By James Dacey
Today is Ada Lovelace Day (ALD), a day to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Named after the 19th-century polymath Ada Lovelace, the annual initiative also seeks to engage with the challenges of attracting more women into STEM careers and supporting career development. Now in its eighth year, the day includes a number of events and online activities.
The day will culminate in a few hours with Ada Lovelace Day Live!, a “science cabaret” event at the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London (18:30–21:30, tickets still available). In what promises to be “an entertaining evening of geekery, comedy and music”, the all-female line-up includes several scientists from the physical sciences. Among them is Sheila Kanani, a planetary physicist and science comedian who is the education, outreach and diversity officer for the Royal Astronomical Society in London.
By James Dacey
As science-inspired global initiatives go, it’s fair to say that the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015) burned brighter than its organizers could have imagined. IYL 2015 set out to raise awareness of the crucial roles light can play in areas such as sustainable development, education and health, and it did so through festivals, workshops, publications and a plethora of other activities. A final report published this week details some of IYL 2015’s key achievements and describes some of the year’s most memorable activities.
Among the highlights identified in the report is the Physics World film series “Light in our Lives”, a set of short documentaries about the role of light in people’s everyday lives. We commissioned the films as an official IYL 2015 media partner, embracing the collaborative and international dimensions of the year by working with filmmakers across the world. They include a film about how LED lanterns are enabling students to study after sunset in a rural community in India, and another about how lighting technologies are bringing a modern twist to Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City (see above).
Communicating science through video was the theme of a workshop I participated in yesterday in Hannover, Germany, as part of the Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries conference (TPDL 2016). It was a varied audience that included journalists, academics and librarians. I came away feeling inspired by all the possibilities, but realizing that science communication has a long way to go to use this medium to its full potential. I’ll share with you here some of the key messages.
As Physics World’s multimedia editor, I used my slot to talk about some of the journalistic videos I’ve produced and commissioned during the past few years – discussing what’s worked, what hasn’t and where I think journalistic video production is heading. I made the point that to create engaging web video you have to think carefully about how your audience will be watching the films. Your film may look great on a large monitor, but will it be enjoyed by someone watching it on a smartphone on a bus or train? Also, what are you trying to achieve with the film? Are you trying to entertain or promote something? Or perhaps you are trying to teach? The style and tone will vary depending on the purpose.
By James Dacey
This summer many of you will watch smoke billowing out of buildings as yet another villain wreaks havoc on the New York skyline in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. I’m willing to bet that as you eat your popcorn you won’t be thinking about the Navier–Stokes equations of fluid dynamics. (Well, perhaps you will now that I’ve mentioned it!)
In fact, part of the reason that virtual smoke in films looks so realistic is because visual effects (VFX) specialists have applied the Navier–Stokes equations to their graphics. This was one of the interesting tidbits I learned from a talk yesterday in London by Rob Pieké, head of software at Moving Picture Company (MPC).
Pieké was speaking as part of a half-day event on “physics and film” organized by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World. The gist of his presentation was that basic physics principles are used in a variety of ways to create special effects that capture viewers’ attention. “The audience wants to see something fantastical but grounded in reality,” said Pieké. Another example he gave was how naturally bouncing hair in computer-generated characters is modelled on mass—spring systems. Each individual hair could be modelled on as many as 30 masses connecting by springs.
By James Dacey
The European première of a documentary recorded secretly within a Russian “atomic city” is among the highlights at Sheffield Doc/Fest, the international documentary festival that gets under way tomorrow in Sheffield, UK. City 40, directed by the Iranian-born US filmmaker Samira Goetschel, takes viewers inside the walls of a segregated city established by the Soviet Union during the Cold War as a guarded location for developing nuclear weapons.
The social model in Ozersk (formerly known as City 40) is reminiscent of what occurred in Richland, the US city near the Hanford site in Washington State where plutonium was produced for the “Fat Man” bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. In both these US and Soviet cities, the citizens were lavished with higher-than-average salaries and standards of living, such as quality housing, healthcare and education systems. Today, Ozersk is still a closed city with an alleged population of 80,000 and exists officially as a facility for processing nuclear waste and material from decommissioned nuclear weapons.
