Posts by: Michael Banks

Kavli prize for gravitational-wave pioneers

Winners of the 2016 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics

Gravitational-wave pioneers: (l to r) Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss.

By Michael Banks

It’s been a great month for the people behind the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (aLIGO), which recently discovered gravitational waves.

In early May, Ron Drever, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss – who co-founded LIGO – together bagged a cool $1m share of a special $3m Breakthrough Prize together with more than 1000 LIGO scientists, who shared the remaining $2m.

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China’s Silicon Valley

Researchers working on an angle-resolved photoemission spectrometer at the South University of Science and Technology of China

Researchers working on an angle-resolved photoemission spectrometer at the South University of Science and Technology of China.

By Michael Banks in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China

It is well documented how China seems to be able to build cities within weeks. But how quickly could it build its very own Silicon Valley?

Well, that question may well be answered very soon. Today, I was at the South University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTC), which is located in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.

The university was only created in 2011 and currently the physics department has a sole focus on experimental and theoretical condensed-matter physics, with around 20 undergraduate students each year (that number is expected to rise as the department expands into other areas of physics).

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Putting China at the forefront of neutron science

The China Spallation Neutron Source in Dongguan, China

The target station for the China Spallation Neutron Source in Dongguan, China.

By Michael Banks in Dongguan, Guangdong province, China

Today I took the 60 km trip north from Shenzhen to Dongguan – home of the China Spallation Neutron Source (CSNS).

China has two nuclear reactors that generate neutrons for research via nuclear fission, but the CSNS is the country’s first spallation source. This type of facility accelerates protons before smashing them into a target to produce copious amounts of neutrons. They are then sent to numerous instruments that are used by researchers to study materials.

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Building a better society

Ruiqin Zhang, president of the Physical Society of Hong Kong

Ruiqin Zhang, president of the Physical Society of Hong Kong.

By Michael Banks in Hong Kong

This morning I took Hong Kong’s metro to the City University of Hong Kong, where I met Ruiqin Zhang, who as well as being a solid-state physicist at the university is also president of the Physical Society of Hong Kong.

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China 101

Giulio Chiribella

Theorist Giulio Chiribella of Hong Kong University.

By Michael Banks in Hong Kong

“Hong Kong is a bit like China 101,” says Giulio Chiribella, a quantum-information theorist from Hong Kong University. “China for beginners.”

The native Italian ought to know, having spent three years in Beijing at Tsingua University before moving to Hong Kong last August.

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Physics World 2016 Focus on Nuclear Energy is out now

By Michael Banks

Proponents of nuclear power in the UK have endured an agonizing wait for Hinckley Point C – a European pressurized water reactor (EPR) to be built in south-west England that would fulfil 3.5% of the UK’s electricity needs. Earlier this year, it looked as if the French utility giant EDF would finally give the project the thumbs up and start construction. However, following months of political wrangling – and resignations by senior EDF executives – a final decision by the EDF board is yet to see the light of day.

Cover of the 2016 Physics World Focus on Nuclear Energy

Hinckley Point C is not the only EPR under construction that has been beset with delays and cost hikes: two in China, one in France and one in Finland have also had issues. In this first-ever Physics World Focus on Nuclear Energy, we delve into the EPR design and Hinckley Point C, as well as look ahead to other, more ambitious reactor designs in the pipeline – known as generation-IV designs – that could vastly reduce the amount of nuclear waste produced. Although work on such designs has slowed following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, supporters argue that generation IV will still play a vital role in the long term.

The focus issue is not only devoted to fission, but fusion too. For decades physicists have dreamed of using fusion to generate electricity and, with construction well under way on the ITER fusion tokamak in Cadarache, France, that vision is now getting closer to a reality. But is ITER the only way forward? We explore how several private firms are developing small-scale fusion technologies, while in Germany a novel “stellarator” device has just started up that promises to deliver a “steady state” plasma.

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Go wins for Google AI program

Go board

Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo programme has won the first two games against Go champion Lee Sedol from South Korea. (Courtesy: iStock/Peerayot)

By Michael Banks

It is a battle between man and machine, but one that has been ultimately won by the brute force of computation.

Yesterday as well as today, Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo program has made a breakthrough in artificial intelligence by defeating Lee Sedol – the current world champion from South Korea – at the game of Go.

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Perimeter Institute discuss LIGO findings

 

By Michael Banks

Following the exciting news that the US-based Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory has discovered gravitational waves, the folks at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada are hosting a live webcast panel discussion at 13:00 EST (18:00 GMT) today.

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Name the element, continued

(Courtesy: Shutterstock/Nerthuz)

(Courtesy: Shutterstock/Nerthuz)

By Michael Banks

It will soon be time to get the Tipp-Ex out on your copy of the periodic table.

That is because the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) have announced the discovery of four new elements: 113, 115, 117 and 118 – completing the table’s seventh row.

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The 10 quirkiest physics stories of 2015

By Michael Banks

From a physicist creating an award-winning beer to a font based on Albert Einstein’s handwriting, physics has offered up its fair share of interesting stories this year. Here is our pick of the 10 best, in chronological order.

UK to open its first “pub observatory”

Fancy having a few pints while gazing at the stars? Well soon you could do just that, thanks to a new initiative at the Barge Inn in Honeystreet on the banks of the Kennet and Avon Canal in Wiltshire, UK.

Photograph of the Barge Inn

The Barge Inn. (Courtesy: The Barge Inn)

The boozer is already a favourite among UFO aficionados and crop-circle hunters, but now the free house, which has its own brewery making beers such as Alien Abduction and Roswell, is creating the UK’s first pub observatory. The 205-year-old, rural inn received planning permission earlier this year from Wiltshire County Council to construct a 6 m-tall domed observatory in its neighbouring campsite.

Dubbed the Honeystreet Observatory, it will be able to accommodate groups of about 20 people and will feature a Celestron 14″ 1400 Pro telescope. Images from the instrument will also be relayed onto screens in the pub.

But will it be a good idea to mix alcohol with astronomy, particularly with the tricky ascent to the telescope? “Gazing at the stars and falling down the stairs is a regular activity, so we think it will be business as usual,” says pub landlord Ian McIvor. The observatory is set to open in spring 2016 and Physics World editorial staff are looking forward to checking out this important new scientific venue.

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