Posts by: Tushna Commissariat

Blood Moons, teachers who moulded the minds of great physicists and more

Jocelyn Bell Burnell on her high-school physics teacher

Jocelyn Bell Burnell on her high-school physics teacher. (Courtesy: Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

By Tushna Commissariat

This week has been an exciting and busy one at Physics World HQ, what with two Nobel prizes that included physics – the actual Nobel prize for physics, of course, as well as this year’s chemistry Nobel, which was given to three physicists. Since last week’s Red Folder was full of Nobel trivia and facts, I will only point you to two more interesting Nobel-related articles. The first is an excellent article on the Slate website, by one of our regular freelance authors Gabriel Popkin, where he looks at female physicists who deserve a Nobel. His list is in no way exhaustive, but does well to highlight some excellent work done by women that deserves recognition, so do take a look at “These women should win a Nobel prize in physics”. Also, Ethan Siegel from the Starts With a Bang! blog has written an excellent essay to silence any would-be naysayers about the worthiness of giving the Nobel to the researchers who developed blue LEDs. In “Why blue LEDs are worth a Nobel Prize”, he outlines the history of LEDs and talks about just how many applications they have in today’s times.

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Nobel mania – predictions, discussions, hangouts and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

In this week’s Red Folder, we are looking at all things Nobel-prize-related, as the winner(s) of the 108th Nobel Prize for Physics will be announced in Stockholm next Tuesday.

Kicking off the Nobel round-up is our own infographic that tells you what branch of physics you should take up if you are keen to become a laureate yourself. In case you haven’t seen it already, take a look at it here and work your way through our seven categories that encompass all 107 physics Nobel prizes handed out to date.

Next, watch the video above where the Smithsonian Magazine’s science editor Victoria Jaggard hosts a Google Hangout to discuss the science and scientists predicted to win this year’s award. In it, she talks with Charles Day of Physics Today, Andrew Grant of Science News, Jennifer Ouellette of Cocktail Party Physics and Amanda Yoho of Starts With A Bang!, as they discuss everything from topological conductors to graphene to neutrinos.

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A look back at how the dust fell on BICEP2

By Tushna Commissariat

It’s been five days since the metaphorical dust settled on the apparent “discovery” of the B-mode polarization of the cosmic microwave background that was reported in March. The claim came from the team behind the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP2) telescope at the South Pole, and much has been said since about what was then hailed as one of the biggest scientific discoveries of the decade.

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Once upon a time…the art of telling a good quantum tale

 

By Tushna Commissariat

It’s been nearly two weeks since I spent three intense and interesting days in Sweden bundled into a classroom with other journalists and scientists to polish up our knowledge of all things quantum. Since attending the NORDITA science-writing workshop, I have spent a lot of time thinking about one of the main themes of the meeting: “What is the best way to communicate quantum physics to the public?”

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Food for Martian thought, proton role-playing in a video game and more

By Tushna Commissariat

With space agencies across the world planning manned missions to Mars in the coming decades, pondering what one would eat while on Mars seems like a sensible thing to do. SpaceX engineer Andrew Rader helps us out with this difficult question in the video above, sharing gems like “chickens can’t swallow in space.” In the video, titled “Cooking on Mars” Rader cooks and eats a seemingly unappetizing option – bugs and insects – and makes it clear that is the fare future astronauts will be partaking in.

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Fine-tuning quantum features to develop future technologies

Two superconducting qubits (left) and an artificial diamond with an NV centre

Quantum kit: two superconducting qubits (left) and an artificial diamond with an NV centre (right). (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat

I’ve left sunny Stockholm and I’m back at the office in blustery Bristol, but I still have a few good quantum tales to tell from the science-writers’ workshop at NORDITA last week. On Thursday, the main speaker of the day was Raymond Laflamme, who is the current director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Laflamme – who kick-started his career working on cosmology at the University of Cambridge in the UK as a student of Stephen Hawking – studies quantum decoherence and how to protect quantum systems from it by applying quantum error-correction codes, as well as using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to develop a scalable method of controlling quantum systems.

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Reality is a concept you can apply to your cats

Will Schrödinger's catch be hitching a ride on LISA Pathfinder? (Courtesy: ESA)

Will Schrödinger’s cat be hitching a ride on LISA Pathfinder? (Courtesy: ESA)

By Tushna Commissariat in Stockholm, Sweden

“Reality is a concept you can apply to your cats,” says Rainer Kaltenbaek to a room full of journalists and physicists, “so long as you don’t talk to Schrödinger.” Indeed, he warns us to not bother applying reality to anything that exists at the quantum level as we will just end up disappointed.

I am in Stockholm at a workshop for science writers being hosted at the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics (NORDITA) and the idea of completely forgetting “reality” is one of the many interesting things I have been pondering. Over the past two days we have discussed Bell’s loopholes, using your bathtub as an analogue laboratory to study black (and white) holes and learned about problems that even the best quantum computers (if they could be built) will not be able to solve.

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What can you learn at a quantum ‘boot camp’?

By Tushna Commissariat in Stockholm, Sweden

Google the word “quantum” and take a look at what comes up.
NORDITA logo

In addition to the obvious news articles about the latest developments in the field and the Wikipedia entries on quantum mechanics, you’ll undoubtedly come across a heap of other, seemingly random, stories.

I found, for example, a David Bowie song being compared to a quantum wavefunction (by none other than British science popularizer Brian Cox), as well as a new cruise ship being named Quantum of the Seas. Then there’s the usual jumble of pseudo-scientific “wellness” therapies that misguidedly adopt the word in a strange attempt to give their treatments some sort of credibility.

So while it seems that everyone is talking about quantum something or other, how much do we really understand this notoriously difficult subject? More to the point, how much do science journalists, like me, really know about the subject? I write stories about quantum mechanics from time to time for Physics World and the subject can, I assure you, be fiendish and quite mind-bending.

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Physics World’s futuristic look

Physics World magazine seen through the NPL device

Holographic view: The August 2014 issue of Physics World, seen through the NPL device. (Courtesy: NPL/Richard Stevens)

By Tushna Commissariat

Some of you may remember a news story I wrote last month that looked at a new optical gadget that uses a holographic waveguide to augment reality. The device hopes to transform the wearable-display market – it allows users to overlay full-colour, 3D, high-definition images into their normal line of sight, thereby interacting with their surroundings. The waveguide was developed by UK-based company TruLife Optics, along with researchers from the adaptive-optics group at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) near London.

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Hello Kitty in space, Lord of the Rings physics homework and more

Image of Yi So-yeon

Yi on the day of her launch – 8 April 2008. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Tushna Commissariat

This week, South Korea’s one and only astronaut, 36-year-old Yi So-yeon, has quit her job, thereby signalling the end of the country’s manned space programme for the time being. In 2008 Yi became the first Korean to go into space, when for 11 days she travelled on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, after being chosen through the government-run Korean Astronaut Program. Yi cited personal reasons for quitting, but has been studying for an MBA in the US since 2012. You can read more about her work and reasons for leaving in articles from Australia Network News and abc News.

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