Posts by: Louise Mayor

A folding challenge

FinishedBy Louise Mayor

Here at Physics World HQ we have seen a lot of origami cropping up in physics over the last few years, be it curved-crease origami, origami robots or even sheets of graphene oxide going for a stroll.

It seems that a growing number of physicists have cottoned on to the fact that origami – and the related art of kirigami, where cuts are allowed – can be very interesting from a physics point of view, with properties that can lead to novel applications over a range of length scales. If you are a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read all about it in “Flat-pack physics”, a feature by science writer Simon Perks published in this month’s edition of Physics World.

As part of some background research for this feature I came across some great origami designs. One in particular – a snowflake – caught my eye and I got in touch with its designer Dennis Walker, who has been a paper folder for about 35 years. Walker very kindly agreed to update his instructions for making the snowflake especially for Physics World. They are now nice and clear and you can find Walker’s updated pattern here (PDF).

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Preserving Apollo’s data legacy

Photograph of astronaut Alan L Bean collecting some lunar soil on the Apollo 12 mission

Astronaut Alan L Bean collects some lunar soil on the Apollo 12 mission. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Louise Mayor in San Francisco

Day two of AGU Fall 2015 saw the likes of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and NSF director France Córdova talking in rooms packed full of earth and space scientists. But what grabbed my attention was a short talk by Nancy Todd of NASA’s Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office.

NASA being NASA, I assumed that all its data from completed missions would by now have been digitized and made accessible. That, I learned, is not true – but Todd and her colleagues are on the case.

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Physics World 2015 Focus on Astronomy and Space is out now

By Louise Mayor

PWASTRODec15cover-500Woolly hats are being donned and there’s a nip in the air as the longest night of the year in the Northern hemisphere approaches. All this darkness makes it the perfect season to gaze up at the stars, planets and puffy nebulae above. But binoculars and amateur telescopes can only enhance the view by so much. To really push the boundaries of how far and how fine we can see, we must turn to international telescope projects both on the ground and in space.

To update you on what we think are the most exciting current and future projects we bring you the Physics World Focus on Astronomy and Space, which you can read free of charge in its entirety.

One particularly ambitious imaging effort is described in the article “Portrait of a black hole“, in which Physics World reporter Tushna Commissariat reports on how a group of astronomers plans to take the first-ever image of a black hole. Despite their name, black holes are apparently not black and the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration has already begun pointing a network of ground-based telescopes at its target: Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy.

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Disaster-proof astronomy?

Photograph of the ALMA array from the air

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) on the Chajnantor Plateau in Chile. (Courtesy: Clem & Adri Bacri-Normier/ESO)

By Louise Mayor in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

In many ways, the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes seems like one of the worst places in the world to build a very large and expensive telescope array. I have already experienced or witnessed first-hand a host of hazards on my trip to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), which is my reward for winning the European Astronomy Journalism Prize 2014.

At 2.39 a.m. local time last Monday, I was rudely reminded that I was in a tectonically active region by a magnitude-6.3 earthquake. At the time, I was staying overnight in Santiago, with two flights down and one to go on my way to the ALMA site in the Atacama Desert further north.

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Time to claim the Chilean prize

Chilean flag in Santiago

By Louise Mayor in Santiago, Chile

When I got to immigration at Santiago airport in Chile this morning, the man behind the glass asked me whether I was here for business or pleasure. “Business,” I replied. But that word didn’t sit right with me. To me, the word “business” conjures the image of some dull suit-and-briefcase affair. But I’m here to go to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) as my reward for winning the European Astronomy Journalism Prize 2014, and I’ve been thinking of it as quite the once-in-a-lifetime treat. “Perhaps,” I thought to myself in those split-seconds following my reply, “my trip does fall under ‘pleasure’ after all?”

Not one to mislead immigration officers, I immediately wanted to clarify the situation. “Well,” I added, “er,” before quickly realizing that changing one’s answer at the immigration counter is perhaps not the best idea. The man then stopped his document-checking and looked at me square-on, fixing me with an intense gaze. “Why are you here?” he asked.

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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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