Posts by: Hamish Johnston

How will Brexit affect science in the rest of the EU?

Brexit panel: left to right are Rolf Tarrach, Ole Petersen, Mark Ferguson and Gail Cardew

Brexit panel: left to right are Rolf Tarrach, Ole Petersen, Mark Ferguson and Gail Cardew.

By Hamish Johnston

Here in the UK it’s easy to forget that our exit from the EU could have significant unintended consequences for scientists in the remaining 27 member nations.

Yesterday, I was at a public forum called “Brexit: the scientific impact”, which was held at the Royal Institution in London. While there was much discussion about domestic challenges, the second session – “Brexit: the scientific impact on the EU-27” – provided a fascinating insight into the challenges facing the UK’s neighbours.

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LEGO acoustics, potato cannons go to war, personal politics and popular science

By Hamish Johnston

In the above video Brian Anderson of Brigham Young University shows how the acoustic concept of “time reversal” can be used to knock over a series of LEGO figures using sound. The idea is that sound waves are broadcast into an environment and captured by a sensor at a specific location. The signal is then used to work-out how the sound waves bounced about before reaching the location and this information is then used to target that specific location with subsequent sound waves. In the demonstration, sound knocks over 29 LEGO figures one-by-one. It’s very impressive and entertaining as well.

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John Ellis on physics after the Higgs boson, calculating the loudness of the Big Bang, the chemistry of ironing

Looking ahead: John Ellis on the future of particle physics (Courtesy: IAI TV)

Looking ahead: John Ellis on the future of particle physics. (Courtesy: IAI TV)

By Hamish Johnston

In 2012 particle physicists gave themselves a giant pat on the back when the Higgs boson was discovered at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN – nearly 50 years after it was first predicted to exist. But what have particle physicists done since, and what does the future hold for the field? In a video called “After the Higgs boson: what’s next for 21st century physics?” from the Institute of Art and Ideas, the theoretical physicist John Ellis charts the future course of particle physics. Pay attention for a joke about the UK’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

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Hidden Figures behind NASA’s success, LEGO’s famous five women of space, seismic goal in Barcelona

Flight planner: NASA's Katherine Johnson now has a NASA computational facility named after her (Courtesy: NASA)

Flight planner: NASA’s Katherine Johnson now has a NASA computational facility named after her. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

International Women’s Day was this week and to celebrate, we have published K Renee Horton’s review of the film Hidden Figures and the book by Margot Lee Shetterly that the film is based on. The book and film tell the true stories of African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA and played a crucial role in America’s race into space during the Cold War. Indeed, they calculated the flight paths that would send Neil Armstrong to the Moon.

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A laser-bubble mermaid, ode to seven exoplanets, metallic hydrogen is lost

Tiny bubbles: laser-made mermaid (Courtesy: Kota Kumagai, Utsunomiya University)

Tiny bubbles: a laser-made mermaid. (Courtesy: Kota Kumagai/ Utsunomiya University)

By Hamish Johnston

A popular way of melding science and art is to create an image of a mythical being in your lab. Yoshio Hayasaki and colleagues at Utsunomiya University in Japan have made a pretty good likeness of a mermaid using a laser that forms tiny bubbles inside a liquid. “In our display, the microbubble voxels are three-dimensionally generated in a liquid using focused femtosecond laser pulses,” explains team member Kota Kumagai.

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She’s the greatest dancer, how to name an element, soccer ball finally orbits Earth

 

By Hamish Johnston

The award for most bizarre title for a scientific paper goes to psychologist Nick Neave and colleagues at the UK’s Northumbria University and University of Lincoln for “Optimal asymmetry and other motion parameters that characterise high-quality female dance”. The team says it used “a data-driven approach to pinpoint the movements that discriminate female dance quality”. Why, you might ask? “The form and significance of attractive dance, however, has been less well studied, and this limits our understanding of its role in human courtship and partner selection.” The above video is from a previous study by the team about what constitutes a good male dancer.

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3D neutrinos on your phone, Hamiltonian: an Irish Musical, is a March for Science a good idea?

 

By Hamish Johnston

How would you like to explore a giant neutrino detector in 3D from the comfort of your mobile phone? VENu is a new smartphone app that allows you explore the physics underlying the MicroBooNE neutrino detector at Fermilab. Developed by Alistair McLean of New Mexico State University and an international team of physicists, the app is used in conjunction with the Google Cardboard headset to provide users with a virtual-reality experience of MicroBooNE. VENu includes games that offer “brain teasing challenges” including working out how to spot a neutrino event in a busy background of cosmic-ray events. The app can be downloaded free of charge from the Apple Store and the Google Android Marketplace.

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Great wagers in physics, CERN’s pine marten gets stuffed, Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight

Flat out: Wallace saw him coming (Courtesy: PI)

Flat out: Wallace saw him coming. (Courtesy: PI)

By Hamish Johnston

I bet you can’t resist clicking on “Great wagers in physics history” – which has been compiled by Colin Hunter at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. A surprising number involve Stephen Hawking, whose record on winning is quite abysmal according to Hunter. Hawking’s fellow Cantabrigian Isaac Newton also enjoyed a flutter and accepted Christopher Wren’s offer of 40 shillings to anyone who could – in two months – derive a force law that explained Keplers laws of planetary motion. Newton succeeded, but ran overtime so he didn’t collect the cash. In the image above you can read about another wager involving a “flat-Earth theorist”.

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Live space station upgrade, more zombie physics, T-shirts for LIGO

Working in space: A still image from the NASA spacewalk video (Courtesy: NASA)

Working in space: A still image from the NASA spacewalk video. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

NASA is live streaming a video of a spacewalk on its Facebook page, and you just might be able to catch it live from the International Space Station – or watch it again. The video shows astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson upgrading the space station’s power system – and it looks like hard work to me.

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Hungry reindeer could mitigate climate change, talking about quantum computing and our breakthroughs of the year

Geoengineering: reindeer can change local albedo (Courtesy: CC BY-SA 3.0/Alexandre Buisse)

Geoengineering: reindeer can change local albedo. (CC BY-SA 3.0/Alexandre Buisse)

By Hamish Johnston

It’s that time of year when everyone is looking for stories with a Christmassy angle. My colleagues here at IOP Publishing are no exception and they have just put out a press release about some reindeer-related physics. Apparently, hungry reindeer in northern Norway are increasing the albedo of their feeding grounds by eating lots of plants. Albedo is a measure of how much sunlight is reflected back from the surface of the Earth – rather than being absorbed and dissipated as heat – and plays an important role in climate. A worry in the far north is that global warming will lead to greater plant cover – which will reduce albedo and lead to even more warming. Now, it looks like reindeer could help break this cycle. “The effect reindeer grazing can have on albedo and energy balances is potentially large enough to be regionally important,” says Mariska te Beest, from Umeå University in Sweden. “It also points towards herbivore management being a possible tool to combat future warming. Most of the arctic tundra is grazed by either domesticated or wild reindeer, so this is an important finding.”

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