Posts by: Tushna Commissariat

Converging streams, secret science and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

Regular readers will know that Physics World‘s Hamish Johnston and Louise Mayor will be attending the “Convergence” conference at the Perimeter Institute in Canada from tomorrow onwards.  While the conference will undoubtedly prove exciting – just look at this list of speakers – it looks like the institute already has convergence on its mind as this month’s Slice of PI contemplates the “converging streams” of art and science. The video above features Perimeter researcher and artist Alioscia Hamma, who finds solace and symmetry in both his art and physics. Watch the video and read more about his work on the Perimeter blog.

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Is dark energy becoming marginalized?

By Tushna Commissariat

Supernovae secrets: Chandra image of G299 -- a Type 1A supernova remnant.  (Courtesy: NASA/CXC/U.Texas)

Supernovae secrets: Chandra image of G299, a type Ia supernova remnant. (Courtesy: NASA/CXC/U Texas)

Here at Physics World, we enjoy a good debate and late last week, a paper appeared on the arXiv server that is bound to kick up quite the storm, once it has been peer-reviewed and published. Titled “Marginal evidence for cosmic acceleration from type Ia supernovae”, the paper was written by Subir Sarkar of the Particle Theory Group at the University of Oxford and the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, together with colleagues Alberto Guffanti and Jeppe Trøst Nielsen. It suggests that the cosmic expansion may not be occurring at an accelerating rate after all, contrary to the findings of previous Nobel prize-winning work and most of our current standard cosmological models, including that of dark energy.

Indeed, the researchers’ work suggests that the evidence for acceleration is nowhere near as strong as previously suggested – it is closer to 3σ rather than 5σ, and allows for expansion at a constant velocity. Nielsen et al. have come to this conclusion after studying a much larger database of type Ia supernovae – 50 of which were studied in the original work, while this study looks at 740 – that are used as “standard candles” to detect cosmic acceleration.

This study is sure to make many cosmologists sit up and take notice, and an interesting discussion is sure to follow. So watch this space and check back in with us, once the paper is published and we catch up with Sarkar and his colleagues.

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Breathing new life into the Rashba effect

By Tushna Commissariat

Spintronics is often touted to be a field of research that one day soon will revolutionize computing as we know it, helping build the next generation of superfast and energy-efficient computers that we long for. Future spintronic devices will tap into the inherent spin magnetic moment of the electron, rather than just its charge, to store and process information. As an electron’s spin can be flipped much quicker than its charge can be moved, these devices should, in theory, operate faster and at lower temperatures than their current electronic-only counterparts.

Photograph of Rashba from 2008

Father of spin: Rashba at his 80th birthday celebration at Harvard University in 2008. (Courtesy: Matt Craig/Harvard News Office)

The entire basis of this field is built on research done by Soviet-American theoretical physicist Emmanuel Rashba in 1959. Indeed, he was the first to discover the splitting of the spin-up and spin-down states in energy and momentum with an applied electric field instead of a magnetic field. But Rashba’s original article detailing the effect, written together with Valentin Sheka, was published in a supplement of the Soviet-era, Russian-language journal, Fizika Tverdogo Tela, and is nearly impossible to get a hold of today.

New Journal of Physics (which is published by IOP Publishing, which also publishes Physics World) has now produced a focus collection of articles on the Rashba effect. As a part of this collection, guest editors Oliver Rader of the Helmholtz Centre Berlin, Gustav Bihlmayer of the Jülich Research Centre in Germany and Roland Winkler of the Northern Illinois University in the US worked with Rashba to create an English-language version of his original paper.

You can access the entire “Focus on the Rashba Effect” collection here, and the translated original paper here. In some ways, this highlights the importance of other key research articles that may have been published in journals that are no longer available and so may be in danger of being lost forever. Leave us a comment if you can think of any such papers.

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Big bucks from The Big Bang Theory, the good, bad and ugly of physics writing and more

Jim Parsons and UCLA alumna Mayim Bialik are among the cast, crew and executives funding a scholarship for students in science, technology, engineering and maths. ( Courtesy: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

Jim Parsons and UCLA alumna Mayim Bialik from The Big Bang Theory TV show. (Courtesy: Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.)

By Tushna Commissariat

It’s not often that one can say that watching TV may help your future career as a scientist, but today, after the hit US TV show The Big Bang Theory announced a scholarship for STEM students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), it may be possible. The show, revolves around a group of young scientists – mainly physicists, but also an engineer, a microbiologist and a neuroscientist – making it a science-heavy show. Indeed, we at Physics World have delved into the secrets of the show’s success and talked to one of its scientific advisers. Now, the sitcom’s co-creator, cast and crew have announced a scholarship fund at UCLA to provide financial aid to undergraduate students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The show’s executive producer, Chuck Lorrie, told the Deadline website that “when we first discussed it, we realized that when Big Bang started, this freshman class were 10 year olds”, adding that  “some of them grew up watching the show, and maybe the show had influence on some of them choosing to pursue science as a lifetime goal. Wouldn’t it be great if we can help.” For this academic year, 20 “Big Bang Theory scholars” will be picked to receive financial assistance, with five new scholars each year from now. You can read more about it on the BBC website.

