Posts by: James Dacey

On top of the volcano – part one

 

By James Dacey at Sierra Negra, Mexico

Friday was the final full day of the Physics World Mexican adventure and we ended with a breathtaking experience, quite literally.

Matin and I rose early in Puebla to travel over a hundred kilometres east to the ominously named Sierra Negra volcano. This extinct beast is home to two of Mexico’s finest astrophysics facilities.

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Examining precious artefacts without breaking them

By James Dacey in Mexico

From pre-Hispanic archaeological treasures to the Modernist paintings of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Mexico is brimming with cultural artefacts. Yesterday I visited a centre at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) that has developed techniques for investigating precious objects without damaging them.

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Particle-physics lab beneath a Mexican pyramid

The Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan

The Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan.

By James Dacey in Mexico

Yesterday was day three of the Physics World Mexican adventure and it turned out to be a really exciting 24 hours. Matin Durrani and I visited Teotihuacan – the “City of the Gods”– located 30 miles north-east of Mexico City. We were there to witness some of the closing moments of a 15-year particle physics experiment designed to “see” inside the Sun Pyramid, the world’s third biggest pyramid by volume.

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A bright light in Mexico City’s historic centre

Museo de la LuzBy James Dacey in Mexico City

When you visit an unfamiliar city, you can often discover some hidden gems by just wandering the streets with your eyes wide open. This is what happened to Physics World editor Matin Durrani and me yesterday here in Mexico City when we stumbled across the Museo de la Luz (Museum of Light) in the backstreets of the historic city centre.

Located in an old Jesuit college with a beautiful courtyard, the exhibits are spread over three floors covering a wide spectrum of themes, from human vision to the history of the theories of light. What I loved about the place is that it really did offer something for everyone. Too often I find that museums can be great for kids or great for the type of serious adult who loves to leaf through tea-stained archives. El Museo de la Luz manages to hit a sweet spot, being informative and interactive but not too whizz-bang – that is certainly not what I needed yesterday with this jetlag!

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New York dims its lights for birds

Photograph of birds flocking over Central Park in New York

Birds flock over Central Park. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/giovanni1232)

By James Dacey

It’s been a great week for birds – or at least those flying over the state of New York – after state governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to create safer migration routes for our feathered friends. All state buildings will now have to comply with a national US initiative that seeks to curb levels of light pollution, which can disorient birds and lead to huge numbers of avian deaths by “fatal light attraction”.

Many species of bird rely on the light from star constellations to help them navigate during spring and autumn migrations. Unfortunately, artificial light sources can throw the animals off course, and light reflected from glass can cause the birds to smack into windows, walls, floodlights and other hard surfaces. It is estimated that as many as a billion birds succumb to this cruel end each year in the US alone, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

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IYL 2015 gets Swiss design makeover

Posters inspired by IYL 2015

IYL 2015 is the theme of this student poster project.

By James Dacey

One of the big aims of the International Year of Light (IYL 2015) is to take scientific ideas out of the lab to show the world just how inspiring and useful they can be. In the process, it can forge relationships between different communities, including scientists, engineers, artists, journalists, architects, politicians, aid workers…the list goes on.

Here in Bristol, where Physics World is produced, we’ve seen a fantastic local example of this by way of an art project at the University of the West of England (UWE). Second-year graphic-design students were set the brief of creating posters themed on IYL 2015. Last night we hosted an evening at IOP Publishing headquarters to showcase the students’ work and to let them find out more about science publishing.

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Astronomers fill supervoid in their knowledge

A cold spot in the cosmic microwave background

The cold spot (bottom right) resides in the southern galactic hemisphere. (Courtesy: ESA Planck collaboration)

By James Dacey

Astronomers believe they may finally be able to explain the origin of the “cold spot”, a  glaringly large cool region in the cosmic microwave background (CMB). Maps of the CMB, such as that created by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and more recently by the Planck mission, reveal the distribution of radiation left over after the Big Bang. When in 2004 researchers noticed this cold spot on the map, they soon realized it was either a sign of exotic physics linked to the Big Bang itself or it was caused by some sort of structure in the foreground between the CMB and the Earth.

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Guide to the solar eclipse

Solar eclipse captured by Hinode craft

Solar eclipse of 2012, which darkened parts of the US and south-east Asia. (Courtesy: JAXA/Hinode)

By James Dacey

On Friday, our old friend the Moon will swing by to remind us that she’s not just there to reflect the Sun’s light; she can sometimes block it out too. A total solar eclipse will be visible to those lucky few people living in the Faroe Islands or the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Many others across Europe, North Africa and Russia will be treated to the (almost as good) spectacle of a partial solar eclipse.

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Personal views on the International Year of Light

 

By James Dacey

“In the beginning there was light – the Big Bang,” said Steve Chu, talking on Monday at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris during the opening ceremony of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). Chu – a Nobel-prize winner and former US energy secretary – was among a smorgasbord of speakers at the two-day event, which brought together scientists, artists, politicians and many others with a particular interest in light and its applications.

Being a journalist, I was at the event with my own light-based technology, the humble SLR camera. I was recording a series of interviews with people at the event, including Chu, to get their thoughts on what the year of light means to them. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, the fact that “light” is such an all-encompassing theme can also make it difficult to get a handle on what IYL 2015 is all about. I hope that the resulting video – to be published on physicsworld.com next week – will bring clarity to some of the initiatives and projects in the spotlight this year.

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Lighting up a mid-winter Bath

By James Dacey

In what could be described as the West Country’s answer to Diwali, the city of Bath in the UK has just hosted an eight-day festival of light, featuring colourful public artworks based on lighting technologies. “Illuminate 2015″ was one of the first events on the calendar in this International Year of Light, the UNESCO-supported celebration of light science and its applications. I popped along to the event last Thursday to find out what it was all about and I’ve put together this short film, which includes the event’s creative director Anthony Head explaining what the festival is all about.

 

“It’s a subtle introduction to experimenting with science,” says Head, referring to the fact that many of the exhibits are interactive and involve some playful experimentation. One such exhibit, called “Light Painting”, invited the general public to create images that were then projected onto some of the local buildings. Another exhibit, called “Sonic: Sullis”, enabled people to create sounds and light projections by simply disturbing water contained in a box.

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