By James Dacey
As concept albums go, the latest release by Jake Hertzog can certainly be stacked at the intellectual end of your record collection. This week, the US jazz-rock guitarist released his sixth studio album, entitled Well Lit Shadow – a suite of solo electric-guitar tracks inspired by images from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and other experiments at the CERN particle-physics lab. You can find details of how to purchase or stream the album on Hertzog’s website.
Now, I’m not the world’s biggest jazz aficionado but I gave the album a listen and it’s far more accessible than the concept might suggest. Hertzog’s musicianship shines through and bright walking riffs on tracks such as “Star Drops” and “Traces of You” evoke images of devoted researchers working through vast amounts of data in pursuit of knowledge. According to Hertzog’s website, some of the pieces are very literal attempts to depict the chaos and beauty of subatomic-particle collisions, while other tracks are more abstract meditations on the deeper meaning of these experiments. The album’s title track is described as “a musical poem dedicated to the philosophical implications of this science”.
By James Dacey
Concert hall acoustics was the theme of a fascinating panel debate last night at the Royal Opera House (ROH) in London. Among the speakers was British soprano and presenter Lesley Garrett who shared her views on the acoustics of some of the great concert halls in which she has performed. She was joined by acoustics engineer Trevor Cox, acoustics consultant Helen Butcher and sound engineer Paul Waton, who has recorded a range of classical concerts for the BBC. Insight: the Art and Science of Acoustics was co-hosted by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World.
Cox – who featured in our 2014 podcast about sonic wonders – set the scene by describing some of the fundamental acoustic considerations in designing a concert hall. We heard clips of Cox playing a saxophone in an “anechoic” chamber, followed by the same sax lick performed in an oil tanker – the place with officially the longest echo in the world. Cox’s point was to show the difference between high clarity at the one extreme and intense reverberation at the other. The sound wasn’t quite “right” in both cases. “Concert hall design is about finding a pleasing balance between these two extremes,” he said.
By James Dacey
Alice Prochaska, the principal of Somerville College, Oxford, told me yesterday that she is “absolutely thrilled” that Mary Somerville (1780–1872) will appear on a new £10 Scottish banknote. Prochaska believes the decision will help to give the Scottish polymath, whose work led to the discovery of Neptune, the wide recognition she has not yet received. Somerville will be the first woman other than a royal to appear on a Scottish banknote.
The decision had been announced earlier this week by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), following a somewhat bungled public vote. On 1 February, RBS launched a week-long Facebook poll to determine whether Somerville, the engineer Thomas Telford or the physicist James Clerk Maxwell should adorn the new note, which will be issued in the second half of 2017. Having led comfortably throughout, Somerville was overtaken at the eleventh hour by Telford, following a suspicious flurry of votes mainly from outside of the UK. This triggered a three-day stewards’ inquiry before the bank declared Somerville the winner on Wednesday.
By James Dacey
Tomorrow is the inaugural International Day of Women and Girls in Science as declared by the United Nations (UN). It’s a chance to celebrate women’s achievements in science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM), and to address the under-representation and inequality that women and girls face in many STEM fields.
One way you can take part on the day is to write the name of your favourite female scientist on this printable poster. Take a photo of yourself holding the poster and share it on Twitter including #WomenInSTEM. This social-media initiative is the idea of our colleagues at the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World, who have lots of information about their ongoing diversity programmes on their website. I’ll be sharing the name of Mary Somerville, the Scottish polymath who predicted the existence of Neptune.
By James Dacey in San Francisco
Rocks rich in silica have been discovered on the surface of Mars, bearing a resemblance to environments on Earth that support microbial life. It’s the latest finding from NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, presented today in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
After landing in the Gale crater region of Mars in 2012, NASA’s car-sized rover spent the first couple of years exploring the planes around the elevated region known as Mount Sharp. Since 2014 the rover has started exploring the mountain itself, working its way up from the base.