Posts by: Matin Durrani

Using pottery to communicate science

one of the ceramic items created by Nadav Drukker on show at the new "Quantum ceramics" exhibition in London

Showcasing science – one of the ceramic items created by Nadav Drukker on show at the new Quantum Ceramics exhibition in London. (Courtesy: Nadav Drukker)

By Matin Durrani

You might not think theoretical physics and pottery have much in common. But they do now, thanks to a new exhibition being staged at the Knight Webb Gallery in Brixton, south-east London, which opens today.

Entitled Quantum Ceramics, the exhibition is the first solo display of ceramic works by theoretical physicist Nadav Drukker. Based at King’s College London, Drukker makes traditional studio pottery as a new way to communicate his scientific research.

Drukker, who is a string theorist, has six different projects – entitled “Circle”, “Cusp”, “Index”, “Polygons”, “Cut” and “Defect” – with each inspired by one of his research papers. His works are all traditional glazed stoneware and porcelain vessels, but decorated with mathematical symbols.

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Introducing Physics World Discovery

Image of the first five Physics World Discovery ebooks

Free to read – the first five Physics World Discovery titles.

By Matin Durrani

What better way to celebrate World Book Day than by checking out Physics World‘s new series of free-to-read, short-form ebooks. Entitled Physics World Discovery, they are short introductions to some of the hottest topics in physics written by leading voices in the physics community.

Available online here, these short-form ebooks follow all the attributes of feature articles in Physics World magazine – being well written, accessible, timely and authoritative. But as ebooks, they allow authors to go into more detail than a standard Physics World feature and include plenty of graphs, diagrams and pictures too.

Being short, each title is an ideal starting point for for physicists at all stages of their careers to get quickly up to speed with an evolving physics field.

We’ve published five Physics World Discovery texts so far, with more in the pipeline. You can read them in PDF, ePUB or Kindle format, making them perfect for those wanting intellectual stimulation on a train or plane journey.

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Brooklyn’s pioneering approach to art and science

 Janna Levin outside the Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York 21 February 2017

Where art and science mix – astrophysicist Janna Levin outside Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York.

By Matin Durrani in New York, US

After spending four days in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I travelled down by train to New York (gotta love those comfy Amtrak seats and free WiFi). I first hooked up with mathematical physicist Peter Woit at Columbia University and then with science philosopher Bob Crease from Stony Brook University, who’s been a long-time columnist for Physics World.

I was keen to find out if they’d be interested in writing for the new Physics World Discovery series of ebooks and, while at Columbia, I had also hoped to put the same question to astrophysicist and author Janna Levin, who’s based in the physics department. Turns out, however, that Levin is on sabbatical, spending a year as “director of sciences” at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn’s Red Hook district. Curious to find out more about a centre that seeks to “make culture accessible to all”, I accepted her invitation to pay a visit.

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Science supporters protest in Boston

Stand up for Science rally in Boston, 19 February 2017

Gathering of minds – scientists at today’s Stand up for Science rally at Copley Square in Boston.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

Hundreds of scientists and science supporters gathered in Copley Square in Boston earlier today in a rally to underline the importance of science. The “Stand up for Science” event was organized to coincide with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is taking place a few blocks away.

To find out more about the aims and purpose of the rally, I hooked up with Geoffrey Supran (picutred below), who helped to organize the event. Having originally studied physics at the University of Cambridgein the UK, Supran obtained a PhD in materials science at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and is now doing a postdoc in the history of science with Naomi Oreskes at nearby Harvard University.

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AAAS chief predicts “tough and uncertain times” for US science funding

physicist and former Congressman Rush Holt is the current president of the American Association for the Advvancement of Science at the AAAS annual meeting in Boston 17 February 2017

Not for me – president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Rush Holt says there’s “no chance” of him becoming Donald Trump’s science adviser but admits it would be hard to turn down if offered.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

Rush Holt is that rarity: a physicist who’s also been a politician, having spent 16 years as Democratic Congressman for New Jersey’s 12th congressional district from 1999 to 2015. Those two attributes make him well placed in his current role as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which is holding its annual meeting here in Boston.

