You may not know it, but apparently you have a dedicated region in your brain that is your “physics engine”. At least that is what cognitive researchers from Johns Hopkins University are suggesting after they have pinpointed a specific region of the human brain that intuitively understands physics – at least when it comes to predicting how objects behave in the real world. According to the team, the engine is kick-started when we observe physical events as they happen and is “among the most important aspects of cognition for survival”. Surprisingly, the region is not located in the brain’s vision centre, but is actually the same area we tap into while making plans of any type. In the video above, the team has created a little game for you to test your engine’s horsepower – go ahead and tell us how you did.
Surf’s up: Garrett Lisi when he is not winning bets with Nobel laureates. (CC BY-SA 3.0/Cjean42)
By Hamish Johnston
The “nightmare scenario” of particle physics has a new meaning thanks to a bizarre video that appears to have been made by some scientists at CERN. The video seems to have been filmed at night at CERN’s main campus in Geneva and depicts an occult ceremony in which a woman is stabbed. While the video appears to be a spoof and there is no indication that anyone was actually harmed in its making, CERN officials are rightly concerned that such violent scenes were filmed on their premises. “CERN does not condone this type of spoof, which can give rise to misunderstandings about the scientific nature of our work,” a spokesperson told Agence France-Presse.
Vast conspiracy: contrails over Horfield Common in Bristol.
By Hamish Johnston
Is there a government-led conspiracy that uses aeroplanes to lace the atmosphere with chemicals? Of course there isn’t, and now there is a peer-reviewed study that says so.
Dubbed the “secret large-scale atmospheric programme” (SLAP), the conspiracy concerns condensation trails (contrails) that can often be seen high up in the sky. These are the lines of cloud that are formed when water condensates around particulate matter in the exhaust from jet engines. But are those contrails actually “chemtrails” that are spreading noxious substances far and wide?
I’m pleased to say that the latest focus issue of Physics World, which explores the many fascinating applications of vacuum science and technology, is now out.
Plasma processing is a strong theme this year, as we discover why tools and techniques developed as part of the boom in semiconductor fabrication are now benefiting biomaterials. Elsewhere, we reflect on the strengths of the vacuum community with outgoing IUVSTA president Mariano Anderle.
And, as always, this vacuum focus issue provides a great chance to catch up with major industry players, including Pfeiffer Vacuum, Agilent, Honeywell and Edwards, to examine the latest instrument upgrades and trends across the sector.
Drops of water normally tend to splash when they strike a surface. But what happens if they hit something very cold? It turns out they first freeze and then crack, forming intricate fracture patterns, one of which you can see in the image above.
It was taken using a high-speed camera by Christophe Josserand, Thomas Séon and colleagues at the Jean Le Rond d’Alembert Institute in France. They watched water solidifying as it dripped onto a stainless-steel surface cooled to various temperatures between 0 and −60 °C (Phys. Rev. Lett.117 074501). Due to the contact between the drop and the surface, the water’s ability to freeze is limited and mechanical stress makes it fracture in a few milliseconds.
A couple of years ago, I came across what I thought was a funny (and physics-related) video about a water slide. The slide is called “Verrückt”, which my German-speaking colleagues translate as “mad” or “crazy”, and it caught my attention because it was being built at an amusement park in my home town of Kansas City. As the video shows, the slide experienced a few problems during its testing phase.
“When the rafts are loaded with more than 1000 pounds, the slide becomes unsafe,” says the video’s announcer as the test raft goes airborne. “We’re going to have to redesign the entire slide,” an unnamed official adds.
The story began around this time last year, soon after the LHC was rebooted and began its impressive 13 TeV run, when the ATLAS collaboration saw more events than expected around the 750 GeV mass window. This bump immediately caught the interest of physicists the world over, simply because there was a sniff of “new physics” around it, meaning that the Standard Model of particle physics did not predict the existence of a particle at that energy. But also, it was the first interesting data to emerge from the LHC after its momentous discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012 and if it had held, would have been one of the most exciting discoveries in modern particle physics.
The Rio 2016 Olympics will kick off tomorrow and over the next three weeks, while you enjoy watching the world’s top athletes compete in the huge variety of sports, spare a thought for the physics involved. From how to throw a ball to running, from pole vaulting to golf, physics and sport are fellow brethren. Head on over on the JPhys+ blog to read “The big physics of sport round-up!” post and watch our video series above, in between cheering on your favourite teams.
Over the past year the world’s computers, mobile phones and other devices generated some 12 zettabytes of data. And by 2020 that number is predicted to rise to 44 zettabytes – nearly as many bits as there are stars in the universe.
In the August 2016 issue of Physics World magazine – now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop – Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh in the UK explains how the humble household light bulb could soon be transformed into the backbone of a revolutionary new wireless communications network based on visitible light.
Known as “LiFi”, the system could not only contribute to next-generation 5G mobile-phone systems, but also unlock the potential of the “Internet of things”, create”smart” cities, help with the introduction of driverless cars and offer new ways to monitor the health of old people. You can also read the article here.
The August issue also shows how neutrons could help in the search for new drugs, why we need to solve the ethical dilemmas surrounding space mining, and how physicists are helping to save daguerreotype photographs from decay. Don’t miss either our look at the impact of Brexit on European physics.