Posts by: Sarah Tesh

NanoCars race on gold, sketchers invade Fermilab, physics of Thor versus the Hulk

 

By Sarah Tesh

Science has taken motor racing to a whole new, extremely small level with the NanoCar Race. The competition on 28 April will see nanoscale molecular machines “speed” around a gold racetrack for 38 hours. As the tiny-molecule cars are not visible to the naked eye, the race will take place inside a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) at the Center for the Development of Materials and Structural Studies (CEMES), part of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. The teams behind the NanoCars control their vehicles using electric pulses but are not allowed to push them mechanically. Details about the cars and their teams can be found on this website, where you will also be able to watch the race later this month. There is more about the competition in the above video.

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Einstein world record, Spider-Man physics, quantum films and cakes

 

By Sarah Tesh and James Dacey

A world-record-breaking hoard of Albert Einsteins invaded Toronto in Canada on Tuesday 28 March. 404 people gathered in the city’s MaRS Discovery District dressed in the genius’s quintessential blazer and tie, and sporting bushy white wigs and fluffy mustaches. As well as breaking the previous Guinness World Record of 99 Einsteins, the gathering kicked off this year’s Next Einstein Competition. The online contest invites the public to submit ideas that can make the world a better place and awards the winner $10,000 to help them realize it.

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Quantum punchlines, the cloud atlas, NASA schooled

 

Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive (Courtesy: Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive? (Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

By Sarah Tesh

 You may not normally associate humour with quantum theory, but it’s not just jokes about Schrödinger’s cat and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that links the two. Liane Gabora of the University of British Columbia in Canada and Kirsty Kitto of Queensland University of Technology in Australia have created a new model for humour based upon the mathematical frameworks of quantum theory. The idea for their “Quantum Theory of Humour” stems from jokes like “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” Separately, the statements aren’t amusing but together they make a punchline. This requires you to hold two ideas in your head at once – a concept analogous to quantum superposition.

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How LIGO got the word out about gravitational waves

Tweeting to millions: LIGO made a social media plan before announcing the detection (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

Tweeting to millions: LIGO made a social-media plan before announcing the detection. (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

By Sarah Tesh

Nowadays, social media plays a big role in communicating science to the public. It has two important qualities – it’s free and it’s international.  A great case study for social media and science came last year when the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the first ever detection of gravitational waves. To tell us more about how the team grabbed the public’s attention (and got its work on Sheldon Cooper’s T-shirt in The Big Bang Theory), LIGO scientist Amber Stuver gave a witty talk at the APS March Meeting 2017 about the outreach strategy.

She began by telling us the story of that exciting detection day. Before the first detection, LIGO had published 80 papers on “detecting nothing”.  Yet on 14 September 2015 – the first morning of the first day of Advanced LIGO – the much-sought-after signal appeared. The first thing that had to be done was to check it wasn’t a fake. Having detected nothing for so long, those with the knowledge to do so would sometimes “inject” results to check the system worked and keep the scientists on their toes.

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Physics reveals the mysteries behind art

Artists' secrets: Charles Falco describes how artists used lenses (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

Artists’ secrets: Charles Falco describes how artists used optical lenses. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Sarah Tesh in New Orleans, Louisiana, US

As a physicist who likes to sketch and paint, I love it when art and physics come together. I was therefore excited to see that the APS March Meeting had a variety of talks on the subject. Charles Falco from the University of Arizona in the US told us about his work with the famous artist David Hockney. On a trip to see the 15th century painting The Arnolfini Marriage by Jan van Eyck, Hockney decided that the chandelier was too detailed to have been done freehand. So Falco and Hockney began looking at the intricate parts of paintings by artists through the ages and found that they essentially cheated.

Through focal length and depth-of-field calculations, Falco showed that artists had used optical lenses to project the complicated parts onto the canvas before painting them. They suggest that this has been happening since the 1400s and is a technique used by artists such as Hans Holbein (who painted the iconic portraits of Henry VIII) and Johannes Vermeer (whose work includes Girl with a Pearl Earring). Obviously, they still possessed huge amounts of skill, but it definitely makes me feel a bit better about my own skill level.

