Posts by: Hamish Johnston

In praise of rocket scientists, ironworkers, superheroes and more

Dark Matter and Big Data are just two of the superheroes inspired by physics.

Dark Matter and Big Data are just two of the superheroes inspired by physics. (Courtesy: Brittney Williams/Symmetry magazine)

By Hamish Johnston

Q: What do you call physicists studying the electrical properties of salad greens?
A: Rocket scientists!

But that’s old news, so lettuce move on to this week’s highlights from the Red Folder…

The rocket scientists referred to in the headline are econophysicists, who got a bad rap from Warren Buffet and others during the financial crisis of 2008. Now that the great depression is nearly over, physicist and author Mark Buchanan has a much more upbeat assessment of those who have made the transition from physics to economics in his blog entry “What’s the use of ‘econo-physics’?”.

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BICEP2 surprise visit, a bizarre rant, credible science fiction and more

 

By Hamish Johnston

The big story this week is that astronomers working on the BICEP2 telescope may have spotted the first direct evidence for cosmic inflation.  This is very good news for the physicist Andrei Linde, who along with Alan Guth and others did much of the early work on inflation. In the above YouTube video Linde, who is certainly in the running for a Nobel prize, receives a surprise visit from BICEP2 team member Chao-Lin Kuo. Kuo is the first to tell Linde and his wife, the physicist Renata Kallosh, the news that the theory that Linde developed more than 30 years earlier had finally been backed up by direct observational evidence. Not surprisingly, champagne glasses are clinking!

Here at physicsworld.com we have tried to tell both sides of the story: the thrill of seeing the first hints of cosmic inflation, tempered with calls for caution that more data are needed before inflation is victorious over other theories describing the early universe.

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Exoplanets are everywhere

Known exoplanets

The latest haul of exoplanets is skewed towards Earth-like masses. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

Just a few years ago the idea that more than 700 exoplanets could be discovered in a single study would seem fantastical. But that’s exactly what astronomers working on NASA’s Kepler mission have just done.

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CERN creates new office for medical research

Steve Myers (far left) and colleagues at the LEIR facility

Steve Myers (far left) and colleagues at the LEIR facility.

By Hamish Johnston

Earlier this month my colleague Tami Freeman was at CERN where she had a tour of what will soon be the Geneva-based lab’s first major facility for biomedical research. Called BioLEIR, the facility is now being created by modifying the existing Low Energy Ion Ring (LEIR).

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Intelligent life on a doughnut, how cats and skiers spin, a marriage made at CERN and more

By Hamish Johnston

There’s definitely an educational vibe to this week’s picks from the Red Folder, which begins with Tanner Higgin’s selection of “Five apps that test your physics skills“. Writing on Mind/Shift, a website based in California and dedicated to learning, Higgin highlights Crayon Physics Deluxe, which allows users to draw physical objects and then let gravity and other physical effects take over. Also featured is Amazing Alex, which allows users to combine more than 30 different household objects to create fantastical Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg contraptions.

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Celebrating Louis Essen and the birth of atomic time

Peter Knight (left) and John Dudley unveiling the historical plaque

Peter Knight (left) and John Dudley unveiling the historic plaque.

By Hamish Johnston

On Friday I braved the torrential rains that have been soaking southern England to make the journey from Bristol to Teddington, which is the birthplace of the atomic clock. Situated in the leafy suburbs west of London on the swollen banks of the River Thames, Teddington is the home of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), which is the UK’s standards and metrology lab.

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Quantum Cheshire cat spotted in Grenoble

An illustration of a Cheshire cat

A most curious thing is the quantum Cheshire cat. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/koffeezilla)

By Hamish Johnston

Three months ago we ran a news article about a “quantum Cheshire cat” experiment that was proposed by Yakir Aharonov of Tel Aviv University and colleagues. Now, an international team of physicists has created a quantum Cheshire cat using polarized neutrons at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, France.

The work was done by Yuji Hasegawa and colleagues at the Vienna University of Technology, ILL, the University of Cergy-Pontoise and Chapman University.

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Lights, camera, action at Daresbury Laboratory

Daresbury Laboratory: SuperSTEM is the small, white building just right of centre and surrounded by trees (Courtesy: STFC)

Daresbury Laboratory: SuperSTEM is the small, white building right of centre and surrounded by trees. (Courtesy: STFC)

By Hamish Johnston

Recently I was in Liverpool with the Physics World camera crew to film a series of videos, including a feature about the NA62 experiment based at CERN. On the way back to Bristol we spent the afternoon at the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire, where we made videos about two major facilities at that lab.

Today, we are premiering the video that we made about Daresbury’s SuperSTEM, which is the UK’s national facility for aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM).

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Stretching and spinning droplets using sound

Mirror made from tiny polystyrene spheres (Courtesy: Grzegorczyk et al Phys Rev Lett 112) 023902

Mirror made from tiny polystyrene spheres. (Courtesy: Grzegorczyk et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 112 023902)

By Hamish Johnston

There are two fantastic papers in Physical Review Letters this week that made me smile. Both of them are about controlling macroscopic objects using waves. While there are practical applications for both techniques, I can’t help thinking that the authors did the work for the sheer joy of it.

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Splitting sausages, immigration and the “Silence of the labs”

A hot topic this week. Courtesy: Shutterstock/indigolotos

A hot topic this week. (Courtesy: Shutterstock/indigolotos)

By Hamish Johnston

Why do sausages usually split lengthwise when cooked? That’s the subject of a fantastic article on Gizmodo that applies physics and maths to answer this important culinary question. Full of diagrams, a dozen equations and an evocation of Pascal’s principle, the article concludes that the “hoop stress” on the casing, which tends to cause lengthwise splits, is double that of the stress in the perpendicular direction. The article was adapted from a piece by the blogger Nick Berry about why pipes usually split lengthwise when frozen.

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