Posts by: Michael Banks

The designated survivor

By Michael Banks

Ernest Moniz

Ernest Moniz: the designated survivor.

It is not unusual for physicists to find themselves leading a country. Angela Merkel, who studied physics at the University of Leipzig from 1973 to 1978, has been Germany’s chancellor since 2005, while in 2010 Japan elected former physicist Naoto Kan as its prime minister – a position he held for just over a year.

Yet while the nuclear physicist and current US energy secretary Ernest Moniz may be 14th in the US presidential line of succession, if something really terrible had happened yesterday, he may have found himself leading the world’s biggest economy.

That is because he was appointed “designated survivor” while US president Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address.

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Join CERN’s scavenger hunt

Photograph of  a LEGO figurine in the CERN computing centre

Can you spot all 20 or so LEGO figurines in the CERN computing centre?

By Michael Banks

You may remember that late last year CERN teamed up with Google Street View to allow users to go on a virtual tour of the lab, including 12 km of the 27 km Large Hadron Collider (LHC) tunnel plus the caverns that house the ATLAS, CMS, LHCb and ALICE experiments.

This involved Google‘s Zurich team spending two weeks at CERN in 2011 photographing the LHC using a “Street View Trike” – a specially created camera-mounted bike.

Well, what we didn’t known then was that Stefan Lüders, CERN’s computer security officer, had decided to stash about 20 LEGO figurines around the CERN computing centre before the cameras rolled.

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Best of the blog 2013

By Michael Banks

From the world’s smallest video to the science behind foaming beer bottles, physics has had its fair share of interesting stories this year. Here is our pick of the best from the physicsworld.com blog.

The joke’s on Chu

Steven Chu

Caught on camera. (Courtesy: The Onion)

The satirical Onion magazine once famously duped China’s People’s Daily newspaper into thinking that North Korea’s leader had been voted the sexiest man alive in 2012, but in February it seems to have failed to fool people that a spoof of former US energy secretary Steven Chu was true. “Hungover energy secretary wakes up next to solar panel” ran an Onion headline, reporting that after visiting a series of DC watering holes, Chu woke up the following morning next to a giant solar panel he had “met” that evening. “Chu’s encounter with the crystalline-silicon solar receptor was his most regrettable dalliance since 2009, when an extended fling with a 90-foot wind turbine nearly ended his marriage,” the Onion wrote. At least Chu saw the funny side of the story. In a post on his Facebook page he noted that the allegations had nothing to do with him stepping down as US energy secretary after four years in the role. “While I am not going to confirm or deny the charges specifically,” he wrote, “I will say that clean, renewable solar power is a growing source of US jobs and is becoming more affordable, so it’s no surprise that lots of Americans are falling in love with solar.”

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The future of energy in Gothenburg

Steven Chu and David Gross

Nobel laureates Steven Chu (left) and David Gross talk energy in Gothenburg. (Courtesy: A Mahmoud)

By Michael Banks

Yesterday I joined more than 1000 people attending the day-long Nobel Week Dialogue event in Gothenburg, Sweden. The delegates battled the cold winter weather to make it to the Swedish Exhibition and Congress Centre, just south-east of the city centre (and next to a theme park, of all things).

This is the second such Nobel Week Dialogue and the first time it has been held in Gothenburg. Last year the theme for the event in Stockholm was the “genetic revolution” and this year it was on “exploring the future of energy”.

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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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