Posts by: Matin Durrani

APS launches LGBT Climate in Physics report

Cover of the American Physical Society's BT Climate in Physics report launched at the APS March meeting

Lifting the lid: the LGBT Climate in Physics report launched at the APS March meeting.

By Matin Durrani in Baltimore, Maryland, US

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the make-up of the physics community, particularly as this month saw Physics World publish a special issue, “Physics for all: building a more inclusive discipline”, that examined ways to make physics as welcoming as possible for everyone. It looked, for example, at “microaggressions” in physics, the role of unconscious bias and whether physics is just for people from better socioeconomic backgrounds.

One article that attracted particular attention – based on informal feedback and e-mails I’ve received since the issue came out – was “Where people and particles collide”. Written by my Physics World colleague Louise Mayor, it looks at what life’s like for gender and sexual minorities at the CERN particle-physics lab in Geneva and the challenges people there faced in setting up an official LGBT Cern Club. (There is still no such club, but CERN has set up an LGBT “informal network”.)

The issues facing gender and sexual minorities have also been a theme here at the APS March meeting, with the launch this morning of a new APS report LGBT Climate in Physics. The report is based on focus groups, a “climate survey” of more than 320 members of the US LGBT physics community, and follow-up interviews with five survey participants. A further 2596 members of the entire APS community replied to a separate survey, of whom 2.5% identified themselves as LGBT.

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Steven Weinberg defends his ‘Whig’ view of history

Photograph of Steven Weinberg

Steven Weinberg in full flow discussing his view of the history of physics.

By Matin Durrani in Baltimore, Maryland, US

I wasn’t planning on blogging about the talk that the Nobel-prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg gave yesterday afternoon here at the APS March meeting. He’d been speaking about his recent book To Explain the World: the Discovery of Modern Science, which examines the history of physics from the ancient Greeks to the present day.

The book ruffled a fair few feathers when it was published last year, with historians and philosophers annoyed at Weinberg’s approach to history, which basically involves judging the past from the standpoint of the present. It’s known as the “Whig interpretation” of history and sees past events as a march towards enlightenment, ignoring dead-ends and blind alleys. It’s the history of winners, if you like.

I have probably mis-stated the criticisms of Weinberg book – I’m no historian – and that’s my point. I felt the arguments against his approach were too subtle and nuanced to fit in a blog. But I changed my mind this morning about covering the session Weinberg appeared in. Not only because the room where Weinberg gave his talk was full to bursting, with about 500 people present, but also because some of the things he said, which I Tweeted yesterday, were proving popular on Twitter. Clearly, people want to hear what Weinberg says – he’s a master of the soundbite – so here, for posterity, are a few of his thoughts.

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Cutting the fat from chocolate

A photograph of chocolate

Go with the flow: physicist Rogjia Tao has a clever way to cut the fat in chocolate. (CC BY-SA 2.0/rore)

By Matin Durrani in Baltimore, Maryland, US

A couple of years ago my colleague James Dacey decided to give up eating chocolate, crisps, biscuits and cakes over Lent and it’s a virtuous – if very dull – decision I’ve been following every year since (even if James has long since strayed from the path of righteousness).

It was therefore with a dollop of smug satisfaction that I attended a talk at this year’s APS March meeting by Rongjia Tao – a physicist from Temple University in the US. He has developed a way of cutting the amount of fat in chocolate without, apparently, losing any of the taste.

Now, reducing the fat content in chocolate might seem straightforward – you just get rid of the fat, right? But it’s a harder problem than you’d think for chocolate manufacturers, who have to send liquid chocolate – a suspension of spherical cocoa particles in a melted fat of cocoa butter and other oils – down pipes and tubes.

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Physics for all: the March 2016 issue of Physics World is now out

 

By Matin Durrani

Welcome to the March 2016 issue of Physics World magazine, which is ready and waiting for you to access via our app for mobile and desktop.

The new issue looks at ways to make physics a more inclusive discipline, including spotting your unconscious bias, tuning in to talent and tackling “microaggressions” – small acts of injustice that make people uncomfortable because of who they are, not what they do.

We also look at what life’s like for gender and/or sexual minorities at CERN – one of the most international physics labs on the planet – and explore how to find an employer who understands the value of a diverse workforce. There are plenty of practical tips for how you can make a difference.

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Progress update in Chinese physics

Photo of Wenlong Zhan, president of Chinese Physical Society, at meeting with Paul Hardaker and Matin Durrani, 23 February 2016

Wenlong Zhan, president of the Chinese Physical Society (second from left on right-hand side) and colleagues, in discussion with Paul Hardaker, chief executive of the Institute of Physics (far left), and colleagues.

By Matin Durrani

China continues to make great progress in physics, with new facilities and projects starting up all the time. Just this week we’ve reported on plans to build a new neutrino experiment at the China Jinping Underground Laboratory (CJPL). The world’s deepest lab, it’s located under a mountain – with about 2400 m of rock cover – in China’s south-western Sichuan province.

Physics World has long kept a close eye on the progress of the physics community in China and in fact we published our first ever special report on the country in 2011. Since then, however, so much more has been going on that we felt it’s time to make a return trip and will be producing another special report in September this year to give you further insights into physics in China.

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What it’s like collaborating with physicists in China

 

By Matin Durrani

Barry Sanders – director of the Institute for Quantum Science and Technology at the University of Calgary, Canada – last week visited the headquarters of IOP Publishing, which publishes Physics World.

Sanders has just taken over from Eberhard Bodenschatz as editor-in-chief of New Journal of Physics, and it’s a coup to have him in the role, not least because he’s an incredibly busy physicist, making – by his reckoning – at least 150 international flights a year.

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The February 2016 issue of Physics World is now out

 

By Matin Durrani

Welcome to the February 2016 issue of Physics World magazine.

As I explain in the video above, this month we have a package of articles looking at some of the issues surrounding peer review, including a news-analysis piece by Physics World news editor Michael Banks, who talks to a range of figures in physics and publishing with views on this subject.

Our cover feature this month is on the new interdisciplinary science of “network physiology”. Elsewhere in the issue, John Campbell from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand looks at Rutherford’s secret work in the First World War using sonar to spot submarines, while science writer Matthew Francis looks at efforts to rewrite the rules of gravity.

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The January 2016 issue of Physics World is now out

Planck mission polarization map of the cosmic microwave background

Polarized patterns: the cosmic microwave background as you’ve never seen it before. (Courtesy: Planck Collaboration)

By Matin Durrani

Happy new year and welcome back to Physics World after the Christmas break.

It’s always great to get a new year off to good start, so why not tuck into the first issue of Physics World magazine of 2016, which is now out online and through the Physics World app.

Our cover feature this month lets you find out all about the Planck mission’s new map of the cosmic microwave background. Written by members of the Planck collaboration, the feature explains how it provides information on not just the intensity of the radiation, but also by how much – and in which direction – it’s polarized.

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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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