Posts by: Hamish Johnston

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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Entrepreneurs should practise ‘inclusive knowledge transfer’

Ethical entrepreneur: Surya Raghu in Beijing

Ethical entrepreneur: Surya Raghu in Beijing.

By Hamish Johnston in Beijing

“90% of new products are targeted at the richest 10% of the world’s population” – that’s my take-home message from a fascinating presentation by Surya Raghu at the Fall Meeting of the Chinese Physical Society here in Beijing. An engineer by training, Raghu founded US-based Advanced Fluidics in 2001 after a career in academia.

Raghu was speaking to a group of Chinese students about how to embark on a career as an entrepreneur. Student-age is the best time to acquire the mindset of an entrepreneur, says Raghu and he emphasized the concept of “inclusive knowledge transfer”. This a way of ensuring that products developed at universities benefit even the most disadvantaged in the world.

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China’s quantum star drops into Beijing

Quantum star: Jian-Wei Pan before his television appearance

Quantum star: Jian-Wei Pan before his television appearance.

By Hamish Johnston in Beijing 

A few weeks ago China launched the world’s first “quantum satellite” from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, which about 1600 km from Beijing. This morning I met the lead scientist on the mission, Jian-Wei Pan of the University of Science and Technology of China, who is visiting Beijing on his way home to Hefei from Jiuquan.

I asked Pan how the mission (called QUESS) was going, and in particular if his team has managed to get the satellite to send entangled pairs of photons back to Earth. He said we would have to wait for the team to write a paper about the satellite’s initial performance – so let’s just say he was in a very good mood! Stay tuned for more information about this pioneering mission that could lead to quantum communications in space.

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How to use a mountain to detect neutrinos

Aiming high: Zhen Cao explains how to use a mountain to detect tau neutrinos

Aiming high: Zhen Cao explains how to use a mountain to detect tau neutrinos.

By Hamish Johnston in Beijing

This evening I had dinner with Zhen Cao, who is one of China’s leading particle astrophysicists and works at the Institute of High Energy Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences here in Beijing.

Cao has found a great way to combine his passion for mountains and neutrinos: the Cosmic Ray Tau Neutrino Telescope (CRTNT), which, if built, will use an entire mountain in western China as a cosmic neutrino detector.

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A physics tour of Beijing

Dusk falls on Beijing

Dusk falls on Beijing.

By Hamish Johnston in Beijing 

It’s a lovely warm evening here in Beijing. I have just arrived for an action-packed visit in which I will have a chance to meet some of China’s top physicists and science policy makers.

Over the next few days I’m looking forward to meeting people at the Chinese Physical Society (CPS),  the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (MOST), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and more.

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Testing the brain’s “physics engine”, lawnmower aurora alert and more

 

By Hamish Johnston and Tushna Commissariat 

You may not know it, but apparently you have a dedicated region in your brain that is your “physics engine”. At least that is what cognitive researchers from Johns Hopkins University are suggesting after they have pinpointed a specific region of the human brain that intuitively understands physics – at least when it comes to predicting how objects behave in the real world. According to the team, the engine is kick-started when we observe physical events as they happen and is “among the most important aspects of cognition for survival”. Surprisingly, the region is not located in the brain’s vision centre, but is actually the same area we tap into while making plans of any type. In the video above, the team has created a little game for you to test your engine’s horsepower – go ahead and tell us how you did.

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A horrific nightmare scenario at CERN, surfer wins SUSY bet, and meet the father of the Super Soaker

Surf's up: Garrett Lisi when he is not winning bets with Nobel laureates (Courtesy: CC BY-SA 3.0/Cjean42)

Surf’s up: Garrett Lisi when he is not winning bets with Nobel laureates. (CC BY-SA 3.0/Cjean42)

By Hamish Johnston

The “nightmare scenario” of particle physics has a new meaning thanks to a bizarre video that appears to have been made by some scientists at CERN. The video seems to have been filmed at night at CERN’s main campus in Geneva and depicts an occult ceremony in which a woman is stabbed. While the video appears to be a spoof and there is no indication that anyone was actually harmed in its making, CERN officials are rightly concerned that such violent scenes were filmed on their premises. “CERN does not condone this type of spoof, which can give rise to misunderstandings about the scientific nature of our work,” a spokesperson told Agence France-Presse.

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‘Chemtrails’ are a con, say experts

Conspiracy theory: aeroplanes up to no good high above Horfield Common in Bristol

Vast conspiracy: contrails over Horfield Common in Bristol.

By Hamish Johnston

Is there a government-led conspiracy that uses aeroplanes to lace the atmosphere with chemicals? Of course there isn’t, and now there is a peer-reviewed study that says so.

Dubbed the “secret large-scale atmospheric programme” (SLAP), the conspiracy concerns condensation trails (contrails) that can often be seen high up in the sky. These are the lines of cloud that are formed when water condensates around particulate matter in the exhaust from jet engines. But are those contrails actually “chemtrails” that are spreading noxious substances far and wide?

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An animated history of physics, messing around with methane and Vangelis on space

 

By Hamish Johnston

Topping this week’s Red Folder is an “Animated history of physics” narrated by the Irish comedian and science enthusiast Dara O Briain. Running from Galileo to Einstein’s general theory of relatively – and giving very short shrift to quantum mechanics – it’s more of a selected history. You can enjoy the animations and O Briain’s soothing brogue in the video above.

O Briain often teams up with the particle physicist and media celebrity Brian Cox, who is also in the news recently for teaching children in London how to ignite potentially explosive gas. Before you call social services, it was all in the name of science education and part of Cox’s visit to St. Paul’s Way Trust School. Cox had been invited to the school’s summer science school and obliged by leading an experiment into the properties of methane. “There is no shortage of enthusiasm for students and young people when you talk about science and engineering,” Cox told the Reuters news agency.

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