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

A new Longitude Prize, global cooling in the 1970s, inspirational creatures and more

A red kite and a drone swoop down on their prey (Courtesy: Vijay Kumar)

A red kite and a drone swoop down on their prey. (Courtesy: Vijay Kumar)

By Hamish Johnston

A bird of prey swoops out of the sky, grabs its victim from the ground and flies off into the distance. It’s what a bird does instinctively, but how could we get a drone aircraft to do the same thing? That’s the subject of one of the papers in a special issue of the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics that focuses on “Bioinspired flight control”.

The above sequence of images is from a paper entitled “Toward autonomous avian-inspired grasping for micro aerial vehicles” by Vijay Kumar and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania. The special issue also includes work on aircraft inspired by flying snakes, flocking birds and incredibly stable moths.

Staying on the theme of inspiration, in 1714 the British government offered a prize of £10,000 (more than £1 million in today’s money) to anyone who devised a way of determining longitude at sea – something that was crucial for efficient navigation of the open oceans.

Now 300 years later, the UK-based charity Nesta has revived the Longitude Prize with the aim of finding a solution to a major challenge facing society. The new prize is worth £10 million and on Monday Nesta announced that the first step in the competition will be to decide which problem to solve. A committee comprising 18 scientists, business people and journalists has come up with a shortlist of six pressing problems ranging from finding a cure for paralysis to building environmentally friendly commercial aircraft.

Not surprisingly, the response in the science blogosphere has been mixed. Alice Bell, for example, asked “What sort of dystopian austerity logic asks the public to vote on whether they want to fund research on water or food security?”. Her blog entry is called “The Longitude Prize: Science’s Hunger Games“.

Meanwhile over on the Guardian’s Occam’s Corner blog the physicist and Longitude committee member Athene Donald argues against the view that the prize is “merely a scientific version of Britain’s Got Talent”. The comparison to the popular television programme was actually made by the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is also an ardent supporter of the prize.

There is a good round-up of arguments for and against the prize in “Should we give the Longitude Prize some latitude?” by the biologist Stephen Curry. And if you think the prize is a good idea, what about a similar contest for physics – what would be on your shortlist of problems to be solved?

Those of you who were around in the 1970s know that there was some speculation then that the Earth’s climate might be cooling – with some tabloids predicting a new ice age. In 1975 Physics World’s North America correspondent Peter Gwynne wrote a much more sober assessment of the science at the time for Newsweek magazine. The article (PDF), which is still widely quoted today, suggested that agricultural productivity in England had already been reduced by this cooling trend.

This week Gwynne revisits that article in “My 1975 ‘Cooling World’ story doesn’t make today’s climate scientists wrong” and explains – with help from experts Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt – how climate science has improved since he wrote his article 39 years ago.

On Tuesday the Harvard Gazette published a fascinating interview with the Canadian particle physicist Melissa Franklin. Before embarking on a career in science that would eventually lead to a Harvard professorship, Franklin quit traditional schooling at the age of 13 and helped start a “free school”, where she made a short film that was nominated for an Academy Award. Then at the age of 15 she decamped to London where she decided to study physics and struggled to pass her A-level exams. Her poor grades make it unlikely that she would be admitted to the University of Toronto to do physics, so she spent a month talking to everyone she could in the physics department and eventually convinced them to let her in. The interview is entitled “Physics was paradise”, and I’m sure it still is for Franklin.

This entry was posted in The Red Folder and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

One comment to A new Longitude Prize, global cooling in the 1970s, inspirational creatures and more

  1. Turn Over – If you hear something like, “let me go get my manager to see if you can get a better deal”,
    likely you are being turned over to another sales person who’ll put additional
    pressure on you to make the purchase. If they’re being totally unreasonable,
    juwt get up and walk toward the door. In the technical world, you don’t have to worry about anything.

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