Posts by: Louise Mayor

First image of a black hole expected a year from now

Chalk art of a black hole at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI).

Chalk art of a black hole at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI).

By Louise Mayor in Waterloo, Canada

According to Avery Broderick, a physicist at the University of Waterloo and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) in Canada, the iconic picture of a black hole from the film Interstellar “really only presages astronomical reality by about a year”. That’s because, as Broderick explains, “as soon as next spring the Event Horizon Telescope is gonna produce images of the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way”.

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Nergis Mavalvala on the upcoming Advanced LIGO run

 

By Louise Mayor in Waterloo, Canada

The search for ripples in space–time known as gravitational waves is one of my favourite scientific endeavours. So here at the Perimeter Institute’s Convergence conference, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to talk to Nergis Mavalvala, one of the speakers here.

A physicist at MIT, Mavalvala works on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US. LIGO’s first six observing runs took place from 2002 to 2010 and yielded no detection of a gravitational wave. Since then, LIGO physicists have been working on increasing the instrument’s sensitivity – they needed to make it even better at measuring the stretching and compressing of the interferometers’ 4 km-long arms thought to occur if a gravitational wave passes through them.

Five years on, LIGO’s $200m upgrade is now complete.

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Why converge?

Neil Turok at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (Courtesy: Gabriela Secara)

Neil Turok at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (Courtesy: Gabriela Secara)

By Louise Mayor in Waterloo, Canada

Right now, top physicists from around the world are arriving in Waterloo, Canada, to attend a unique conference. Christened Convergence, the meeting is the brainchild of Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) in Waterloo, where the event will be based. I spoke to Turok to find out what motivated him to set up this conference, what makes it so special, and what he hopes it will achieve.

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Physics World’s festive puzzle: solution

By Louise Mayor

Did you manage to solve Physics World’s festive puzzle, published last month? In case you missed it, take a look at part 1 and part 2 and see how you fare. The puzzle was created for Physics World by Colin of the UK’s Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), whose full identity cannot be revealed.

Spoiler alert: the solution in full is posted below.

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Physics World’s festive puzzle: part 2

PWDec14puzzle-glassBy Louise Mayor

The image above is the second and final part of Physics World’s festive puzzle 2014. If this is the first you’ve heard about the puzzle, start by checking out Physics World’s festive puzzle: part 1, which was published a week ago.

Can you solve it? Let us know how you get on by posting a comment below, but please do keep the answer to yourself, if you work it out, to avoid giving the game away for others.

We hope you enjoy this bit of fun. There are no prizes – the only reward is the satisfaction of finishing the puzzle. Solutions will be published on this blog in January.

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Physics World’s festive puzzle: part 1

PWDec14puzzle-treeBy Louise Mayor

Although I wouldn’t want to tar us all with the same brush, for many people – including me – the festive period marks indulging in rest, rich food and a reacquaintance with the goggle-box.

Switching off and slumping on the sofa seems like the best thing ever for a few days, but eventually I find it gets a bit boring. That’s when I find myself craving some mental stimulation, whether that be gorging on crosswords, designing a new knitting pattern or learning a new programming language.

But how about you – are you busy right now digesting roast potatoes and zoning out on Indiana Jones, or do you have an appetite, instead, for a challenge?

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Sweet-talking physics

By Louise Mayor

We’re always up for trying new formats and approaches to journalism here at Physics World. You’ve probably seen our documentary-type films, podcasts and 100 Second Science video series, but the latest addition to our repertoire is a short monthly video in which one of our editorial team highlights something in the upcoming or current issue as a kind of taster.

So this month, I decided to take the plunge and get in front of the camera myself to present the third edition of what we have started jokingly referring to in the office as our “fireside chats”. (Here are the July and August versions.)

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Physics World at 25: Puzzle solutions

By Louise Mayor

Infographic designed to look like the dial for a safe, with a ring of colors around the edge showing information in the same way as a pie chart. Each sector is labelled with its category and number and they are: red, Puzzle 1, 5376; orange, Puzzle 2, 2593; yellow, Puzzle 3, 683; teal, Puzzle 4, 369; blue, Puzzle 5, 186; and dark blue, All five puzzles combined, 117.

Infographic showing the number of correct answers submitted to the online answer-checking tool for each of Physics World’s five anniversary puzzles.

(Warning: spoilers below for those who haven’t yet tried the Physics World at 25 puzzles.)

October 2013 was Physics World’s 25th birthday. It was also the month in which, unusually for me, I compulsively checked the comments being posted on this blog. That’s because we published a series of five physics-themed puzzles as part of the celebrations, which left me both (a) excited to see if people would enjoy them, and (b) nervous that some loose cannon might reveal an answer and spoil the fun! (It didn’t calm my worries that the very first comment made on the very first puzzle – now deleted – was indeed the answer to the puzzle.)

With more than 1000 comments posted in total, the response to the puzzles was staggering. Commenters posted where they’d come in the rankings (“Hallelujah! #121. That was a tough slog.”), encouraged others to persevere (“Ted, I think you’re nearly there. You’re right about the first word”) and recipients of help were very grateful (“Thanks uszkanni! I’ve been going a bit mental on that one.”)

The infographic above-right shows the number of correct answers submitted to the online answer-checking tool for each of the puzzles, as of early December. We were very impressed with those numbers: not everyone at Physics World HQ was so successful.

Some commenters also debated whether there were mistakes in the puzzles or even more than one possible answer. “Please do better next time Louise,” someone warned me.

Unfortunately, as I couldn’t debate this without giving the game away, my lips were sealed! Today, however, we can announce not only the single-word answers to the puzzles, but also how you can arrive at these answers. Thanks again to Colin, Nick and Pete at the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), who composed all the puzzles as well as the solutions below.

If you haven’t tried the puzzles yet, and would like to have a go before seeing the solutions, here are the links to each:

Puzzle 1
Puzzle 2
Puzzle 3
Puzzle 4
Puzzle 5
(Puzzle round-up)

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Anniversary issue inspires debate

Photo of John Preskill

John Preskill at Caltech comparing his group’s choices with ours for the top discoveries of the last 25 years and the biggest unanswered questions. (Courtesy: IQI, Caltech)

By Louise Mayor

Unless you’ve been living under a stone or aren’t a regular reader, you’ll know that this month marked the 25th anniversary of Physics World – the member magazine of the Institute of Physics (IOP).

We pushed the boat out by turning our October issue into a celebration of all things physics – past, present and future – by picking our top five discoveries in fundamental physics over the last 25 years, the top five images during that period, the five biggest unanswered questions, the top five people changing how physics is done, as well as the top five spin-offs from physics that will improve people’s lives over the next quarter century.

Apart from the special 25th-anniversary issue being the top story on the BBC website for a glorious few hours early in October, we were particularly pleased to see that our pick of the top breakthroughs in fundamental physics inspired a fascinating discussion at John Preskill’s group meeting over at Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter.

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Physics World at 25: Puzzle round-up

Physics World at 25 Puzzle

By Louise Mayor

Twenty-six days ago we launched the Physics World at 25 Puzzle with the first and easiest of the five puzzles in the series. Today we announced the fifth, final and most fiendish puzzle of all.

Did anyone out there manage to bag the whole set? See where you rank by entering all five answers, in sequential order and as a single string of text with no spaces, in the box below.

However you do, we sincerely hope you enjoy trying the puzzles.

For any frustrated puzzlers out there who are at the end of their tether and want to know the answers, do not fret: the solutions will be revealed in the January 2014 issue of Physics World.

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