This ink-on-paper sketch of Einstein (courtesy: Sigrid Freundorfer Fine Art LLC; click to view large) will go on public display for the first time tomorrow as part of an art show in New York City. It is the handiwork of Josef Scharl, a German artist who produced the work in 1950 while visiting his close friend Albert Einstein at Princeton University in the US.
Born in Munich in 1896, Scharl gained recognition in his time after being part of the “New Munich Secession” artists in the 1920s. He won various awards including the Albrecht Dürer Award from the city of Nuremberg, and the Prix-de-Rome. But Scharl was a vocal critic of the Nazi Party and by 1935 he was considered a “degenerate artist” and banned from painting.
Einstein, who by this time was already working at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, had met Scharl in 1927 in Berlin at the house of photographer Lotte Jacobi. Upon learning of the fate of his friend, Einstein offered to sponsor Scharl’s immigration to the US, which the artist accepted. Once in the States, Scharl used to visit Einstein regularly and when the artist passed away in 1954 Einstein wrote the eulogy that was read at the funeral.
“Scharl was an outspoken man, not shy with his opinions, often rather witty. Einstein appreciated Scharl’s candor and views on this or that, and their conversations were lively and informative for both,” says Sigrid Freundorfer, the fine-art dealer based in New York who owns the drawing. “It must have been refreshing for Einstein to have had somebody like Scharl to talk to once in a while, in German at that.”
Freundorfer bought the painting last year from someone in the field of manuscripts and rare books “Being an art dealer, I bought it first as a magnificent drawing by Josef Scharl, depicting this great man Einstein, signed by both men,” she said. The image will go on sale at the Master Drawings New York exhibition, which runs 26 January – 2 February and has a preview show on 25 January.
In your interpretation of quantum physics, do objects have their properties well defined prior to and independent of measurement?
By James Dacey
Last week my colleague Hamish Johnston wrote about a fascinating survey carried out recently in the quantum research community. Physicists, philosophers and mathematicians were asked to give their responses to a series of questions about the foundations of quantum mechanics. Topics covered aspects of the subject from Einstein’s views on the topic to the prospects of a practical quantum computer. The survey is described and analysed in this accompanying paper posted on the arXiv preprint server.
Perhaps the most fascinating outcome of the survey was the extent of variation in responses to the questions about interpretations of quantum mechanics. This is perhaps surprising given the fact that the modern theory of quantum mechanics has been knocking around now for the best part of a century.
By James Dacey
Courtesy: Jesse Karjalainen
Camera phones at the ready! 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of Physics World and we want you to be a part of the celebrations this year. To kick things off we would like you to submit photos containing the text “PW25″ to our Flickr group, a selection of which we will then publish later in the year. To give you an idea of the sort of photos we are looking for, we created the scene above using copies of Physics World magazine. If you’re looking for inspiration, think about your working environment. You might consider using laser writing, empty drinks cans, lines in the sand, basically use anything you can find in your vicinity. Happy snapping!
By James Dacey
If you are looking for a nice, relaxing job that is reasonably well paid with excellent job security, then university professor is the career for you. At least that is according to a new ranking exercise on the website careercast.com, which names “university professor” as the least stressful job of 2013 – followed by seamstress/tailor, then medical-records technician. The survey is based on criteria such as “physical demand” and “deadlines”, and is part of a more extensive categorization of the best and worst jobs that will be released in April.
Since the list was published last week there has been a mighty backlash from some members of the academic community, who feel their working life has been falsely characterized. A large dose of this anger was directed at this article in the magazine Forbes, which gleefully endorsed the results. Forbes journalist Susan Adams described the life of an academic with several gems, including “Working conditions tend to be cozy and civilized and there are minimal travel demands, except perhaps a non-mandatory conference or two.” However, after the article appeared, it received so many comments from disgruntled academics that Adams felt moved to write an addendum to reflect these sentiments and to clarify her position.
Let us know what you think about the debate by taking part in this week’s Facebook poll.
Do university professors have one of the least stressful jobs?
