Posts by: Matin Durrani

The December 2015 issue of Physics World is out now

 

By Matin Durrani

As the festive season approaches, many of you will be looking forward to popping open a bottle of champagne. But before you treat yourself to a bottle, do check out the December 2015 issue of Physics World magazine, in which fizzy-wine physicist Gérard Liger-Belair from the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne reveals his top six champagne secrets.

In the article, Liger-Belair explains why a fog appears when you pop open a bottle, the angle at which you should pour the wine into a glass, and how many bubbles there are in a typical glass of fizz. He also wades into that age-old question among sparkling-wine aficionados: flute or coupe?

The new issue also contains a fabulous flow chart, in which you can find out what sort of scientist you are. Don’t miss either our look back at the International Year of Light, a fantastic selection of Christmas books and a feature all about how origami is moving from art to application.

If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can get immediate access to this article in the award-winning digital edition of the magazine on your desktop via MyIOP.org or on any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet via the Physics World app, available from the App Store and Google Play. If you’re not yet in the IOP, you can join as an IOPiMember for just £15, €20 or $25 a year to get full digital access to Physics World. You can also read Liger-Belair’s article online here.

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Laser show lights up Institute of Physics awards dinner

Dancer at 2015 Institute of Physics awards dinner

Light me up – the 2015 Institute of Physics awards dinner got off to a spectacular start last night. (Courtesy: Institute of Physics)

By Matin Durrani

And so to London last night to attend the annual awards dinner of the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World.

It’s a time when the Institute recognizes physicists who are making a “remarkable contribution” to physics, with awards going to teachers, researchers and businesses – as well as those who’ve served the Institute, shown best practice in professional development, and the university departments that have tackled the under-representation of women in physics. International awards are given too.

It being the International Year of Light, guests were also treated to two spectacular stage shows. Having just settled into our seats, we first watched as three dancers performed in front of lasers, dry ice and strobe lighting (see photo above) – certainly a first for an Institute awards dinner – while after the meal we were treated to a troupe called Feeding the Fish.

Their dancers carry laser batons to create “one-of-a-kind performances that fuse tight choreography with…specialized lighting effects”, with the batons being used to show everything from triangles and butterflies to even the logo of the Institute of Physics. Quite how it all worked certainly had physicists in the audience scratching their heads.

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The November 2015 issue of Physics World is out now

 

By Matin Durrani

Whether it’s the shortest wavelength, the lightest particle, the highest pressure or the brightest beam, there’s something intrinsically appealing about pushing boundaries to break records and establish new limits of what’s physically possible. Reaching new extremes is healthy for science too, spurring researchers to outperform rivals in the quest for grants, kudos or new jobs.

The November 2015 issue of Physics World, which is now out, covers three frontier-busting research endeavours. We kick off by looking at a human-made extreme: the search for the blackest materials ever produced – a tale that’s had a dark side of its very own. Next, we examine how physics techniques are unravelling the secrets of tough lifeforms that exist in some of the most extreme environments on Earth. Finally, we go beyond Earth to a cosmic extreme: magnetars – a special kind of rotating neutron star that are the strongest magnets in the universe.

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Immersive art, physics pumpkins, personalizing Thor’s hammer and more

 

By Matin Durrani

If you’ve ever been to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, you’ll know that blackboards are everywhere. You can find them in handy little alcoves, in the cafe and even in the institute’s lifts – the idea being that brain-box theorists who have a great idea in their heads can crack off the underlying maths before their thought fizzles into the aether. (Not that there is an aether, of course, but you know what I mean.) Anyway, the institute’s new California-based artist-in-residence Alexa Meade, has taken the idea to a new level, creating a huge 3D living chalkboard to create the “perception-bending art for which she is internationally renowned”.  As you can see from the video above, it brings a whole new dimension to the idea of getting “immersed” into science. You can see more images of Meade’s living installation at Perimeter on Flickr.

This week, China’s president, Xi Jinping, is on a state visit to the UK, and today he toured the new National Graphene Institute (NGI) at the University of Manchester. We reported on the planned tour yesterday, with our story including a special behind-the-scenes video that Physics World recorded on our own recent visit to the NGI in the company of its architect and desinger Tony Ling. But an interesting nugget about the Chinese visit has since emerged: it appears that Kostya Novoselov, the Nobel-prize-winning Manchester physicist who helped to isolate graphene for the first time, has presented President Xi “with a gift of traditional Chinese-style artwork, which Kostya himself had painted using graphene paint”. We’ve yet to see what this objet d’art looks like, but I’m sure it’s lovely.

