Posts by: Michael Banks

Herschel in a minute

By Michael Banks

Here is an example of how to condense four years’ worth of space observations into just a minute.

The animation above, which was created by Pedro Gómez-Alvarez of the European Space Agency (ESA), shows a timeline of more than 37,000 scientific observations made by ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory.

The video runs from Herschel’s launch on 14 May 2009 until the infrared observatory made its last observation on 29 April 2013 as the craft’s detectors ran out of coolant.

Herschel – a far-infrared and submillimetre telescope – had two main goals: to study star formation in our galaxy; and galaxy formation across the universe.

Named after the German-born astronomer who in 1781 discovered Uranus, the probe carried a 3.5 m-diameter mirror – the largest to be deployed in space – and investigated light with wavelengths of 55–670 µm.

The craft was placed in an area of space some 1.5 million kilometres further out from the Sun beyond the Earth. Known as Lagrange point L2, it is where a space probe can usefully hover, little disturbed by stray signals from home and without having to use much fuel to keep it in position.

You can find some of the incredible images taken by Herschel at ESA’s multimedia gallery.

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A black-belt physicist

Julie McGavigan

Julie McGavigan, expert in physics and karate.

By Michael Banks

Not many school pupils can boast having had a world-champion physics teacher, so say hello to Julie McGavigan, who teaches physics at Eastwood High School near Glasgow and bagged a gold medal at the World Karate Championships in Denmark in October.

The 27 year old, who says the win in Denmark came as “quite a shock”, is a 3rd Dan in Shotokan karate and has taught physics for five years after studying the subject at the University of Glasgow.

McGavigan also teaches karate at evening classes at Eastwood High, where she puts physics principles to good use.  “Physics helps me understand why certain stances, moves and combinations work when practising karate,” McGavigan told physicsworld.com.

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Physics World 2013 Focus on Big Science is out now

By Michael Banks

Physics World Focus on Big Science October 2013

Physics World Focus on Big Science.

All eyes will be on Stockholm next week as the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics is announced. One of the frontrunners for the prize in the minds of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences will surely be the discovery last year of the Higgs boson at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

But the LHC story is far from over and in the latest Physics World focus issue on “big science” find out how the LHC will hunt for new particles beyond the Higgs boson once the collider restarts in 2015 following an 18-month repair and upgrade programme at the Geneva-based lab.

All full members of the Institute of Physics will receive a print edition of the focus issue along with their copy of the October issue of Physics World, but everyone can access a free digital edition. The focus issue also looks at how particle physicists are already thinking about what could come after the LHC, with bold plans for a 80–100 km proton–proton collider. There are even plans for a collider based on lasers, with an international team looking at creating an array of “fibre lasers” to be used as a future “Higgs factory”.

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Who will bag the 2013 Nobel prize?

By Michael Banks

Yep, it’s that time of year again, when predictions for the Nobel prize get bandied about and notable physicists will be making sure that their mobile phones are fully charged in anticipation of a call from Stockholm.

The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics will be announced on Tuesday 8 October at 11:45 CET. Work on the Higgs boson, which was discovered last year at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, is the surely the hot favourite to win this year, but the Nobel Foundation sometimes springs surprises and 2013 may be no different.

So who do you think will win this year’s prize?

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South Korea – day six

A transmission electron microscope at KIST

A transmission electron microscope at KIST.

By Michael Banks

The first thing Kyung-Ho Shin, vice president of international affairs at the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), passed me when we met in the lobby of my hotel today was an umbrella.

Today Seoul has had a very good watering, but after the recent warm weather the change could be seen as being welcome.

In the morning’s pouring rain, I visited KIST, which was created in 1966 to help commercialize basic research. The 2000 or so researchers based at KIST carry out work in areas from neuroscience and fuel cells to robotics and medicine.

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South Korea – day five

The Gyeongbokgung

The Gyeongbokgung.

By Michael Banks

Today I was traveling back from Pohang where I spent the weekend after an busy few days in Daejeon.

Daejeon is certainly an impressive place to do science, being home to no fewer than 60 research centres. Unfortunately, in the limited time I had I could only visit a couple, including the Korean Research Institute of Standards and Science and the National Fusion Research Institute (NFRI).

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The joke’s on Chu

Steven Chu

Caught on camera. (Courtesy: The Onion)

By Michael Banks

With Steven Chu nearing towards his final days in office as US energy secretary we couldn’t help but highlight a recent spoof of the Nobel laureate in the satirical The Onion magazine.

The Onion may have recently duped China’s People’s Daily newspaper into thinking that North Korea’s leader had been voted the sexiest man alive in 2012, but the magazine failed to fool people that the spoof of Chu was true.

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Don Glaser: 1926–2013

Don Glaser

Don Glaser giving a talk at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2010.
(Courtesy: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

By Michael Banks

The US physicist Don Glaser has died at the age of 86. Glaser was instrumental in inventing the bubble chamber – a vessel filled with a superheated transparent liquid such as liquid hydrogen that can be used to detect electrically charged particles moving through it. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for this work in 1960, aged just 34.

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Opening up research

David Willetts speaking at the open access meeting at the Royal Society (courtesy: Jesse Karjalainen/IOP Publishing)

David Willetts speaking at the open-access meeting at the Royal Society.
(Courtesy: Jesse Karjalainen/IOP Publishing)

By Michael Banks

Yesterday I headed to the Royal Society in London to attend a meeting on open access and what it means for scientific research.

From what I heard at the meeting, I was surprised to learn that some scientists were largely unaware of how it could change scientific publishing.

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Hunting the Higgs

By Michael Banks in Boston

“It looks like a Standard Model Higgs,” remarks Christopher Hill from Ohio State University. “Everything we have measured has strengthened that position.”

Last year, researchers working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN reported they had found a Higgs-like particle with an energy of around 126 GeV.

Yet while the Higgs looks like that predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics, further measurements were needed before researchers could be sure.

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