Please feel free to explain your answer by posting a comment on the poll.
In last week’s poll we asked you a question that involved a scientist whose fame now extends far beyond his academic research. We asked whether Stephen Hawking’s appearance in a recent advert for a price-comparison website was good for the communication of science. In the advert, Hawking is seen to create a black hole on a UK high street to destroy the comedy character known as Gio Compario. The poll was tightly contested, with 46% of respondents saying yes the advert is good for science communication, and the remaining 54% saying no it is not.
Of course, it was a very open question, so the poll attracted many comments. “It helps raise the profile of scientists in a jokey way. More and more people are now familiar with Hawking, Jim Al-Khalili and Brian Cox as TV personalities, and are enjoying and benefiting from their appearances on TV,” wrote Paul Londale. Another commenter, Raul Raúl, also has no qualms with Hawking taking part in the advert. “Isaac Asimov, a PhD in biochemistry and icon science-fiction writer and science popularizer, used to advertise IBM PC machines in late 1980s. So, let them do it,” he wrote.
Thank you for all your participation and we hope to hear from you again this week.
Is Stephen Hawking’s appearance in an advert for a price-comparison website good for the communication of science?
By James Dacey
For those of you outside of the UK, or those who were not quite so firmly glued to the telly over Christmas, you may not yet have had the pleasure (or pain) of viewing Stephen Hawking’s latest dalliance into popular culture. Hawking is the chief protagonist in a new television advert for the price-comparison website gocompare.com, as part of the company’s “Saving the Nation” campaign. Playing the boffin hero, Hawking apparently does the UK a favour by ridding it of the character Gio Compario, an impassioned but unbearable comedy maestro who spends his days singing about the “go compare” brand. Compario meets his sorry end on a UK high street when he is sucked into a black hole created by the mischievous Hawking, who is seen grinning with glee at the outcome.
I was left with the mixed feelings of mild amusement and utter horror at the cheesiness of the advert, precisely as intended by its creators. The fact that I am even writing this post proves that the advertisers have achieved their objective, though I would hasten to add that I neither approve nor disapprove of the website – in fact, I’ve never even used it. A more interesting debate to me is whether – after all things are considered – the use of physics and a celebrity cosmologist in this advert are good things for science. On the one hand, it shows just how firmly established Hawking is in the public consciousness. I think it is fair to say that when it comes to popular culture, physics and geeky humour in general are enjoying a day in the sun at the moment. You just need to look at the popularity of a show like The Big Bang Theory and the growing appeal of science television presenters such as Michio Kaku and Brian Cox, not to mention Hawking’s cameo appearances in The Simpsons.
On the other hand, if you are not willing to suspend disbelief, you might start to nit-pick just a little about the plot of this advert. You might start to ask some terribly pedantic questions such as “How can it be that while Gio Compario is hoovered up by a black hole, the other people on the high street manage to miraculously escape it unharmed?”. On a more political note, you may also ask whether a man of Hawking’s talents should not be devoting his time to something a bit more meaningful. Though you could hardly accuse him of being the first celebrity to make a bit of cash thorough appearing in TV commercials.
Please tell us what you think by taking part in our first Facebook poll of the year.
Is Stephen Hawking’s appearance in this advert for a price-comparison website good for the communication of science?
Let us know by visiting our Facebook page. And as always, please share your thoughts on the matter by posting a comment on the poll.
By James Dacey
Today, Physics World unveiled its Breakthrough of the Year and you may not be entirely surprised to learn that the award has gone to the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at CERN for their joint discovery of a Higgs-like particle at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). You can read about our choice in this article.
A predictable result? Yes, clearly. But part of our mission at Physics World is to take a bird’s-eye view of physics, covering all areas of the field: the big and the small, the theoretical and the applied. From our perspective, it appears that the most significant and dramatic developments in physics this year have taken place at the LHC.
But what do you think? All signs so far suggest that the particle discovered at the LHC is a Higgs boson with the properties described by the Standard Model of particle physics. If this is the case, then should we view this as a “physics breakthrough” at all? Would it not have brought a significantly greater advance in our understanding of the physical world had the Higgs not showed up at the LHC? Perhaps we should look at the LHC as more of an engineering triumph – for building a machine so complex and precise that appears to have verified some brilliant physics that was mooted more than half a century ago.
One could also argue that CERN is getting a heck of a lot of credit for something that would not have been possible without the excellent work that was done at Fermilab’s now-retired Tevatron accelerator.
As with many awards, there is naturally an element of subjectivity in its judging, and it is always difficult to single out winning individuals and groups above others. There were plenty of other significant physics breakthroughs this year, which we have recognized as highly commended. Perhaps you feel one of these should have pipped the Higgs discovery to the top spot? Let us know what you think by taking part in last Facebook poll of the year:
Is the discovery of a Higgs-like particle the physics breakthrough of 2012?
No (please suggest an alternative in a comment)
To place your vote, visit our Facebook page.
By James Dacey
Dark matter, dark energy and telescopes are not necessarily themes that you would expect to feature heavily in a short film about love. But they do in a new short film called The Theory of Everything that captures a romantic episode between two researchers working at a fictional observatory in Chile.
The film is described in this blog entry by my colleague Matin Durrani, who attended the film’s première in London. Matin quite enjoyed the film. I’ve got to say that I found the result slightly too far towards gorgonzola on the cheese scale – right from the opening scene where you see the observatory is called “Querido”, which roughly translates as “darling”. But I do really love the concept of the film and it got me thinking about different locations Hollywood filmmakers might consider when shooting their next feature-length movie. Can you imagine a rom-com set at CERN, for instance? Or a long, tension-filled love affair filmed at a big physics conference like the MRS March meeting?
What do you think? Let us know by taking part in this week’s Facebook poll.
Which physics setting would be the best for a Hollywood movie about love?
A particle-accelerator facility
A physics conference
An observatory atop a remote mountain
The International Space Station
A university research laboratory
Another location (please suggest by posting a comment)
To place your vote, visit our Facebook page.
In last week’s poll we asked you to pick which book you think should be Physics World‘s Book of the Year for 2012, presenting you with our shortlist of 10. The book that came out on top with 50% of votes was How the Hippies Saved Physics by David Kaiser. We’ll announce Physics World‘s choice of Book of the Year on 18 December, when our regular books podcast is released on physicsworld.com.
By James Dacey
Speculation has been running wild this week after NASA scientist John Grotzinger told National Public Radio (NPR) that the agency’s Curiosity rover has helped uncover a “major” discovery about Mars. The mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Programme, which has a goal of determining whether life has ever arisen on Mars. Given that Grotzinger is the chief scientist of the Curiosity mission, people are naturally getting excited.
In the interview, broadcast on Tuesday, Grotzinger was talking with enthusiasm about the results coming in from Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), a suite of instruments aboard the rover designed to collect soil and atmospheric samples. “We’re getting data from SAM,” he said. “These data are gonna be one for the history books. It’s looking really good.” Grotzinger said that the mission scientists are eagerly analysing the data but that we should not expect an announcement for several weeks.
So when these findings do become public, what will they reveal? Let us know what you think by taking part in this week’s Facebook poll.
What do you think has been discovered on Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover?
Conditions favourable for life
Evidence to suggest that life has never existed on Mars
A microscopic fossil
A living micro-organism
Something else (please share your suggestions as a comment)
To take part in the poll, please visit our Facebook page..
In last week’s poll we looked at the issue of physics education. We asked whether you believe that 16–18 year olds should be taught modern physics such as quantum mechanics? The question was inspired by the publication last week of an open letter to President Barack Obama lamenting state education in the US. The letter, in the form of a YouTube video, was bemoaning the fact that current curricula in the US focus almost exclusively on classical physics while excluding modern physics such as quantum mechanics almost entirely.
