Posts by: Hamish Johnston

Inspiring young physicists, telescope buyer’s guide, time-travelling pyramid builders

Sunlight calculator: Asimina Arvanitaki (Courtesy: PI)

Sunlight calculator: Asimina Arvanitaki. (Courtesy: PI)

By Hamish Johnston

Have you ever wondered what inspires talented physicists to pursue careers in physics? To try to answer that question, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) in Canada has produced a set of tiles that explain how some famous physicists – and some up-and-coming stars – became hooked on physics at a young age. An early love of back-of-the-envelope calculations seems to have set the stage for the PI’s Asimina Arvanitaki as she explains in the above tile. Can you guess which Nobel laureate used to stare at a clock pendulum for hours to try to figure out how it worked? The answer to that teaser and much more can be found in “How great scientists get hooked on science”.

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Mars mission gains currency in India, nuclear obliteration and a super-duper moon

The Reserve Bank of India's new Rs2000 banknote features the country's first interplanetary spacecraft, Mangalyaan (Courtesy: Ronnie Commissariat)

The Reserve Bank of India’s new Rs2000 banknote features the country’s first interplanetary spacecraft, Mangalyaan. (Courtesy: Ronnie Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat, James Dacey and Hamish Johnston

Nearly three years after it was successfully launched into orbit around Mars, India’s Mangalyaan orbiter has begun a new type of circulation – on a newly issued Indian banknote. Earlier this week, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi unexpectedly announced that the country’s ubiquitous Rs500 and Rs1000 notes would no longer be legal tender, effective immediately. New Rs500 and Rs2000 notes have instead be issued, the latter featuring the spacecraft.

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Robots at arXiv, physicist runs for US president, Einstein emojis galore

 

Preprint pioneer: Paul Ginsparg in 2002, long before arXiv received 10,000 papers per month (Courtesy: MacArthur Foundation)

Preprint pioneer: Paul Ginsparg in 2002, long before arXiv received 10,000 papers per month. (Courtesy: MacArthur Foundation)

By Hamish Johnston

Last month the arXiv preprint server received more than 10,000 papers – the first time in the history of the physics paper depository. While arXiv papers are not peer reviewed, they are checked to ensure that they are “of interest, relevance and value” to the scientific community – which arXiv promises to do within 24 h of submission. So how do they do it? Surely someone doesn’t read every word of every paper? The answer can be found in “What counts as science?”, which appears in Nautilus. arXiv was set up in 1991 by the physicist Paul Ginsparg, who explains how the service uses machine learning to sort the wheat from the chaff – something that has attracted controversy.

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Frightening physics films, a furry physics doodle and an epic pub crawl

Magnetic attraction: scary physics (Courtesy: Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Ana Kova)

(Courtesy: Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Ana Kova)

By Hamish Johnston

There are still 10 days to go until Halloween, but some physicists can’t resist getting into the spirit a bit early. Over at Symmetry, Kathryn Jepsen suggests a few scary physics films that would make for a spooky movie night on 31 October. They’re not actually real films, but rather a series of posters dreamt up at Chicago’s Sandbox Studio in collaboration with the illustrator Ana Kova. My favourite is Poltergauss (right), because trying to understand magnetism is terrifying.

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Music for aliens, Doctor Strange’s science adviser, the physics of Bob Dylan

Sounds of Earth: An original golden record (Courtesy: NASA)

Sounds of Earth: An original golden record. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

An online initiative to reissue Carl Sagan’s golden record, which was attached to NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 craft, has so far raised a whopping $1.1m, smashing its $198,000 goal. The campaign was created in September by David Pescovitz, editor and managing partner at the technology news site Boing Boing, after teaming up with Timothy Daly from Amoeba Music in the US, who was the original producer of the record, as well as US graphic designer Lawrence Azerrad. The original LP, which was created in 1977, contains sounds of the Earth along with recorded greetings and a mix of music, and has been unobtainable for decades, having been available only on CD-ROM in the early 1990s. Now that the cash has been raised, the golden record will be released next year as an LP to mark the 40th anniversary of the Voyager launches. So how much will it set you back? It’s yours for only $98, what a bargain.

