Posts by: Michael Banks

Boosting innovation in a Brexit Britain

Kevin Baughan, chief development officer at Innovate UK address delegates

Kevin Baughan, chief development officer at Innovate UK, addressing delegates at a Westminster Higher Education Forum yesterday on UK science funding and policy.

By Michael Banks

I headed to London yesterday for an event on the future of UK science and innovation funding and policy that was organized by the Westminster Higher Education Forum.

Held at the Royal Society of Medicine, the meeting was attended by representatives from government, business and academia. It was impeccably timed given that the “Brexit bill” is currently going through parliament and the UK government recently published an industrial strategy together with the announcement of an additional £4.7bn for R&D.

While it is safe to say that the UK is a scientific powerhouse, the same cannot be said of its ability to translate research into products and services, something that the new industrial strategy aims to tackle.

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A fusion fly-over

 

By Michael Banks

To the critics, a working fusion power plant is always 30 years away.

But in the past decade, progress has been made at the construction site of the ITER fusion reactor in Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, France.

Ten years ago – on 29 January 2007 – preparation work began on ITER’s home in the large stretch of national forest. Within two years, more than three million cubic metres of rocks and soil had been removed to level the site ready for the behemoth.

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Run the solar system

By Michael Banks

Fancy running through the entire solar system while out for a jog?

Well, soon you can, thanks to a free smartphone app from the British Science Association (BSA), which is set for release in early March. Run the Solar System is an “immersive running app” with the solar system scaled down to a 10 km virtual race.

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Stephen Hawking turns 75 with commemorative tome

Albert Einstein to Stephen Hawking: 100 Years of General Relativity book

Special edition. (Courtesy: Isle of Man Post Office and Glazier Design)

By Michael Banks

What better way to celebrate Stephen Hawking’s 75th birthday than a limited edition commemorative book?

To mark the occasion, the Isle of Man Post Office has released Albert Einstein to Stephen Hawking: 100 Years of General Relativity – a 32-page glossy tome that features quotes from the two famous physicists.

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The 10 quirkiest physics stories of 2016

By Michael Banks

From a physicist playing at this year’s Masters golf tournament to an animal halting CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), physics has had its fair share of bizarre stories this year. Here is our pick of the 10 best, not in any particular order.

Dinner that’s out of this world

Tim Peake portrait made from a British roast dinner

This culinary concoction was created by food artist Pridence Staite. (Courtesy: Ash Photography)

Before setting off to the International Space station (ISS) for six months late last year, UK astronaut Tim Peake revealed that one of the meals he would miss most was the classic British roast dinner. So what better way to celebrate his safe return to Earth in June than to create a portrait of him made from his favourite nosh? Designed by UK “food artist” Prudence Staite for the Hungry Horse pub chain, the culinary concoction took 20 hours to make and contained 5 kg of roast potatoes, 3 kg of cauliflower, 2.5 kg of meat, 0.5 kg of carrots, 0.4 kg of garden peas, a whopping 46 Yorkshire puddings and one litre of gravy. The finished portrait weighed in at 12 kg and says “Welcome Home Tim”. Hungry Horse has even offered Tim and his family free roast dinners for life.

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Quantum technology 2.0

Niki Haines from Insight Technologies

Niki Haines from Insight Technologies predicts the future of quantum computing.

By Michael Banks

Are we on the verge of a “quantum 2.0” revolution?

That was a question raised yesterday at an event that I attended at HP Labs in north Bristol, which was organized by the University of Bristol.

The day-long meeting featured a series of talks from industry about how quantum technologies are affecting business.

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3D cosmic-microwave background, iPhone paper and Dance Your PhD winner

By Michael Banks

It might look like a kind of dumpling at first sight, but upon closer inspection the eagle eyed might spot that it is actually a 3D version of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the thermal remnant of the Big Bang that came into being when the universe was only 380 000 years old. The model was created by physicist Dave Clements from Imperial College London who says that detailed maps of the CMB – created by space telescopes such as the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite – are difficult to view in 2D. (more…)

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The 2016 Physics World Focus on Neutron Science is out now

By Michael Banks

pwneut16cover-200Neutron scientists in Europe are facing a number of headwinds in the coming decade. One is the uncertainty caused by the recent UK vote to leave the European Union. Another is the impending closure of ageing reactors across the continent such as the Orphée reactor in Paris and the BER II reactor in Berlin, which could both shut down by 2020.

A recent report by an expert group of researchers – the Neutron Landscape Group – paints a worrying challenge for neutron scientists. It forecasts that the continent’s supply of neutrons could drop by as much as a half over the next decade – a shortfall in capacity that is unlikely to be met by the upcoming European Spallation Source in Lund, Sweden.

That said, there are plans to help overcome the impending neutron gap, including proposals to plug it by building compact, specialist sources. Improvements to accelerator technology and instruments could also help by boosting the number of usable neutrons. Scientists at the US Spallation Neutron Source, for example, are pioneering a method to improve its proton beam energy using plasma processing, while the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s world-leading neutron microscope will soon open up to users.

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A monument to peer review

The world's first momument to peer review

The world’s first monument to peer review could be completed by mid-October. (Courtesy: Igor Chirikov)

By Michael Banks

The Russian sociologist Igor Chirikov from the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow has much to celebrate during this year’s Peer Review Week.

He is now putting in place plans to build what will be the world’s first monument to anonymous peer review and is expecting it to be complete in mid-October.

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Physics World Special Report: China

pwchina16-cover-200By Michael Banks

Physics World published its first special report on China in 2011, which looked at China’s lunar programme and how the country was tackling fraud, as well as profiling the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Institute for High Energy Physics, which are both located in Beijing.

Five years on and physics in the world’s most populous country has rapidly expanded, with China building a number of other huge facilities – including the China Neutron Spallation Source and the China Jinping Underground Laboratory. Now close to completion, they will put the country at the forefront of physics.

So what better time to have another special report on China? Based on visits to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, the issue, which you can read free here, includes an overview of the current state of physics in the country as well as an interview with Wei Yang, president of the National Natural Science Foundation – the country’s biggest investor in basic science – and a piece looking at how scientists can foster good collaborations with physicists in China.

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