Posts by: Michael Banks

Supporting industrial physicists

By Michael Banks in San Antonio, Texas

Here is a stat for you: around 50% of US physics graduates (both undergraduates and postgraduates) go on to work in industry.

Whether you think that is good or bad, the American Physical Society (APS) wants to do more to support those physicists who don’t pursue a career in academia.


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Weighty matters

The conference centre for the APS meeting

March maze. The conference centre for the APS meeting.

By Michael Banks in San Antonio, Texas

After finally getting my head round the maze-like Henry B Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, it was straight into a packed schedule at this year’s American Physical Society (APS) meeting.

One topic that always causes concern among researchers is the crunch in helium supply.


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Texas bound

By Michael Banks

Suitcase packed, I am now on the way to San Antonio for the 2015 American Physical Society (APS) meeting, which begins on Monday.2015 APS March meeting logo

More than 9000 physicists will be heading to Texas for one of the biggest physics meetings of the year.

Having just put the finishing touches to my schedule for the five-day conference, we should be set to hear exciting results on mechanically programmable materials, the first metamaterial superconductor and the latest in flexible, stretchable electronics.

Yet there is also a more fun side to the conference with delegates also learning about modelling zombie outbreaks as well as participating in the famous APS physics sing-along.

So keep tabs on for all the latest from the 2015 APS meeting.

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The LEGO Large Hadron Collider

LEGO Large Hadron Collider

LEGO Large Hadron Collider.

By Michael Banks

Avid readers of this blog may remember the 560-piece LEGO model of CERN’s ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which was built by particle physicist Sascha Mehlhase of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen.

Not to be outdone, LEGO fan Jason Allemann then created a LEGO-inspired particle accelerator – dubbed the LEGO Brick Collider – that was submitted to the LEGO Ideas site, which lets fans share blueprints of their own models.


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Read all about it

By Michael Banks

Cover of the book "Tricked!" by Paul FramptonThe 71-year-old theoretical physicist Paul Frampton, who was arrested in Argentina in 2012 with 2 kg of cocaine in his luggage, has released his own version of events.

The British-born physicist was in Argentina after thinking he had struck up a correspondence on the Internet with Czech-born lingerie model Denise Milani.

However, when he arrived, Milani was nowhere to be seen and Frampton was apparently asked by someone else to carry a suitcase for her, which turned out to contain the drugs.

Despite protesting his innocence, Frampton was sentenced in November 2012 to 56 months in jail in Buenos Aires, some of which he spent under house arrest.

Now, in a 45-page e-book – Tricked!: the Story of an Internet Scam – Frampton outlines “the true story of an adventure that I would rather not have had”. According to the book’s blurb, it provides an “important lesson” that is “essential reading for everybody who uses the Internet”.

It could be the best £3.83 you ever spend.

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UK to open its first ‘pub observatory’

By Michael Banks

Fancy having a few pints while gazing at the stars? Well soon you will be able to, thanks to a new initiative at the Barge Inn at Honeystreet on the banks of the Kennet and Avon canal in Wiltshire, UK.

The Barge Inn

The Barge Inn. (Courtesy: The Barge Inn)

Known as “the most famous pub in the universe”, 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 turning to the stars by creating the UK’s first pub observatory.

The 205-year-old rural pub recently had planning permission accepted by Wiltshire county council for a 6 m-tall domed observatory to be constructed in the pub’s neighbouring campsite.

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

It is hoped that the observatory will boost visitors, particularly in the winter months when there is less daylight and more time for observations – and drinking, of course.

“We had originally intended to build the observatory next year but due to the great
response since gaining planning consent, construction will commence next
month.” pub landlord Ian McIvor told

And will it be a good idea to mix alcohol with astronomy, particularly with the tricky ascent to the telescope? “You would be amazed at what some of the pub’s customers can accomplish after a few pints,” adds McIvor. “Gazing at the stars and falling down the stairs is a regular activity, so we think it will be business as usual!”

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Debating UK science

Making your mark. (Courtesy: iStockphoto.stocksnshares)

Science and the ballot box. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/stocksnshares)

By Michael Banks

Yesterday evening I went to the Royal Society in London to hear what the three main political parties in the UK have to say about science. The event was held because in May voters in the UK will be heading to the polls to choose their next government. The three parties had therefore sent their main science representatives to the Royal Society to spell out their intentions.

Chairing the debate was space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock of University College, London. She had the unenviable task of keeping science minister Greg Clarke (Conservative), Liberal Democrat science spokesperson Julian Huppert, and shadow universities, science and skills minister Liam Byrne (Labour) in check. For non-UK readers, it’s worth pointing out that the Conservatives have been in coalition with the Liberal Democrats since 2010.


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Milestone for preprint server

Paul Ginsparg

Paul Ginsparg. (Courtesy: Cornell University)

By Michael Banks

The arXiv preprint server received its millionth paper on 25 December 2014 – a major milestone for the repository, which was set up by the physicist Paul Ginsparg in 1991.

Cornell University’s arXiv has its roots in – a server set up by Ginsparg, who at the time was at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to share preprints in high-energy physics. It was originally intended for about 100 submissions per year, but rapidly grew in users and scope, receiving 400 submissions in its first half year.


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The 10 quirkiest physics stories of 2014

By Michael Banks

From a particle collider made of LEGO to physicists taking on the ice-bucket challenge, physics has had its fair share of interesting stories this year. Here is our pick of the 10 best, in chronological order.

The designated survivor

The nuclear physicist and US energy secretary Ernest Moniz may be 14th in the US presidential line of succession, but if something really terrible had happened in late January, then he might have found himself leading the world’s biggest economy. That is because Moniz was appointed the “designated survivor” while US president Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address earlier this year.

Ernest Moniz

Ernest Moniz: the designated survivor. (Courtesy: MIT Energy Initiative)

The speech, which is attended by the country’s top leaders, including the vice-president, members of the US cabinet and Supreme Court justices, is where US presidents outline their legislative agenda for the coming year. A designated survivor is a member of the cabinet who stays at a distant, secure and undisclosed location during the address to maintain continuity of government in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack that ends up killing officials in the presidential line of succession.


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Physics World Special Report: India

By Michael Banks

Physics World Special Report India 2014

This year has been one of change for India. In May, some 800 million eligible voters went to the polls in an election that was won by the Bhartiya Janata Party. Led by Narendra Modi, the party went on to form a coalition government called the National Democratic Alliance.

Our Special Report, which you can read free online, kicks off by looking at how science is faring under Modi’s fledgling administration. Indeed, in September, Modi was personally on hand at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to laud engineers who had just carefully manoeuvred the Mars Orbiter Mission into position around the red planet – a feat that announced India as a major player in space exploration.

Modi’s personal interest in ISRO will not only please the organization’s chairman K Radhakrishnan, who we interview for the report, but could also be seen as a sign that the new administration is serious about boosting science in the country.


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