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Space-station toilet tour, the Louvre’s particle accelerator and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

I’m sure that many of us, while watching videos of astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS), floating around with their halo-like hair, have given much thought to how they shower, wash their hair, brush their teeth and, indeed, poop and pee! Well, you can stop stretching your imagination and take a look for yourself – we spotted this story on the Slate website, where you can see the latest videos from the European Space agency, where Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who is currently on the ISS, gives us a tour of both the toilet (above) and the “shower” area (below). She even demonstrates exactly how to wash your hair in space – it looks rather fuss-free if you ask me!

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Hawking on 1D, Chernobyl fires, psychedelic science and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

It’s not often that physics, or indeed a physicist, has much in common with pop music or exceedingly popular boy bands. But earlier this week, at an event at the Sydney Opera House titled “An Evening with Stephen Hawking, with Lucy Hawking and Paul Davies”, an audience member asked Hawking (who appeared in holographic form) “What do you think is the cosmological effect of Zayn Malik leaving One Direction?” Watch the video above to see what Hawking said to comfort the distraught fan and how theoretical physics truly may have all the answers.

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Hubble at 25, Star Trek selfies on the ISS, Wu-Tang Clan physics and more

Hubble's official 25 anniversary image of the Westerlund 2 cluster.

Shine on: Hubble’s official 25 anniversary image of the Westerlund 2 cluster.
(Courtesy: NASA, ESA, (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), Westerlund 2 Science Team)

By Tushna Commissariat

25 years ago today, the ESA/NASA Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched aboard the Discovery space shuttle and since then, it has changed the face of observational astronomy as we know it; taking millions of people worldwide from their homes to the most distant and far-flung reaches of the universe and the imagination. The telescope has also been instrumental in some of the biggest, Nobel-prize-winning discoveries in physics in the past two decades, including that of the accelerating expansion of the universe. The stunning image above of the giant cluster of nearly 3000 stars dubbed “Westerlund 2″ was especially released yesterday to celebrate Hubble’s 25th anniversary. The stellar nursery is difficult to observe because it is surrounded by dust, but Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 peered through the dusty veil in near-infrared light, giving astronomers a clear view of the cluster. Once you are done staring in awe at the image, watch the short video below, put together by NASA on the HST’s lifetime.

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Heavy-metal Higgs, meet the Publons, Stephen Hawking’s galactic tour and more

By Tushna Commissariat and Hamish Johnston

I’m sure that most of you have wondered what the Higgs boson would sound like if it were a heavy-metal song. Now you can turn it up to 11 (TeV that is) courtesy of CERN physicist and guitarist Piotr Traczyk, who has “sonified” data from two plots from the CMS experiment that were presented at the Higgs discovery seminar on 4 July 2012. His heavy-metal ditty is based on gamma–gamma and 4-lepton data from CMS and after you listen to his excellent song in the above video, you can find out more about how it was created by reading this entry by Traczyk on the Cylindrical Onion blog.

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Isaac Newton’s Good Friday, art meets physics and our favourite April Fool gags

APOD image of artwork "Mooooonwalk"

Suiting up for the Moon – an artwork aptly titled “Mooooonwalk”. (Courtesy: APOD/ Robert Nemiroff/Michigan Technological University)

By Hamish Johnston and Tushna Commissariat

As it’s Good Friday today, it can only mean that this week’s Red Folder will include a selection of the best physics-related April Fool jokes from earlier this week. Fermilab’s daily e-bulletin Fermilab Today had an entire joke edition up in the morning – their lead story was probably our favourite as the lab announced its new breakfast cereal dubbed “Neutrin-Os”, but their new day spa sounds pretty good too. CERN went for the funny if slightly obvious Star Wars joke, confirming the existence of the Force, but a slightly more subtle joke came earlier in the week from CERN Bulletin, which ran a story about CERN’s computer-security department handing out prizes for best password – we are still not quite sure if they were joking or not! Astronomy Picture of the Day had a truly fantastic image (see above) of a Lunar Grazing Module described as a “multipurpose celestial bovine containment system”.

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Bristol marvels at awe-inspiring solar eclipse

 

By Tushna Commissariat and James Dacey

The south-west of England is not exactly known for its sunny skies at this time of year, so many of us in Bristol – home to Physics World HQ – had steeled ourselves to miss out on today’s solar eclipse, which coincidently is on the first day of spring. So, we were rather overjoyed when the Sun shone through the sparse cloud cover for nearly an hour of the celestial treat. While today’s eclipse was technically visible to anyone in North Africa and Europe, totality was only visible to those lucky few who happened to be on the Faroe Islands (where it was actually cloudy for most of the time) and in Svalbard in northern Norway. Here in Bristol, the eclipse peaked at about 9.30 a.m., when 87% of the Sun’s light was blocked by the Moon.

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