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Juggling Newton’s cradles, physics poetry, the birth of exoplanetary research and more


By Tushna Commissariat

We get many exciting, interesting and sometimes strange e-mails in our Physics World inbox on a weekly basis. But we were pleasantly surprised to receive one from Jay Gilligan – a professor of juggling at the University of Dance and Circus in Stockholm, Sweden. Together with one of his former students, Erik Åberg, he has perfected the art of juggling with giant Newton’s cradles. While juggling undoubtedly involves a lot of physics – everything from air resistance, speed, velocity and of course gravity comes into play – this takes it to an even more physical, if you will excuse the pun, level. Do watch the video above to see all of the amazing tricks that the duo can do, and try them for yourself if you are dexterous enough.

Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK and among all of the celebrations, we came across a reading of the poem “Relativity” by Sarah Howe, read by none other than physicist Stephen Hawking – you can listen to his rendition of it over at the Guardian. While I did enjoy the poem, my favourite physics poem of all time is John Updike’s “Cosmic gall,” published in the New Yorker in 1960. Considering that this year’s physics Nobel prize was awarded this week for neutrinos, the poem is particularly apt. Its opening stanza reads as follows:

Neutrinos they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.

Of course we now know that neutrinos do actually have mass, but the elusive particles are still as difficult to detect as ever. You can read the full poem over at the Nobel website. Also read this poem, penned by Richard Feynman, over at the Physics Central website and do tell us your favourite physics poem in the comments below.

This year marks 20 years since astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz were the first to identify an exoplanet (there is a bit of controversy over who actually made the first confirmed observation of an exoplanet – the above-mentioned duo or astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail) in 1995. Scientific American‘s Corey Powell has interviewed Mayor, asking him about the early days of exoplanetary research and what the team’s reaction was when that monumental discovery was first made – one they did not announce until nearly a year later as they were so surprised by it.

And for some weekend entertainment, get your hands on Monopoly: The Big Bang Theory Edition, go behind-the-scenes at Fermilab, get an update on what’s happening with nuclear power in the UK courtesy of the Engineer and read an intriguing tale, via the Business Insider UK, about a nuclear physicist involved in a hedge fund that collapsed spectacularly last month.

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  1. MJBridger

    This point – “Of course we now know that neutrinos do actually have mass” – is debatable. As can be proven by these physicists having a debate about it.
    Question; If neutrinos do have mass, and change forms (flavours) between emission and reception, and the forms have different mass/energy, then are they not, in effect (i.e. by whatever theory you use to describe their oscillation) individually breaking the conservation of energy principle?

  2. M. Asghar

    The neutrino flavour state is not a pure neutrino mass state, but a combination of them with probabilities determined by the PMNS mixing matrix; these probabilities change during their flight leading to the phenomenon of fluctuations under the same matrix and no conservation law is violated.


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