So when I sat down with Holt yesterday, our conversation naturally focused on the impact on science of Donald Trump’s election as US president. The bouffant-haired, former businessman and reality-TV star may have so far said little about the subject, but Holt believes that “tough and uncertain times” lie ahead for scientific funding. “I think we will be on a very austere budget for all non-defence discretionary activity,” he warns.

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Discover the secrets of science on TV

the panel of top TV producers seeking documentary ideas

Talent seekers – the panel of top TV producers wanting documentary ideas from delegates at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

Physics World has been involved in making online videos and what we call “mini documentaries” for more than seven years. But these are mostly low-budget affairs aimed at people who are, by and large, already interested in physics.

So what if you’re a physicist who wants to work with a big-shot producer to make a full-blown, hour-long  TV documentary watched by millions? Shows such as Horizon on the BBC or Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman on Discovery’s Science Channel get massive audiences, putting you in touch with far more people than most scientists could ever dream of.

A special session at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science had some of the answers. It brought together a bevvy of top TV producers (see slide above) who shared their tips on how scientists should pitch ideas for documentaries to them. A further session will be held tomorrow to let scientists propose real ideas in a kind of TV-science speed-dating.

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US policy chiefs explain how to handle Trump

At the AAAS meeting in Boston, February 2017, Neal Lane introduces John Holdren (left), Kerri-Ann Jones (centre) and Rosina Bierbaum

Speaking out – Neal Lane introduces John Holdren (left), Kerri-Ann Jones (centre) and Rosina Bierbaum at the 2017 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

I’m here at the 2017 meeting of the American Assocation for the Advancement of Science in Boston, where the theme is “Serving society through science policy”. The focus was picked last year, but it turned out to be an auspicious choice with the election of Donald Trump throwing the science community into uncharted policy waters.

Trying to make sense of what life will be like for US scientists under the Trump administration were five people with extensive experience of working closely with recent US presidents.

Chairing the session was Neal Lane, who served as Bill Clinton’s presidential science adviser for two years in the 1990s. Also present was physicist John Holdren, who spent eight years until last month as Barack Obama’s science chief, for which the audience gave him a generous round of applause.

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The February 2017 issue of Physics World is now out

PWFeb17cover-500-ruleBy Matin Durrani

It’s time to check out the February issue of Physics World magazine, where our cover story looks at the physicists studying how dinosaurs moved. The issue is now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop, and you can also read the article on physicsworld.com here.

There’s also a great feature about whether supersolids could be making a comeback, while science writer Brian Clegg explains why anticipating people’s questions is the secret to good science communication.

Elsewhere in the new issue, check out why Jules Verne was spot-on with the physics of drones and meet the man who’s been the driving force behind statistical physics meetings.

Remember that if you are a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOS, Android and desktop.

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Juan Morante: an energetic man

 

By Matin Durrani

Juan Morante, who’s boss of the Catalonian Institute for Energy Research (IREC), visited the headquarters of IOP Publishing, which publishes Physics World, late last year. Morante has also just taken up the reins as the new editor-in-chief of the Journal of Physics D and was here to discuss everything about the journal, from commissioning and peer review to design and marketing.

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Physics in the US: no longer business as usual

New rules: citizens of seven countries have been barred from the US (Courtesy: CBP)

New rules: citizens of seven countries have been barred from the US. (Courtesy: CBP)

By Matin Durrani

Over the last couple of years here at Physics World, we’ve been publishing special reports examining the state of physics in different nations around the world, including Brazil, China, Japan, India, Korea and Mexico.

When we decided in September last year to publish our next special report in 2017 on the US, it seemed reasonable to expect that Hillary Clinton was going to be elected president. For science, a Clinton presidency would pretty much have been “business as usual” and so, probably, would have been the tone of our special report.

But now that Donald Trump is in the White House, it looks as if we’re entering a period where the US is as far removed from “business as usual” as you could imagine.

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