Posts by: Hamish Johnston

The Magnus effect in action, destroying the world, an astrophysicist camps out in Manchester and more

 

By Hamish Johnston and Michael Banks

This week’s Red Folder opens with a fantastic video (above) from the folks at Veritasium. It involves dropping a spinning basketball from the top of a very tall dam in Tasmania and watching as the ball accelerates away from the face of the dam before bouncing across the surface of the water below. In comparison, a non-spinning ball simply falls straight down. This happens because of the Magnus effect, which has also been used to create flying machines and sail-free wind-powered boats. The effect also plays an important role in ball sports such as tennis and is explained in much more detail in our article “The physics of football”.

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The search for alien life gathers pace

Alien hunters: Yuri Milner (left) and the great and the good of astronomy announce the Breakthrough Initiatives (Courtesy: Breakthrough Initiatives)

Alien hunters: Yuri Milner (left) and friends announce the Breakthrough Initiatives. (Courtesy: Breakthrough Initiatives)

 

By Hamish Johnston

Earlier this week in London the billionaire physics enthusiast Yuri Milner joined forces with some of the biggest names in astronomy and astrophysics to announce a $100m initiative to search for signs of intelligent life on planets other than Earth. The money will be used to buy time on a number of telescopes to search for radio and optical signals created by alien civilizations.

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The STEM jobs paradox rumbles on

Illustrations of jobs versus candidates

On balance: STEM shortages and surveys.

By Hamish Johnston and Margaret Harris

Are countries such as the UK, the US and Canada suffering from a shortage of scientists and engineers, or are scientists and engineers struggling to find jobs there? Our US correspondent Peter Gwynne reports that, according to a recent survey, physicists in that country can expect to be rewarded with handsome salaries if they work in industry – which suggests that their skills are in great demand. However, over in the New York Review of Books, an article on “The frenzy about high-tech talent” claims that “by 2022 the [US] economy will have 22,700 non-academic openings for physicists. Yet during the preceding decade 49,700 people will have graduated with physics degrees.”

In the past few years, Physics World has published several articles on the “STEM shortage paradox”, where reports of severe skills shortages in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) coexist with lukewarm – and sometimes borderline alarming – data on employment in these fields. Hence, conflicting reports on career prospects for physicists don’t really surprise us anymore (although this is actually slightly different to what we’ve seen before, in that rosy employment data are going up against a downbeat statement about demand, rather than vice versa). But even so, when two reports point in such different directions, it’s tempting to conclude that one of them must be wrong, or at least missing something important.

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ILC Science Club, science fiction versus science fact and siblings in physics

 

By Hamish Johnston

At the end of next week millions of children in England and Wales will start their summer holidays and many parents will now be scrambling to find activities to keep their little dears occupied. Physics World can recommend a virtual trip to ILC Science Kids Club courtesy of the Tokyo Cable Network and Japan’s Advanced Accelerator Association. ILC stands for International Linear Collider, which is one of several proposed to take over when the Large Hadron Collider is eventually retired. In the first video of the series, a boy called Haru learns why scientists are keen on building accelerators from his Uncle Tomo. The video is in Japanese with English subtitles, so as well as learning about particle physics, your little tykes might even pick up a little Japanese.

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The trebuchet challenge, the physics of ketchup bottles plus sage advice for budding science-fiction writers

 

By Hamish Johnston

“A surprising amount of stuff gets wasted every year because consumers can’t get it out of the packaging it came in,” writes Katie Palmer, who covers the science beat at Wired. In her article “The physics behind those no-stick ketchup and mayo bottles”, she explains how the company LiquiGlide has developed its slippery coating for the insides of bottles. The challenge was to create a permanently wet coating that would stick to the inside of the bottle but not mix with the liquid foodstuff – and it also has to be safe for human consumption.

LiquiGlide spun out of the lab of Kripa Varanasi at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has just announced that an international food-packaging supplier will be using the coating on its mayonnaise bottles. You can watch a demonstration of the coating in the video above.

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Rachid Ouyed talks about quark novae and the quark stars they could produce

 

By Hamish Johnston

Recently I blogged about quark novae, which are a passion of the University of Calgary astrophysicist Rachid Ouyed. I caught up with Ouyed at the Canadian Association of Physicists Congress in Edmonton last month, where between sessions he was busy writing a paper about quark novae.

I managed to coax him away from his calculations for long enough to record the above video, in which he talks about quark novae – huge explosions that some astrophysicists believe could occur shortly after some supernovae. Ouyed also talks about the quark stars that may be left behind and how quark novae could affect how astronomers measure cosmological distances.

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A galaxy for a Galáctico and astronomers weigh in on a famous kiss

A galaxy far away: this false colour image of CR7 was taken by several telescopes (Courtesy: David Sorbal et al)

A galaxy far away: this false colour image of CR7 was taken by several telescopes. (Courtesy: David Sorbal et al.)

By Hamish Johnston

Over the past decade or so the Real Madrid football club has acquired a string of high profile players dubbed the “Galácticos”. Now the most expensive of these footballers – the Portuguese forward and Real Madrid number 7 Cristiano Ronaldo – has a distant galaxy named after him. The galaxy is dubbed “CR7” and was discovered by a team of astronomers led by David Sobral of the University of Lisbon using several different telescopes.

CR7 actually has two meanings, the second being “COSMOS Redshift 7”. COSMOS refers to the Cosmological Evolution Survey, which is using a number of telescopes to search for very old galaxies.

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Agreeing to disagree at the next Convergence conference

The closing panel. From left to right are  Patrick Brady, Stefania Gori, Immanuel Bloch, Sara Seager and Ian O'Neill

The closing panel. From left to right: Patrick Brady, Stefania Gori, Immanuel Bloch, Sara Seager and Ian O’Neill.

 

By Hamish Johnston

I have just returned from the Perimeter Institute (PI) in Waterloo, Canada where I enjoyed a fantastic few days immersed in discussions involving some of the sharpest minds in physics. The great and good were at the PI for the first Convergence conference and from what I have heard, the participants are calling it a great success.

But could it be even better next time?

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The ins and outs of black holes and a new way of thinking about general relativity

 

By Hamish Johnston

While at the Convergence conference at the Perimeter Institute (PI), Physics World’s Louise Mayor and I had dinner with Sean Gryb. He did his PhD at the PI and is now doing a postdoc at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In the above video he shares some of his highlights of the conference.

Gryb is working on “shape dynamics”, which is a new idea for re-evaluating Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity (GR). The idea was initiated by Julian Barbour and Gryb became involved in the development of shape dynamics while he was at PI. He now belongs to a small international band of physicists who are developing the concept. While shape dynamics is an alternative treatment of GR, the ultimate goal of their work seems to be the creation of a new framework for a theory of quantum gravity – an important goal of theoretical physics.

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What do strange metals and black holes have in common?

Subir Sachdev

Subir Sachdev.

By Hamish Johnston in Waterloo, Canada

Harvard’s Subir Sachdev has just taken the audience here at the Convergence conference on a delightful romp through the phase diagram of the cuprate high-temperature superconductors. What I found most interesting was not the superconducting phase, but rather Sachdev’s description of the “strange metal” phase.

This phase occurs when the cuprate copper-oxide layer is highly doped with holes and has perplexed physicists for some time – hence its strange moniker. It has no quasiparticles and lots of low-energy excitations so there is no easy way to describe the collective behaviour of the electrons.

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