Nobel laureates Steven Chu (left) and David Gross talk energy in Gothenburg. (Courtesy: A Mahmoud)
By Michael Banks
Yesterday I joined more than 1000 people attending the day-long Nobel Week Dialogue event in Gothenburg, Sweden. The delegates battled the cold winter weather to make it to the Swedish Exhibition and Congress Centre, just south-east of the city centre (and next to a theme park, of all things).
This is the second such Nobel Week Dialogue and the first time it has been held in Gothenburg. Last year the theme for the event in Stockholm was the “genetic revolution” and this year it was on “exploring the future of energy”.
Imaging plays a major role in a vast range of medical applications – from scanning patients for signs of disease, to guiding radiation treatments, to studying small animals in the quest to develop new drugs. And, as you’ll read in this latest Physics World focus issue, it is even being used to investigate how neural networks develop in babies’ brains before and just after birth.
Here’s a quick guide to what you can find in the focus issue on medical imaging:
• What goes on in babies’ brains? – How the latest magnetic-resonance-imaging techniques are being used to map brain connections in babies
• Nuclear-medicine techniques address small-animal imaging – Advances in high-performance molecular imaging
• OCT lines up for dermatology – Why the future is bright for optical coherence tomography in dermatology
• MRI enhances radiation treatment – Four research teams are working to create radiotherapy systems guided by magnetic resonance imaging
• Luminescence tracks oxygenation – Radiometric luminescence imaging could provide non-invasive monitoring of oxygen levels in tissues
There’s also a selection of research and industry news, as well as video interviews with some of the leading experts in the field.
Artist’s impression of Brazil’s Sirius synchrotron source. (Courtesy: LNLS)
By Susan Curtis in Campinas, Brazil
For the first time this week I woke to a brilliant blue sky, and below my hotel room I could see young Brazilians enjoying a quick game of football in the relative cool of the morning. Away from the traffic jams and unseasonably wet weather of the past few days, this seemed much more like the image of Brazil that’s projected to the outside world.
Today I was in Campinas, the third largest city in the state of São Paulo, some 100 km north-east of São Paulo itself. On the outskirts of the city is the National Center for Energy and Materials (CNPEM), home to Brazil’s synchrotron source as well as three national laboratories for nanotechnology, biosciences and ethanol production – which is a big deal for Brazil, since it offers a way to produce fuel from its abundant sugar cane.
Einstein visiting Brazil’s National Observatory in 1925. (Courtesy: Observatório Nacional)
By Matin Durrani in Rio de Janeiro
I don’t think I’ve ever talked to the head of a physics lab with a parrot screeching outside the window. But that was the case today when I visited the Brazil’s National Observatory – the country’s oldest scientific institution, founded in 1827 by Emperor Dom Pedro I just five years after the country won independence from Portugal.
The parrot was somewhere in the lush green trees directly outside the open windows of the director’s elegant first-floor office, which is currently occupied by the physicist Joao dos Anjos, who took over as head of the observatory earlier this year. (He also claimed his secretary had seen a ghost in the office recently, but that’s another story.)
After closing the windows’ shutters and switching on the air-conditioning, Dos Anjos explained how the observatory is now focused on three main activities – astronomy, geophysics and metrology. In fact, the observatory is still the official body in Brazil for setting time, which was one of its original missions, along with determining geographical locations and studying the country’s climate.
This week, professional astronomers and enthusiasts all over the world pointed their telescopes (and satellites) at the comet ISONas it raced towards the Sun and had its closest encounter with our star yesterday. Of course, the big question was whether the “Sungrazing comet” would survive its close call. Now, it seems that no-one is quite sure – early on, it looked as if the comet faded rather dramatically, suggesting that its nucleus disintegrated, and then it disappeared completely as it made its way through the solar atmosphere, making scientists mourn its fiery death. But lo, today a very faint smudge of dust was seen again, and seems to be brightening up once more. For now, researchers are referring to ISON as “Schrödinger’s Comet” and we may have to wait a while to know for sure. Right now, it seems that some of the comet has survived, but just how much of it made it through and if it will be visible in the sky in December is unknown. In case you missed all the action yesterday, take a look at Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog, where he was posting live updates on the comet and Karl Battams’s blog on NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign site, where he explains what happens next.
Physics World’s light-hearted quiz about the year in physics has occupied the back page of the December print edition every year since 2004 and this year, as we did last year, we’ve created an interactive online version. The 2013 quiz can be found here and although there’s no prize for getting a high score, you’ll be able to check your results once you’ve completed all of the 25 questions. Each question is based on an event or story that the magazine has reported on this year.
For anyone living or travelling beyond the Arctic Circle, it’s going to be pretty cold and dark right now, which means it’s hard to imagine what impact climate change could have on the flora and fauna of this remote region.
But as our cover story explains, a hardy band of researchers has spent the past three summers travelling to the far north-west of Finland to find out the effects of warming conditions on the area. Joining them in August for us was Liz Kalaugher, editor of environmentalresearchweb – a website produced by IOP Publishing to complement its open-access journal Environmental Research Letters. Her first-hand account of the trip was supported by a science-journalism fellowship from the European Geosciences Union.
If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can access the entire new issue free via the digital version of the magazine or by downloading the Physics World app onto your iPhone or iPad or Android device, available from the App Store and Google Play, respectively.
Elsewhere in the December issue, we have a feature by Martin Fischer from Duke University in the US on how the laser-based technique of pump-probe microscope has been used to map the distribution of lapis-lazuli pigment in Puccio Capanna’s 14th-century masterpiece The Crucifixion.
Earlier this week I went to hear a talk about mathematics…and The Simpsons. That’s right, I am indeed referring to the long-running animated TV show that is a satirical parody of middle-class American life and its unexpected but concrete mathematical vein. Surprising as it may sound, some of show’s scriptwriters have degrees in maths and physics, meaning that some very advanced concepts, problems and ideas from all of 20th-century mathematics and physics are littered around many of the show’s 535 episodes. Regular Physics World readers will have already seen that we have released the shortlist for our Book of the Year 2013 and that physicist and science communicator Simon Singh’s latest offering – The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets – is one of 10 books on the list. I had the happy job of reading and reviewing Singh’s book for our “Between the lines: Christmas special” section in the December issue of the magazine.
View towards the Sugar Loaf Mountain from the CBPF in Rio de Janeiro. (Courtesy: Herman Pessoa Lima)
By Matin Durrani in Rio de Janeiro
Having flown almost half-way round the world from Bristol to Rio, you might think there is little in common between Physics World‘s home city and the Brazilian metropolis.
But on my trip to the Brazilian Centre for Physics Research (CBPF) in Rio today, it soon became clear from the statistical physicist Constantino Tsallis, who hosted my visit, that there is indeed a link between the two cities. That connection lies with the Brazilian physicist César Lattes, who was the founding director of the CBPF.