This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – brightrecruits.com can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today

Blog

Beauty in simplicity

What would you choose as the most beautiful science experiment ever performed? Some Physics World readers may remember being asked a similar question by columnist Robert Crease a few years ago. The resulting article inspired US science writer George Johnson’s new book The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, although interestingly the Physics World winner — the double-slit experiment with electrons — doesn’t make it onto Johnson’s list.

Johnson was here in Bristol last night giving a talk about the book. Beauty is a tricky concept at the best of times, let alone when applied to something abstract like science, and he explained the thought processes behind his list: “I was nostalgic for the time when a single mind could confront the unknown.” For Johnson, then, a beautiful experiment is one that poses a question to nature and gets a “crisp, unambiguous reply.” It also needs to be simple enough that it could conceivably be done by anyone, with a few simple pieces of equipment.

He didn’t have time to go through the whole ten, but the audience were treated to discussions of Johnson’s favourite three: Newton’s use of prisms to understand colour; Faraday’s Oersted experiment in which he discovered that light could be influenced by a magnetic field; and the Michelson-Morley experiment, which Johnson describes as a “beautiful failure”. Johnson was an eloquent speaker, and his graphic description of Newton inserting a needle behind his eye to make himself see different colours elicited much squirming. The book promises many more such fascinating gems — to see whether or not it lives up to the hype look out for a full review in the August issue of Physics World.

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Leave a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Guidelines

  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="http://www.google.com">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="http://iop.org/">IOP</blockquote>
IOP
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="http://www.worldwildlife.org/who/index.html">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text
WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux