Posts by: James Dacey

Has Voyager 1 left the solar system yet?

By James Dacey

Artist's impression of Voyager spacecraft

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space.”

That is what Voyager scientist Edward Stone had to say on the matter back in March following reports that NASA’s most intrepid explorer had finally passed beyond the edge of our solar system. Today, three new papers published in Science back up this statement, asserting that the Voyager 1 had instead entered a distinct section at the edge of the solar system.

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View from the beamlines

By James Dacey

Photo of film shoot at ILL

This photo looks a little bit like we were filming the moment that I got down on my knee and popped the big question to Andrew Harrison, the Director General of the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL). While that would certainly make for an intriguing story worthy of a blog entry, the truth is that earlier this week we were interviewing Harrison for a short film about his international research facility. In case you are still wondering, the reason I am kneeling is so that we could frame our shot to include the dome that houses the ILL’s nuclear reactor, where neutrons are generated.

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Is creativity as important in science as it is in art?

By James Dacey

Science-inspired art

“Parity Series, Far Infrared”. (Courtesy: Mehri Imani, Central Saint Martins)

The worlds of art and science came together yesterday in central London in a celebration of creativity across disciplines. A symposium at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design was held to recognize the first group of students to complete the Art and Science MA course – the first course of its kind in the UK. Students taking this course are given the chance to explore the “creative relationships between art and science and how to communicate them”.

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Which Nobel-prize-winning physics invention has had the most profound impact on society?

By James Dacey

Lightbulb and fibre optics

Physics has brought transformative inventions. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/Péter Mács)

Earlier this week my colleague reported the death of Heinrich Rohrer, the Swiss condensed-matter physicist who shared the 1986 Nobel Prize for Physics for the invention of the scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) at IBM’s Zürich Research Laboratory. Rohrer shared one half of the prize with his IBM colleague Gerd Binnig, while the other half went to the West German Ernst Ruska for his invention of the electron microscope (EM).

By bringing into view the atomic world, EMs and STMs have undoubtedly had a huge impact on science. Before their invention, optical microscopy had been a truly transformative technology. But it had been fundamentally limited to seeing things that are (roughly speaking) larger than the wavelength of the light used to produce the image. And since the wavelength of visible light is some 10,000 times larger than the typical distance between two atoms, we could not see individual atoms.

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Hangout with Physics World

By James Dacey

This year Physics World is celebrating its 25th birthday. The first issue of the magazine was published in October 1988, so for October this year we are producing a special anniversary issue. It will celebrate the big physics stories from the first quarter of a century of our existence, but it will also have a strong focus on the exciting new physics that await us in the near future. To discuss our plans, I joined editor of Physics World Matin Durrani in this Google Hangout, recorded yesterday.

It was the first time we had attempted one of these fancy new hangouts; this was something of a pilot run. But with the likes of Barack Obama, CERN and the BBC all attempting this new, accessible way of video broadcasting, I reckon we’re in good company.

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Research galore in Singapore

By James Dacey

Photograph of Singapore at night

The Helix Bridge in Singapore. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/TommL)

Despite its modest size, the city-state of Singapore is clearly an ambitious nation, boasting a leading financial centre and one of the world’s busiest ports. During a recent visit to Boston I met a man called Lim Tze Min who works for a government agency called Contact Singapore, which exists to try and attract skilled people to live and work in Singapore. I wanted to know why a physicist might consider relocating to the country. Listen to our conversation here.

Tze Min talks about research facilities including the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), the founding director of which is the Polish-born physicist Artur Ekert, who is also affiliated with the University of Oxford in the UK.  According to Tze Min, one of the major bonuses of being a researcher in Singapore is the small amount of bureaucracy invovled, which allows scientists to get on with just doing the science. Give it a listen and decide for yourself whether it sounds like a place where you could imagine yourself working.

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Hawking’s academic boycott divides opinion

By James Dacey

Do you agree with the principle of academic boycotts?

Yes
No

Have your say by taking part in this week’s Facebook poll. As always, please feel free to explain your answer by posting a comment on Facebook or below this article.

This question has arisen after it was revealed yesterday that Stephen Hawking will be boycotting a prominent conference in Jerusalem in protest against the policies of the Israeli government. The British cosmologist and science communicator had been set to talk at the Israeli Presidential Conference: Facing Tomorrow, which will take place in June and which will feature a string of high-profile speakers, including Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. But the University of Cambridge has confirmed that Hawking, who is director of research at its Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, has pulled out of the conference for political reasons. Physics World has spoken to a university spokesperson who confirmed that Hawking has sent a letter to the conference organizers to explain his decision not to take part. The UK newspaper the Guardian has today published what it says is the full text of this letter, dated 3 May.

“I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank. However, I have received a number of e-mails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”

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Stephen Hawking boycotts high-profile Israeli conference

By James Dacey

Stephen Hawking has decided to pull out of the fifth Israeli Presidential Conference: Facing Tomorrow 2013, which is taking place in June. The world-famous British cosmologist and science communicator was due to deliver a keynote speech at the conference in Jerusalem, which boasts other presenters including Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev. But it appears that Hawking has made a late U-turn. That is according to a statement published by the British Committee for Universities for Palestine – an organization of UK-based academics, set up in response to the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel.

We understand that Professor Stephen Hawking has declined his invitation to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference Facing Tomorrow 2013, due to take place in Jerusalem on 18–20 June. This is his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.

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What are quantum wavefunctions?

By James Dacey

Graphic of Greek letter psi

Seeking the meaning of psi. (Courtesy: Pasieka/Science Photo Library; Mat Ward)

In the May issue of Physics World, science writer Jon Cartwright explores some of the most profound questions about the nature of reality. His feature, “The life of psi”, engages with an apparently simple question: what are quantum wavefunctions? Of course, like many of the most interesting questions in physics, the answer to the question is far from elementary. In fact, it is a question that goes right to the heart of quantum mechanics and philosophy, and one that has puzzled some of the greatest minds for the best part of a century.

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What type of video would you like to see more of on physicsworld.com?

By James Dacey

Photo of Joe Paradiso

Physics World film shoot at MIT Media Lab.

The proliferation of online video in recent years has triggered tidal waves of content across the globe. As well as all the dancing cats and piano-playing dogs, it has brought new opportunities for journalists to tell stories in more visual and personal ways.

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