The poll had a lot of responses on Facebook, with 67% of respondents believing that these students should be exposed to quantum mechanics – but only the ideas not the complex mathematics. 28% disagree and believe that the students should be exposed to the “whole shebang”, including the maths. The remaining 5% believe that at this age, physics students should focus exclusively on classical principles.
Interestingly, the majority of comments that accompanied the poll came from the small group of people that believes that students should remained focused on classical physics. One respondent, David Peter Wallis Freeborn, wrote “There’s no point in teaching the maths of QM at the age of 16–18. They won’t have mastered linear algebra or any classical mechanics. You have to teach things from the base up, not just rush straight to ‘interesting’ modern theories.” Another commenter, Kristian Dominek Barajas, has a similar opinion: “My main concern is that students aren’t being engaged with the already complex and difficult topics in classical physics, which will ultimately stunt their growth in the field.”
Thank you for all your responses and we look forward to hearing from you again in this week’s poll.
By James Dacey
Earlier this week, my colleague Hamish Johnston wrote this blog entry about a new video that is highly critical of high-school physics education in the US. The video, presented as an open letter to President Barack Obama, bemoans the fact that current curricula in the US focus almost exclusively on classical physics and exclude modern physics such as quantum mechanics almost entirely. The narrator claims that the vast majority of high-school students are not required to learn about any physical phenomena discovered or explained more recently than 1865 (presumably a reference to the year that James Clerk Maxwell published the first version of his famous equations).
The narrator, Henry Reich, is a physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. Reich has released the video on his popular YouTube channel, Minute Physics, in the belief that physics education in the US needs a serious revamp. He argues that the US may lose its standing as the leading nation of innovation unless modern physics concepts such as photons and the structure of atoms are introduced into high-school curricula. He compares the present situation to a scenario in which high-school biology students were not taught about DNA, or geology students were not taught about plate tectonics. For those of you not familiar with the school system in the US, high school refers to students up to 18 years old.
But what do you think about Reich’s sentiments? In theory it would be lovely for all teenagers to be exposed to some of the wonderful ideas of modern physics such as the Higgs boson, antimatter or the cosmological models of how the universe evolved. But the reality is that truly getting to grips with some of these concepts requires an advanced level of maths, which has not always been reached by 18 year olds. The narrator addresses the maths question by saying that great communicators such as Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson have triumphed at conveying the fundamental principles of physics in an engaging manner without the need for advanced maths. But, again, the reality is that these people are exceptional – one cannot expect all school teachers to be as gifted at communicating difficult physics as these celebrated TV presenters.
Let us know what you think in this week’s poll.
Should 16–18 year olds be taught modern physics such as quantum mechanics?
Yes, the whole shebang
Yes, but only the ideas not the complex mathematics
No, at this age students should focus on classical principles
To have your say please visit our Facebook page, and please feel free to post a comment to explain your decision.
In last week’s poll we asked another question relating to US politics. We asked you to grade Barack Obama’s governance of US science during his first presidential term? The spread of results was as follows.
A – Awesome 0%
B – Brave effort given the economic constraints 24%
C – Could have done better 44%
D – Dreadful 32%
So in the heads and hearts of our Facebook followers, Obama has his work cut out to meet their expectations in his second term. We hope to hear from you again in this week’s poll. And I’ll make you a promise now that next week’s poll will have nothing to do with US politics!
Cartogram of 2012 US presidential election results. (Courtesy: Mark Newman)
By James Dacey
In the world of political punditry, the US election results are usually represented by a map of the nation with each of the 50 states coloured either blue for a Democrat victory or red for a Republican victory. The resulting map – this year, at least – can appear at odds with the overall election result, as large swathes of the sparsely populated centre were Republican red, whereas the geographically smaller but densely populated west coast and north-east regions were Democrat blue.
A more nuanced view has been offered up by Mark Newman, a physicist at the Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan. In this cartogram he has broken down the regions into counties rather than states, and the shade of purple represents the balance between Republican and Democrat. The size of individual counties is proportional to its population, and subsequently its influence on the “electoral college” vote, which ultimately determines the outcome of the election.
You can see several other visualizations of the election result on Newman’s web page.