Posts by: Sarah Tesh

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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Marie Curie battles downloading robots, happy 50th birthday ILL, a dodgy portrayal of astronomers

Robot proof: Marie Curie makes an appearance (Courtesy: APS)

Robots beware: Marie Curie makes an appearance. (Courtesy: APS)

By Sarah Tesh

Avid readers of the Physical Review series of journals will be used to clicking on a photograph of Albert Einstein before downloading papers. This is a security feature designed to stop robots from the mass downloading of papers. Now, the American Physical Society – which publishes the journals – has added a photograph of Marie Curie to the anti-robot system. The addition of a famous female physicist was the idea of Anna Watts, who is an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam. She has since Tweeted “This makes me incredibly happy.”

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Pillars of light in the sky, an atomic knot and an atlas of physics

 

By Sarah Tesh

If I got woken in the middle of the night by my screaming child and then saw beams of light in the sky, I think I’d be worried. When Timmy Joe in Ontario saw them, however, he assumed the multi-coloured beams were the Northern Lights. Turns out they were actually caused by the extreme cold. Moisture was freezing so fast that it formed ice flakes only a few molecules thick that could float in the air. These then refracted the city lights to create a colourful light show in the night sky.

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