Posts by: Matin Durrani

Postcard from São Paulo – turning Abdus Salam’s dream into reality

Photo fo Nathan Berkovits

Happy days – Nathan Berkovits enjoying life at the new ICTP South American Institute for Fundamental Research.

By Matin Durrani in São Paulo

Today was the second day of the Physics World trip to Brazil and I flew from Rio de Janeiro down the coast to São Paulo, which is about an hour’s flight away. After yesterday’s disappointingly poor weather in Rio, things aren’t any better further south – in fact, it’s probably raining even more heavily today.

São Paulo is the largest urban area in South America, as becomes obvious from the forest of tower blocks that you skirt over on approaching the city’s downtown airport.

But the city is also, according to US-born string theorist Nathan Berkovits, an enjoyable place to live. In fact, Berkovits has an extra reason to like the place – having worked at the São Paulo State University (UNESP) for almost two decades, he was last year appointed acting director of a new theoretical-physics institute that’s already one of the leading places of its kind in South America.

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Postcard from Rio – checking out Brazilian physics

Beach scene on a gloomy day in Rio de Janeiro.

Not your typical summer’s day in Rio de Janeiro.

By Matin Durrani in Rio de Janeiro

Sun, sand, sea – that’s Rio de Janeiro surely?

Well, sadly, I’ve had to make do with just two out of the three as it’s been distinctly cloudy, rainy and cool since I flew in to the Brazilian metropolis yesterday at the start of a week in the world’s fifth largest country (by both size and population).

So what, you may ask, am I doing in Brazil?

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Chelyabinsk exposed: the anatomy of an asteroid impact

Photo of Chelyabinsk meteorite fragment

Exhibit A: a 4 cm-wide meteorite created by the Chelyabinsk asteroid explosion with “shock veins” in it. (Courtesy: Science/AAAS)

By Matin Durrani

If there is one thing that will be remembered about Friday 15 February 2013, it’s that it was the day when a massive asteroid blew up above the city of Chelyabinsk in Russia – creating the largest explosion on the planet since the one that occurred over the Tunguska river in Siberia in 1908.

But whereas hardly anyone saw or recorded information about the Tunguska explosion, the Chelyabinsk asteroid blew up over a relatively densely populated region and – perhaps more importantly – its journey through the air was recorded by numerous cameras and webcams that nervous Russian drivers love to install on their cars. Video footage of the event was soon seen by people all over the world.

Now, based on data from those videos and visits to some 50 local villages, researchers from the Czech Republic and Canada have published a paper in the journal Science detailing the trajectory, structure and origin of what they call the “Chelyabinsk asteroidal impactor”. The paper goes live on Thursday 7 November.

To save you the trouble of reading the full article, I’ve picked out a couple of factoids that might intrigue and interest you.

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The November 2013 issue of Physics World is now out

By Matin Durrani

Physics World Nov13

Well, despite all the excitement of last month’s special 25th-anniversary issue of Physics World, there’s been no let-up for us – we’ve been busy beavering away on the next issue of your favourite physics magazine, which is now ready for you to read in print, via our apps or online.

If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can  access the entire new issue free via the digital version of the magazine or by downloading the Physics World app onto your iPhone or iPad or Android device, available from the App Store and Google Play, respectively.

Our cover story this month is about a strange series of experiments, carried out by Yves Couder and Emmanuel Fort at Paris Diderot University, examining the behaviour of oil droplets vibrating on the surface of an oil bath. The droplets are classical in nature but also seem to show much of what would be expected of a quantum system, including interference patterns. So is this coincidence or not? Jon Cartwright investigates.

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Get your hands on Physics World‘s 25th-anniversary issue

By Matin Durrani

Physics World October 2013

Physics World October 2013.

As you may have gathered (and if not, where have you been?) this month marks the 25th anniversary of Physics World – the member magazine of the Institute of Physics (IOP).

The issue has been available in print, online and via our apps (from the App Store and Google Play) since the start of the month to all members of the IOP, but because we want to celebrate our birthday with as many people as possible, we’re now making available a free PDF download of the entire issue to members and non-members alike. The PDF doesn’t have all the great multimedia you’ll find in the online and app versions, but it is still worth checking out.

The issue looks back at some of the highlights in physics of the last 25 years and also forward to where the subject is going next. We’ve split the bulk of the issue into five sections, each with five items (five times five being 25, of course):

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Celebrating 25 years of Physics World

By Matin Durrani

Physics World October 2013

Physics World October 2013.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Physics World – the member magazine of the Institute of Physics (IOP) – which launched in October 1988. And to celebrate that fact, we’ve created a fantastic special issue of Physics World in which we look back at some of the highlights in physics of the last 25 years and also forward to where the subject is going next.