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Quantifying the success of public engagement

Dancers performing Constant Speed

Measuring up – how does one evaluate the success of outreach projects such as the dance Constant Speed? (Courtesy: Anthony Crickway)

By Matin Durrani

Here in the Physics World office our attention was caught last week by a story in the Times Higher Education. It reported on a lecture given by Simon Singh at the 2:AM conference in Amsterdam, in which the broadcaster, author and former particle physicist criticized some projects that are designed to boost the public’s interest in science, but which, he feels, are not value for money.

The story mentioned several projects facing Singh’s ire, one of which was the 2005 dance Constant Speed that was created to mark the centenary of Einstein’s annus mirabilis. It was commissioned by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World, so naturally Singh’s comments piqued my interest.

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International Year of Light 2015: our top 10 articles on light now with added videos

Celebrating IYL 2015 with a special free-to-read digital edition of Physics World – now updated to include light-themed films and a look ahead to the legacy the year will leave.

Celebrate IYL 2015 with a special free-to-read digital edition of Physics World – now updated to include light-themed films and a look ahead to the legacy the year will leave.

By Matin Durrani

We’re now in the final quarter of the International Year of Light (IYL 2015), which officially launched in January at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. You may remember that on the very same day Physics World unveiled its own contribution to the IYL in the form of a free-to-read digital edition containing 10 of our very best feature articles on the science and applications of light.

Today we’re pleased to publish a new version of that digital edition, which contains the same 10 top articles but now includes a series of great videos and a podcast on the theme of light that we’ve been busy creating over the last few months. The refreshed digital edition also has interviews with some of the people involved in the IYL, in which they highlight some of the successes of the year so far and examine the legacy the IYL will leave behind. Click here to find out more.

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Why are rectangular pipes like circular pipes?

Go with the flow. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/Inok)

Go with the flow. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/Inok)

By Matin Durrani

Consider a spherical cow.

No, wait, actually, let’s try something different. Consider a rectangular pipe.

In fact, consider what happens when liquid flows along a rectangular pipe, by which I mean one with a rectangular cross section. The flow’s bound to be asymmetrical, right?

Yes, that’s true, but not always. New research published in Physical Review Letters suggests that for liquid flowing along a rectangular pipe that’s exactly 1.87 times wider than it is high, the flow is entirely symmetrical.

Now, I’ll admit that water flowing along a pipe is probably not something that keeps you awake at night, but the new discovery is weird. In fact, Roberto Camassa from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who was involved in the study, calls it “bizarre”.

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The October 2015 issue of Physics World is out now

 

By  Matin Durrani

It’s amazing the lengths physicists will go to get things done – from building telescopes on the tops of mountains to lowering neutrino detectors to the bottom of the sea and from firing satellites into space to colliding particles in tunnels. We’ve covered all those efforts in
Physics World many times, but there’s one extreme activity that’s been off our radar – until now.

That is the new but little-known field of “speleophysics” – or “the physics of caves” – which we tackle in the cover feature of the October 2015 issue of Physics World magazine. For the small band of researchers who brave the journey underground, being a speleophysicist is almost the perfect job. Armed with helmets, ropes, torches and boots, they’re able to combine their love of physics with a fascination for the nether world – and experience the thrill (and danger) of caving, too.

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Maxwell’s Torch arrives in Birmingham to mark International Year of Light

Photo of Julia King and others with Maxwell's Torch at the Library of Birmingham on 25 September 2015

Bright affair – Julia King (right) and other dignitaries grasp Maxwell’s Torch at the opening of Lightfest at the Library of Birmingham in the UK. (Courtesy: James Dacey)

By Matin Durrani 

Light was the theme in the UK’s second city last Friday when I and my colleague James Dacey attended Lightfest at the Library of Birmingham. Organized by Aston University and funded by the European Commission, the festival was a celebration of light in science, art, technology and culture during the International Year of Light (IYL2015).

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Carlo Rovelli discusses his ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’

 

By  Matin Durrani

A tiny, 83-page book about some of the basic principles of physics has been a surprise hit in Italy – becoming the single bestselling book of any kind to be published in the country this year.

The book has now been translated into English, entitled Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, and its author – the Italian-born theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli – dropped by the Physics World offices in Bristol yesterday en route to giving a sold-out lecture about the book as part of the city’s Festival of Ideas.

In the interview above, Rovelli explains what the book’s about, how he managed to condensed big physics ideas into such a short space – and why its success was absolutely not what he expected.

When he’s not writing popular-science books, Rovelli is based at the University of Marseilles in France, where he carries out research into loop quantum gravity, which he once tackled for Physics World.

If you want to find out more about the book, check out Penguin’s rather splendid interactive website.

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