Posts by: Tushna Commissariat

Dinner that’s out of this world, Higgs pizza and a cosmic symphony

 

By Michael Banks and Tushna Commissariat

Before setting off to the International Space station (ISS) for six months, UK astronaut Tim Peake revealed that one of the meals he would miss most is the classic British roast dinner. So what better way to celebrate the 44 year old’s safe return to Earth last month than to create a portrait of him made from his favourite nosh? Designed by UK “food artist” Prudence Staite for the Hungry Horse pub chain, the culinary creation took 20 hours to make – you can watch a timelapse video of it being created above. The finished portrait weighed in at 12 kg and says “Welcome Home Tim”. Hungry Horse has even offered Tim and his family free roast dinners for life.

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Neutrinos that go bump in the night

Tripple bump: The 5 MeV bump data presented by K. Joo at Neutrino 2016 conference (Courtesy: RENO collaboration)

Triple bump: the 5 MeV bump data presented by K Joo at the Neutrino 2016 conference. (Courtesy: RENO Collaboration)

 

By Tushna Commissariat

A final mystery that was mentioned at the Neutrino 2016 I attended in London this week was yet another unexpected “bump” in data at 5 MeV, measured while monitoring the neutrino flux from nuclear power plants. Starting with the RENO experiment in 2012, it was spotted by the Double Chooz experiment in 2014 and finally by the Daya Bay neutrino experiment earlier this year. While the initial signal was not of high enough statistical significance, it has now held up over time and more measurements.

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Limiting factors for the elusive sterile neutrino

 

By Tushna Commissariat

More data are definitely needed in the quest for the sought-after sterile neutrino. That much was clear as more than 10 different global neutrino detectors announced at the Neutrino 2016 conference in London that they have found no evidence for the slippery particle’s existence. The sterile neutrino is a hypothetical and much-debated fourth type of neutrino that would contribute mass, but only interact with the other three “active neutrinos”, making it that much more difficult to detect. In the video above, Physics World features editor Louise Mayor explains why researchers are so keen to nail down this particle, should it exist, as it may single-handedly explain some of the biggest mysteries in physics today, including dark matter.

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Symmetry-violating neutrinos may hold the key to antimatter

 

Deep trap: Inside the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector (Courtsey: T2K collaboration)

Deep trap: Inside the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector. (Courtesy: T2K Collaboration)

By Tushna Commissariat

As you may have read, earlier this week I was at Neutrino 2016 – the 27th International Conference on Neutrino Physics and Astrophysics – in London. Although I was only at two days of the week-long conference, I still have neutrinos on my mind. A whole host of experiments presented various data and updates. Indeed, the researchers presenting the latest results from the Tokai to Kamioka (T2K) experiment in Japan and the NOvA Neutrino Experiment at Fermilab in the US had some interesting things to say.

T2K collaborator Hirohisa Tanaka, from the University of Toronto in Canada, revealed that the experiment’s most recent data seem to support earlier hints that there may be different oscillation probabilities for neutrinos and antineutrinos. If these data hold up, then it would have big consequences – the standard model of neutrino physics says that these two oscillation rates should be the same so as not to violate charge–parity (CP) symmetry. According to the collaboration, their observed “electron antineutrino appearance event rate is lower than would be expected based on the electron neutrino appearance event rate, assuming that CP symmetry is conserved”.

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Cosmic messengers and the rise of neutrino astronomy

Marek Kowalski talking at the Neutrino 2016 conference

Cool operator: Marek Kowalski talking about IceCube at the Neutrino 2016 conference. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat at the Royal Geographical Society in London

“There are still many things to be studied in neutrinos,” said 2015 Nobel laureate Takaaki Kajita at the first talk of the Neutrino 2016 conference that began in London today. I couldn’t help but notice that his statement rang very true, as the day’s talks touched on everything from high-energy neutrinos to dark-matter searches to monitoring nuclear reactors. This year, more than 700 physicists from all over the world are attending the week-long conference, which is taking place at the historic Royal Geographical Society in London.

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Second wave: all about LIGO, black holes, gravitational ripples and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

What an exciting week it has been, as the LIGO and Virgo collaborations announced that they have definitely detected a second gravitational wave event using the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (aLIGO) in the US.  These waves made their way into aLIGO early on Boxing Day last year (in fact it was still very late on Christmas Day in the US states where the twin detectors are located), a mere three months after the first gravitational-wave event was detected on 14 September 2015.