All members of the IOP can access the entire new issue right now via the digital version of the magazine or by downloading the free Physics World app onto your iPhone or iPad or Android device, available from the App Store and Google Play, respectively. The issue includes a stack of bonus audio and video content, including three short films we’ve specially made about some of the top spin-offs from physics.

We’ve split the bulk of the issue into five sections, each with five items (five times five being 25, of course):

• Find out our choice of the top five discoveries in fundamental physics over the last 25 years.

• See what five leading researchers have to say about Physics World‘s choice of the five biggest unanswered questions in physics right now.

• Enjoy our pick of the five top images from the last 25 years that have let us “see” a physical phenomenon or effect.

• Learn more about the five people who are changing the way physics is done.

• Gaze into the future as we disclose the five most promising spin-offs from physics.

We also have a set of fiendish physics-themed puzzles devised for you by staff at the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – the first is revealed in the special issue and on our blog, with the rest to be unveiled on physicsworld.com throughout October.

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Institute of Physics launches fundraising campaign

Photo of Brian Cox

Manchester University physicist Brian Cox at the launch of the Institute of Physics’ fundraising campaign on 23 September 2013. (Courtesy: Richard Lewis)

By Matin Durrani

The Institute of Physics (IOP), which publishes Physics World, launched its first-ever fundraising campaign at a dinner at the Institute’s headquarters in London last night. The aim of the campaign, called Opportunity Physics, is to raise £10m over five years to let the Institute “significantly scale up” its work over the coming decades. The evening was hosted by Manchester University particle physicist Brian Cox, who is on the fundraising campaign’s board and is a familiar face as presenter of TV shows such as the BBC’s Wonders of the Solar System.

The Institute says it has identified a number of existing IOP projects that can be enhanced if further funding were available. Those projects are all centred on inspiring young people into physics, showing them what careers physics can lead to, helping physicists to flourish – whether they work in teaching, research or industry – and underlining how physics is central to a healthy, technology-led economy. With 52,000 members, the Institute already does a lot of good work, but it believes it can do even more with additional cash.

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A Bohemian rhapsody on string theory

By Matin Durrani

I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has had the seemingly bright idea of remaking a well-known song, altering the lyrics so they’re about some “cool” aspect of science, and then unleashing a cataclysmically awful video to the rest of the world, with the original song mangled to death.

So I braced myself before playing this new a capella version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, entitled “Bohemian Gravity”. It is sung and performed by Tim Blais – a student in theoretical physics at McGill University in Canada, who recently completed his Master’s thesis under Alex Maloney.

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Physics World Special Report: Republic of Korea

By Matin Durrani

Physics World Special Report: Republic of Korea

Physics World Special Report: Republic of Korea.

The Republic of Korea – known colloquially as South Korea to outsiders – has transformed itself over the last 50 years from a nation based primarily on agriculture to a hi-tech industrial powerhouse.

No longer in the shadow of its neighbouring powerhouses in Asia – China and Japan – the country is fast becoming a hotbed of top-quality research, as you can find out by reading the new Physics World Special Report on the Republic of Korea.

We delve into some of the areas of science, including synchrotron science, graphene and fusion energy, where Korea is leading the way.

The report begins with an overview of the country’s research scene, including interviews with Kookrin Char (head of physics at Seoul National University), Hawoong Jeong (head of physics at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) and Cheol Eui Lee, a nanophysicist at Korea University in Seoul, who is also president of the Korean Physical Society.

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‘Death ray’ reflections from skyscrapers modelled by scientists

by Michael Bishop, who is the IOP’s press officer

Model mirror segments

(Courtesy: EJP)

The designer of London’s Walkie Talkie skyscraper has come under scrutiny this week as reports of flaming bicycle seats and melting cars have resulted in a temporary scaffold being erected at street level to block the intense reflection of the Sun’s rays as they beat off the curved building.

One thing you can’t say is that nobody saw this coming.

In a study published last summer in the European Journal of Physics (EJP), two researchers from Germany performed a number of experiments that gave an in-depth explanation of why some skyscrapers have these undesired effects.

In addition to a number of computer simulations that investigated the reflecting effects of a building’s height, width and curvature, as well as the angle and position of the Sun, the researchers also performed experiments on a scale model (right) of the Vdara hotel in Las Vegas.

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