavalvala works on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US. LIGO’s first six observing runs took place from 2002 to 2010 and yielded no detection of a gravitational wave. Since then, LIGO physicists have been working on increasing the instrument’s sensitivity – they needed to make it even better at measuring the stretching and compressing of the interferometers’ 4 km-long arms thought to occur if a gravitational wave passes through them.
But over at the UK’s new £61m National Graphene Insitute (NGI), which I toured earlier today, blackboards are very much verboten. It’s the chalk dust you see, which is a no-no for health-and-safety bosses at the University of Manchester, where the NGI is located. Incidentally, Manchester is also currently home to Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, who shared the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics for isolating graphene for the first time.
Harvard’s Subir Sachdev has just taken the audience here at the Convergence conference on a delightful romp through the phase diagram of the cuprate high-temperature superconductors. What I found most interesting was not the superconducting phase, but rather Sachdev’s description of the “strange metal” phase.
This phase occurs when the cuprate copper-oxide layer is highly doped with holes and has perplexed physicists for some time – hence its strange moniker. It has no quasiparticles and lots of low-energy excitations so there is no easy way to describe the collective behaviour of the electrons.