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The physics of Luke Cage’s skin, meet the ‘mathekniticians’, lessons from the only girl in a physics class

By Hamish Johnston

Marvel’s Luke Cage is a superhero television series that has just debuted on Netflix. Cage’s superpower is that his skin is impervious to bullets and other projectiles fired at him by villains. But could it be possible to create a skin-like layer that would allow someone to emerge unscathed from machine gun fire? The Nerdist’s Kyle Hill has the answer in the above video.

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LIGO physicists favourites for Nobel prize, physics superstar tournament, and how long does it take to win a Nobel?

Prize winning: will the detection of gravitational waves win this year's Nobel? (Courtesy: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

Prize winning: will the detection of gravitational waves win this year’s Nobel? (Courtesy: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

By Hamish Johnston

The first week of October is nearly upon us and the question on almost every physicist’s lips is “who will win this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics?”. The people’s favourite for 2016 seems to be the physicists who pioneered the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors. In February 2016 LIGO researchers announced that they had made the first ever detection of a gravitational wave – from two merging black holes. A few months later, a second detection was announced.

Normally, Nobel nominations are closed in January so it’s possible that LIGO missed the boat. However, both the first and second detections were actually made in 2015 – with the results subsequently published in 2016. So the LIGO pioneers could have been nominated before the deadline as the collaboration already knew it had detected gravitational waves. It’s all pure speculation, of course, as each year’s deliberations are kept top secret for 50 years.

So who could be claiming the prize for LIGO? Three people favoured by pundits are Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever. Drever and Weiss played crucial roles in designing and building LIGO, whereas Thorne calculated what gravitational waves would look like to the detector.

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Mercury now orbits between Mars and Jupiter, fun with liquid nitrogen, 3D printing an asteroid

 

By Hamish Johnston

He may have taken the name of a planet, but the late rock star Freddie Mercury now has an asteroid named after him. 17473 Freddiemercury, is about 3.4 km in diameter and resides in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The designation was made by the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union and announced on Sunday by Mercury’s former Queen band mate and astrophysicist Brian May. In the above video, May gives some background to the naming, which was done to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Mercury’s birth. And if you watch to the end, you will see a clip of 17473 Freddiemercury streaking across the sky with Queen rocking in the background.

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Terahertz analytics for better plasmas

Terahertz generators: Gianqian Liao (left) and Yutong Li

Terahertz generators: Gianqian Liao (left) and Yutong Li.

By Hamish Johnston in Beijing 

Today was the last day of the Fall Meeting of the Chinese Physical Society here in Beijing and this morning I grabbed a coffee with Yutong Li and Giuqian Liao. I was hoping to learn more about their work that we covered in May in “Coherent terahertz radiation created in laser plasmas“.

Their technique involves firing a powerful laser pulse at a thin metal foil. This creates a plasma in which electrons are accelerated to high energies before bursting out of the foil. When they emerge, coherent terahertz radiation is given off.

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A great day out at the Institute of Physics in Beijing

Weyl theorists: Zhong Fang (left) and Hongming Weng

Weyl theorists: Zhong Fang (left) and Hongming Weng.

By Hamish Johnston in Beijing 

This morning I had a wonderful visit to see some condensed-matter physicists at the Institute of Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IOP CAS). First I met with theorists Zhong Fang and Hongming Weng and if you know your equations you can see from the above photo that they work on Weyl semi-metals. Fang is deputy director of the institute and is head of a theoretical physics group that includes six faculty members and about 20 postgraduate students. Avid readers might recall that Fang and Weng were named in the Physics World Top 10 Breakthroughs of 2015 for their work on Weyl fermions.

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