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Invisible robots overshadowed by metallic hydrogen

Metallic debate: Silvera, Ceperley and McMahon discuss metallic hydrogen (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

Metallic debate: Silvera, Ceperley and McMahon discuss metallic hydrogen. (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

By Sarah Tesh in New Orleans, Louisiana, US

After much coffee and a lot of crispy bacon, the second day of the APS March Meeting began. The hot topic of the day – metallic hydrogen. Even though we arrived 15 minutes early to Isaac Silvera‘s talk, the crowd was overflowing from the room, but despite all the pushing and shoving (my foot has not recovered from being stood on), we did manage to get seats. Silvera began by saying that he had been working on the problem for “probably longer than [most of us] were born” before taking us through the nearly 45 years of research on the subject. He also gave a press conference that included talks by theoretical physicists David Ceperley from the University of Illinois and Jeffrey McMahon from Washington State University. My colleague Tushna Commissariat caught up with Silvera later on, so be on the lookout for a more detailed update from her.

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APS sees friction as fracture, cat pictures and brain implants

Cats and DFT: Thomas Baker chats about machine learning and DFT (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

Cats and DFT: Thomas Baker chats about machine learning and density functional theory. (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

By Sarah Tesh in New Orleans, Louisiana, US

So the first day of the APS March Meeting has been and gone and the second is nearly at an end. Being my first conference as a journalist not a scientist, I was definitely as nervous as some of the speakers looked. The conference centre is huge, there are thousands of people and almost as many talks – a rather daunting prospect for a newbie. Thankfully there were some very interesting press talks, covering a variety of topics.

The first session began with Jay Fineberg from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel talking about “friction as fracture”. While we all learn about friction at school, the fundamental physics behind it remains shrouded in mystery. So Fineberg looks at the problem as the fracture of contact points. This approach makes it particularly useful for studying the motion of tectonic plates and, so, earthquakes. As Fineberg points out, seismologists have no idea about conditions deep in the ground at a fault. He and his team therefore hope to work out “what makes earthquakes tick”.

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Physicists take over the Big Easy

New Orleans: city with a view

New Orleans: city with a view. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Sarah Tesh and Tushna Commissariat in New Orleans, Louisiana, US

It is that time of the year again when around 10,000 physicists gather for the American Physical Society (APS) March Meeting and this year we’re in the Big Easy. While yesterday was a jetlag-recovery day, it’s all kicking off today at the sprawling Ernest Morial Convention Center, where more than 9600 papers will be presented during the week.

Despite our sleep-deprived state yesterday, we played the traditional game of “spot the physicist” during our wanderings in the French Quarter. This was made particularly interesting with the simultaneous game of “spot the spring-breakers”. Relaxed, youthful students chatting loudly about their late-night escapades were a stark contrast to academics looking anxious and lost while over-burdened with poster tubes, suitcases and laptop bags.

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Exoplanet christening, physics on the catwalk, ultrasonic wine

Whiskey aging barrels

Quick spirit: ultrasonic waves speed up the ageing process. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Bbadgett)

By Sarah Tesh

Last week NASA announced the major find of seven Earth-like exoplanets orbiting a nearby dwarf star. The news that at least three of the seven could possibly support life was reported far and wide. Yet, as with most astronomical finds, the planets do not have the most imaginative names. Simply named after the star they orbit, they are currently called TRAPPIST-1a to TRAPPIST-1h. So NASA took to Twitter with the request #7NamesFor7NewPlanets and the public delivered. Suggestions have included the names of lost astronauts, famous composers and ancient deities. But naturally, there were also some less sensible contributions, including the seven dwarfs, many Harry Potter references, dedications to Pluto and, obviously, Planet McPlanetface 1 to 7.

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Churchill discusses aliens, quantum films make the cut, graphene in a dress

 

By Sarah Tesh

Last September, the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore invited people to submit short films about quantum physics for their Quantum Shorts 2016 competition. Both scientists and filmmakers alike have made the short list, which has just been released. The films could be about the science, history, theories, technologies or philosophies of quantum mechanics – anything that sparked the imagination. The online competition has been going since 2012 and alternates between short films and flash fiction, and this year the films will be screened at a film festival as well. The shortlist comprises of 10 films, all available to watch and vote for online. There are supernovae, love triangles, muesli with bananas and cats – everything you could want to help explain quantum physics.

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