This event once again involved the collision and merger of two stellar-mass black holes, and since the “Boxing Day binary” is still on my mind, this week’s Red Folder is a collection of all the lovely images, videos, infographics and learning tools that have emerged since Wednesday.

LIGO physicist and comic artist Nutsinee Kijbunchoo has drawn a cartoon showing that while the researchers were excited about the swift second wave, they were a bit spoilt by the first, which was loud and clear – and could be seen by naked eye in the data. The black holes involved in the latest wave were smaller and a bit further away, meaning the signal was fainter, but actually lasted for longer in the detectors.

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Fractals and infinite curves, sonified data and farewell to Sir Tom Kibble

By Tushna Commissariat

Fractals have always fascinated me and I am sure it’s the same for many of you. What I find most intriguing about them is how the relatively simple base pattern, or “seed”, quickly scales up to form the intricate designs we see in a snowflake or a coastline. In the video above, mathematician and animator Grant Sanderson has created a montage of “space filling curves” – theoretically speaking, such curves can endlessly expand without every crossing its own path to fill an infinite space. Following on from these curves, Sanderson shows you just how a simple seed pattern grows into a fractal and also describes how small changes to a seed property – such as an angle in a V – can alter the final image. The above video follows from a previous one Sanderson created on “Hilbert’s curve, and the usefulness of infinite results in a finite world” so check them both out.

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Rosetta and bedbugs, LIGO and dark matter, arXiving science and more…

 

By Tushna Commissariat

Space missions and insects are not the most usual of bedfellows. But in a wonderful example of how space technology can be translated into practical devices for use here on Earth,  a UK company has repurposed and adapted an analyser used onboard the Rosetta mission – that in 2014 landed a probe on a comet for the first time – to sniff out bedbugs. The pest-control company, Insect Research Systems, has created a 3D-printed detector that picks up bodily gas emissions from bedbugs – such a device could be of particular use in the hotel industry, for example, where many rooms need to be quickly scanned. The device is based on the Ptolemy analyser on the Philae lander, which was designed to use mass spectroscopy to study the comet’s surface.

“Thanks to the latest 3D-printing capabilities, excellent design input and technical support available at the Campus Technology Hub, we have been able to optimize the design of our prototype and now have a product that we can demonstrate to future investors,” says Taff Morgan, Insect Research Systems chief technical officer, who was one of the main scientists on Ptolemy. In the TEDx video above, he talks about the many technological spin-offs that came from Ptolemy – skip ahead to 13:45 if you only want to hear about the bedbugs, though.

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Spiralling temperatures, physics legacies, the science of mac and cheese

Spiralling global temperatures

Ring of fire: spiralling global temperatures. Created by climate scientist Ed Hawkins of the University of Reading.

 

By Tushna Commissariat

As we face up to the realities of global warming and see the effects of climate change become apparent, it’s more important than ever that people the world over truly grasp its impact. With this in mind, University of Reading climate scientist Ed Hawkins has created the above animated spiral, which shows how the global temperature has changed over the past 166 years. Using data from the Met Office’s Hadley Centre observations datasets, Hawkins’ animation presents data in a a clear and artistic way. “The pace of change is immediately obvious, especially over the past few decades. The relationship between current global temperatures and the internationally discussed target limits are also clear without much complex interpretation needed,” says Hawkins, who is based at the university’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science. Take a look at his webpage to learn more about the project and for a list of specific weather events that are noticeable in the data.

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Looking toward the quantum-technology landscape of the future

Looking to the future: Sir peter Knight opening the Quantum technology for the 21st Century conference at the RSC (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

Futuristic views: Peter Knight opening the conference at the Royal Society in London. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat

Not a week goes by here at Physics World that we don’t cover some advance in quantum mechanics – be it another step towards quantum computing or error correction, or a new type of quantum sensor, or another basic principle being verified and tested at new scales. While each advance may not always be a breakthrough, it is fair to say that the field has grown by leaps and bound in the last 20 years or so. Indeed, it has seen at least two “revolutions” since it first began and is now poised on the brink of a third, as scientific groups and companies around  the world race to build the first quantum computer.

With this in mind, some of the stalwarts of the field – including Peter Knight, Ian Walmsley, Gerard Milburn, Stephen Till and Jonathan Pritchard – organized a two-day discussion meeting at the Royal Society in London, titled “Quantum technology for the 21st century“, which I decided to attend. The meeting’s main aim was to bring together academic and industry leaders “in quantum physics and engineering to identify the next generation of quantum technologies for translational development”. As Knight said during his opening speech, the time has come to “balance the massive leaps that the science has made with actual practical technology”.

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