Posts by: Hamish Johnston

Perimeter Institute welcome speech reignites the string wars

Neil Turok at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (Courtesy: Gabriela Secara)

Neil Turok at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. (Courtesy: Gabriela Secara)

By Hamish Johnston

A series of four articles about people at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) has been published in the Canadian magazine Maclean’s and one article in particular has got people talking.

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Leidenfrost drops race through a maze

By Hamish Johnston

In this fantastic video, physics students at the University of Bath in the UK have had some fun with the Leidenfrost effect. This occurs when a liquid drop comes in contact with a hot surface that produces an insulating layer of vapour that keeps the drop from evaporating rapidly. This layer also allows the drop to glide effortlessly over the surface – and that’s where the fun begins.

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Looking beyond the Standard Model in Liverpool

Liverpool physicist John Fry (right) gets ready for his close-up

Liverpool physicist John Fry (right) gets ready for his close-up.

By Hamish Johnston

Earlier this week the Physics World film crew was on Merseyside to document some of the exciting physics done in Liverpool and its environs. Our first stop was a meeting of the NA62 collaboration at the University of Liverpool that was organized by the particle physicist John Fry (above right with our cameraman David Hart).

The finishing touches are currently being put on the NA62 experiment, which will start up at CERN in Geneva next year. The international collaboration running the experiment will focus on making precise measurements of the decay of a charged kaon to a pion and two neutrinos. If all goes to plan, NA62 could find that the decay is not completely described by the Standard Model of particle physics, which could point towards new and exciting physics.

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Nobel laureate Andre Geim profiled on BBC radio

Nobel laureate Andre Geim

Nobel laureate Andre Geim. (Courtesy: University of Manchester)

By Hamish Johnston

I thoroughly enjoyed a recent BBC Radio 4 profile of Andre Geim of the University of Manchester, who shared the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics. In the 13 minute broadcast, which is available for download, Geim and several admirers talk about the passion for doing quirky fundamental research that led to his co-discovery of graphene.

There is even the bold suggestion from one of Geim’s colleagues that there might be another Nobel in the Russian-born physicist.

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LHCb and CMS see rare decay of the strange B meson

A strange B meson decay event as seen by CMS (Courtesy: CMS)

A strange B meson decay event as seen by CMS. (Courtesy: CERN)

By Hamish Johnston

It’s a story with a hint of both “man bites dog” and “dog bites man” about it.

Physicists working on the CMS and LHCb experiments at CERN have independently seen an incredibly rare decay of a particle – a strange B meson decaying into two muons. The odds of this meson decaying in this particular way is about one in a billion, making the joint discovery a triumph of experimental particle physics. And it is officially a discovery. That’s because when data from the two experiments are combined the observation has a statistical significance of greater than 5σ, which is the gold standard in particle physics.

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T2K discovery puts neutrino oscillation beyond doubt

The SuperKamiokande detector lies 1 km underground in the Mozumi mine in the city of Hida. (Courtesy: Kamioka Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, University of Tokyo)

The SuperKamiokande detector lies 1 km underground in the Mozumi mine in the city of Hida. (Courtesy: Kamioka Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, University of Tokyo)

By Hamish Johnston

Physicists working on the Tokai to Kamiokande (T2K) experiment have confirmed what many have suspected for nearly three decades – over time, a neutrino of one flavour will change into a neutrino of another flavour in a process called neutrino oscillation.

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GERDA puts new limit on neutrinoless double beta decay

The GERDA experiment at Gran Sasso (Courtesy: INFN)

The GERDA experiment at Gran Sasso. (Courtesy: INFN)

By Hamish Johnston

This stylish chap is looking for an incredibly rare nuclear process called neutrinoless double beta decay. The picture was taken deep under a mountain at Italy’s Gran Sasso National Laboratory, which is about 160 km north-west of Rome. He is standing in a cavern containing the GERDA experiment, which has been searching for the rare decay since 2011.

GERDA hasn’t actually detected a decay event, but the collaboration claims to have measured the best value yet of the lower limit on its half-life in germanium-76. They researchers say that it’s about 2.1 × 1025 years – or 21 yottayears!

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How to write a physics book

By Hamish Johnston

John Inglesfield could live a life of leisure. Retired, he has homes in two very desirable locations – England’s Lake District and Aude in south-western France.

But alas, John is a physicist; so instead of lounging by the pool reading, he is busy writing a book. His chosen topic is the embedding method in condensed-matter physics and the book will published as an ebook by IOP Publishing, which also publishes physicsworld.com.

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Why do some models behave badly?

By Hamish Johnston

In his latest book Models.Behaving.Badly: Why Confusing Illusion With Reality Can Lead to Disaster, on Wall Street and in Life, the physicist-turned-economist Emanuel Derman looks at how a superficial resemblance between the equations of physics and those of economics has led to confusion in the financial industry.

Yesterday, Derman was at the Institute of Physics in London to speak about the differences and similarities between models, theories and intuition. You can watch a video of his presentation above.

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Institute of Physics celebrates commercial innovation

Bright ideas: the Insitute of Physics lauds five UK-based companies. (Courtesy: IOP)

Bright ideas: the Insitute of Physics lauds five UK-based companies.

By Hamish Johnston

The Institute of Physics (IOP) has bestowed its Innovation Award on five UK-based companies. The IOP, which publishes physicsworld.com, runs the annual award to “celebrate companies that make the most of physics”.

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