Posts by: Hamish Johnston

Feedback on a scheme to cloak Earth from hostile aliens

David Kipping

David Kipping doesn’t want to hide from aliens.

By Hamish Johnston at the APS April Meeting in Salt Lake City 

Earlier today I caught up with David Kipping of Columbia University in the US after his fascinating talk about what could make an exoplanet habitable. I wanted to ask Kipping about a quirky paper that he and Alex Teachey published a few weeks ago, which I wrote about in the The Red Folder.

Kipping and Teachey described how a laser could be used to cloak the Earth from the prying eyes of an extraterrestrial civilization. The paper was published just before 1 April, so at the time I wasn’t sure whether the paper was legitimate (it is) and Kipping told me that publishing before April Fools’ Day did cause some confusion.

So what feedback has Kipping had about the paper?

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The accelerator tree bears fruit

Photograph of a tree in Salt Lake City

Accelerator science is blossoming in Salt Lake City.

By Hamish Johnston at the APS April Meeting in Salt Lake City

This morning Mei Bai of the Jülich Institute for Nuclear Physics in Germany used a lovely phrase during her talk at the APS April Meeting. She showed a slide called the “accelerator tree”‘, which refers to a paper by Ugo Amaldi called “The importance of particle accelerators“.

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Merging black holes come to Salt Lake City

The Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City

The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City.

By Hamish Johnston at the APS April Meeting in Salt Lake City 

Will the LIGO collaboration announce today that it has detected more gravitational waves? There is a session this morning at 10.45 a.m. at the APS April Meeting with the enticing name “Results from Advanced LIGO“, and I think it’s safe to say that you should get there early if you want to get a seat.

In February the LIGO announced the first ever detection of a gravitational wave, which was made while the collaboration’s two detectors were being calibrated. Now that the experiment has been running since September 2015, it will be interesting to see if the first detection was a rare event that they were lucky to see,  or if LIGO will be detecting the mergers of black-hole pairs on a regular basis.

Stay tuned to for updates, and in the meantime enjoy this photograph I took of the Mormon Temple, which is across the road from the convention centre here in Salt Lake City.

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Riding a laser beam to Alpha Centauri, how the Sun pushes on the Earth and 22 kinds of space tape

Photograph of Yuri Milner (left) and Stephen Hawking

Stars in their eyes: Yuri Milner (left) and Stephen Hawking. (Courtesy: Bryan Bedder)

By Hamish Johnston

What to do if you have millions of dollars lying around and a keen interest in physics? The physicist turned Internet tycoon Yuri Milner has already spent some of his fortune rewarding leading scientists and funding research. His latest project is called “Starshot” and involves spending a cool $100m on sending a spaceship to Alpha Centuri – the closest star system to Earth at just 40 trillion kilometres away.

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How to make money by quantum computing

Quantum temple: will the congregation at Bristol's Wills Memorial Building convert to quantum annealing?

Quantum temple: will the congregation at Bristol’s Wills Memorial Building convert to quantum annealing?

By Hamish Johnston at the BQIT:16 conference in Bristol

Today I have made the short trip from the office to the University of Bristol, which is hosting the BQIT:16 conference on quantum information. I had been looking forward to the “Industry Perspective” session, which was headlined by Steve Adachi of the US defence supplier Lockheed Martin. Several years ago the firm was the first commercial buyer of what some consider to be the world’s first commercial quantum computer – a device made by Canada’s D-Wave Systems – and I wanted to know what Lockheed Martin was doing with it.

To say that D-Wave and its products are controversial is an understatement. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if some delegates to this conference are brought to fisticuffs over D-Wave’s quantum annealing protocols later this evening in Bristol’s cider pubs.

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Thwarting an alien invasion, pi in the sky, listening to the LHC and more

A guide laser

Not bright enough: this adaptive-optics laser would have to be a million times brighter to cloak the Earth. (Courtesy: ESO/G Hüdepohl)

By Hamish Johnston

Sometimes, the biggest laughs on April Fools’ Day come from the stories that read like hoaxes but are actually true. One such item is a proposal by David Kipping and Alex Teachy of Columbia University in the US, who have come up with a way of hiding the Earth from aggressive civilizations on distant planets (at least I think this is real, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were an elaborate hoax!).

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How to cook the perfect steak, Bill Nye gets tangled about entanglement and the challenges of going to Mars

Steaks on a grill (CC BY 2.0 _BuBBy_)

The wrong way: where is the liquid nitrogen and duck fat? (CC BY 2.0 _BuBBy_)

By Hamish Johnston

How do you cook the perfect steak? Materials scientist Mark Miodownik of University College London has the answer. To cook his medium-rare steak (pink in the middle with a seared coating on the outside), Miodownik first seals the steak in a vacuum bag and places it in a warm water bath until it reaches 55 °C. He then dips it in liquid nitrogen for 30 s to chill the outer layer without freezing the middle. If that wasn’t unconventional enough, he then throws it into a deep-fat fryer containing duck fat. The result? “A lusciously seared steak, medium rare all the way through. And not a pan in sight!” says Miodownik. The BBC has put together a nice animation of the recipe: “What’s the weirdest way to cook a steak?”.

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‘New boson’ buzz intensifies at CERN, fire prevention in space and Neil Turok on a bright future for physics

The ATLAS detector at CERN

ATLAS under construction: has the experiment gone beyond the Standard Model? (Courtesy: ATLAS)

By Hamish Johnston

Excitement levels in the world of particle physics hit the roof this week as further evidence emerged that physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) may have caught sight of a new particle that is not described by the Standard Model of particle physics. If this turns out to be true, it will be the most profound discovery in particle physics in decades and would surely lead to a Nobel prize.

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Physics versus superheroes, a cosmic landscape and a dress inspired by LIGO

A photograph of the Cosmic Multiverse

Galactic views: the Scottish countryside stretches out beyond the Milky Way. (Courtesy: Crawick Multiverse)

By Hamish Johnston

What to do with an abandoned mine? “Turn it into a neutrino and dark-matter detector” is probably what most physicists would say. But we have lots of those already, so how about “A cosmic landscape worthy of the ancients”? That’s how the artist Charles Jencks describes the Crawick Multiverse, which is located in a former open-cast coal mine in the Scottish countryside about 50 miles south of Glasgow. The “striking landscape of distinctive landforms” includes two mounds representing the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies and a Comet Walk that uses standing stones to emulate a comet’s tail. If the photograh above is any indication, it looks like a lovely day out.

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Sounding off about valleytronics

Photograph of a valley in Glacier National Park in the US

Valley state: real-life landscapes can be as beautiful as their condensed-matter counterparts. (CC BY-SA BorisFromStockdale)

By Hamish Johnston

Condensed matter is a physicist’s paradise because of the seemingly endless number of ways that atoms can be rearranged to create systems with new and exciting behaviours. A great example of this is the emerging field of “valleytronics”, which is concerned with a property of electrons that emerges in some semiconductors and 2D materials such as graphene.

The eponymous valley is a local minimum in the conduction band of a solid that “traps” electrons into a specific momentum state. Things get interesting when a material has two valleys that result in two distinct momentum states. In some materials these states resemble the quantum-mechanical property of spin: an electron can be in one of two spin states (up or down) and it can also be in one of two momentum states. As a result, this property is sometimes referred to as valley pseudospin.

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