Posts by: Tushna Commissariat

What’s the latest matter with antimatter?

Hangst at the ALPHA experiment at CERN

Mind over antimatter: Jeffrey Hangst at the ALPHA experiment at CERN.

By Tushna Commissariat at CERN

While visiting CERN, the world’s biggest particle-physics laboratory, it’s easy to get swept up by the excitement of the Large Hadron Collider and its detectors, especially in the run up to it being switched back on in the coming weeks. But CERN is also host to a variety of other equally exciting experiments that probe some of the biggest unanswered questions in science, such as the experiments that probe the unwieldy world of antimatter. Indeed, CERN’s antimatter programme has received considerable attention in the past, especially thanks to the now-famous book (and later, film) Angels and Demons, where some antimatter was supposedly stolen from the laboratory and used to build a bomb! Suffice to say, antimatter is of interest to physicists and the public alike and so I caught up with physicist Jeffrey Hangst, who is spokesperson of the Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus (ALPHA) experiment, which I also had the chance to visit.

a view of the ALPHA 2 apparatus

Antimatter factory: a view of the ALPHA 2 set-up.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , | 1 Comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Last views of a huge particle detector before the Large Hadron Collider comes to life

Photograph of the author at the CMS detector at CERN

My photo opportunity: this could be the last we will see of the CMS for three years.

By Tushna Commissariat at CERN

Regular readers of Physics World will know that I am currently visiting the CERN particle physics lab in Geneva, ahead of the restart of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in the coming weeks. My first stop yesterday afternoon was a press conference in which CERN’s director-general Rolf Heuer and other leading physicists briefed us about “Run 2” and what researchers are hoping to discover. You can read about what they had to say here: “Large Hadron Collider fires up in a bid to overturn the Standard Model“.

I managed to squeeze in a quick last-minute visit to the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector before it is sealed up tight for the next three years. My host was CMS communications officer Achintya Rao, who took me and a few others deep underground into the bowels of the CMS – and what a sight it was!

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Rediscovering Marie Curie and the pioneering women of science

Photograph of a panel of speakers at the women in physics conference

The panel of speakers at the women in physics conference. (Courtesy: Institute of Physics)

By Tushna Commissariat

This Sunday, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, I’ll be thinking of some amazing women who had a huge impact on the world of physics, helping shape the field as we know it today. Indeed, yesterday I was at the Institute of Physics in London, attending a day-long conference on “The lives and times of pioneering women in physics” hosted by the Institute’s Women in Physics group along with its History of Physics group. While there were a host of interesting speakers at the event, undoubtedly the star of the day was French nuclear physicist Hélène Langevin-Joliot, granddaughter of one of the 20th-century’s most famous female physicists – Marie Curie.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , | 2 Comments | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

What makes a physics experiment go viral?

 

By Tushna Commissariat

Physics experiments are not normally the stuff of “viral” videos on the Internet, but that is precisely what happened when physics students at the University of Bath in the UK decided to get creative with the Leidenfrost effect. If you are a regular reader of Physics World, you may get that déjà vu feeling when you watch the video above of water droplets zipping about the “Leidenfrost maze” built by (at the time undergraduates) Carmen Cheng and Matthew Guy – but rest assured you have seen it right here on this blog in 2013 when editor Hamish Johnston wrote about it before it amassed a whopping 120,150 views on YouTube.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Science cleans up at the Oscars

Still of Stephen and Jane from the film The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything depicts Stephen Hawking’s relationship with first wife Jane. (Courtesy: Universal Pictures International)

By Tushna Commissariat

In a sweeping win for science-themed films at this year’s Oscars, British actor Eddie Redmayne has won the best actor award for his portrayal of the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in the film The Theory of Everything. Redmayne, 33, plays Hawking in the biographical film that was inspired by the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen written by Hawking’s former wife Jane, who is portrayed in the film by the British actress Felicity Jones. The Theory of Everything was also nominated for best picture, original score and adapted screenplay, while Jones was nominated in the best actress category. Redmayne’s success at the Oscars comes after his win in the best actor category at this year’s Bafta awards, which also saw The Theory of Everything pick up best film. The movie chronicles Jane’s relationship with Hawking – from the early days of their courtship to Hawking’s diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the age of 21 and his success in physics until the two divorced in 1995. I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of the film, and I thought it was a very worthy candidate for the awards season. You can read my review of the film here.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , | 1 Comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Oscar-nominated physics, putting the jump into popping corn and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

There is nothing quite like a bowl of hot, buttery popcorn – and it seems as if even physicists are enthralled by it as they dig into the pops and jumps of this tasty snack. A recent article in the New York Times caught our attention this week, as it talked about how a French research duo used high-speed video cameras and a hot plate to see just why a kernel of corn not only pops, but also leaps up as it puffs. The team found that as the kernel’s hull is breached, we hear the popping sound and this is swiftly followed by the jump that happens when a puffy bit of the inside pushes out and makes the corn jump, a bit like a muscle twitch. Take a look at the lovely slow-motion video above of individual kernels leaping about like perfect puffy ballet dancers.

(more…)

Posted in The Red Folder | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Decoding the dark arts of Interstellar's black hole

moderately realistic, gravitationally lensed accretion disk

A moderately realistic, gravitationally lensed accretion disc around a black hole, created by Double Negative artists. (Courtesy: Classical and Quantum Gravity)

By Tushna Commissariat

In recent years, science and science fiction have come together in cinema to produce a host of rather spectacular visual treats, the best of the lot being Christopher Nolan’s epic Oscar-nominated film Interstellar. That actual science has played a major role in film is pretty well known, thanks to the involvement of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who was an executive producer for the project. But in a near-cinematic plot twist, it has emerged that Thorne’s work on trying to develop the most accurate and realistic view of a supermassive black hole “Gargantua” has provided unprecedented insights into the immense gravitational-lensing effects that would emerge if we were to view such a stellar behemoth.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Villainous physicists, Hubble’s cat and more

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in the film The Theory of Everything. (Courtesy: Universal Pictures International)

By Tushna Commissariat

This week we heard about a possible new James Bond film villain and its none other than Stephen Hawking. According to this story in the Telegraph, he feels as if his trademark wheelchair and computerized voice would lend themselves perfectly to the part. On the same note, we saw this interesting feature on the Wired website that looks at the history behind Hawking’s very recognisable voice. Last month, I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of James Marsh’s Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, which includes a rather touching and funny scene of Hawking testing out his voice for the first time. You can read more about the film in the reviews section of the upcoming January issue of Physics World.

(more…)

Posted in The Red Folder | Tagged , , | 3 Comments | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Last chapter in Rosetta’s Philae lander story…for now

Strange new world: Image of comet 67P taken by Rosetta's NAVCAM from 10 km away. (Courtesy: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

Strange new world: Image of comet 67P taken by Rosetta’s NAVCAM from 10km away.
(Courtesy: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

By Tushna Commissariat

Last week was exciting and exhausting for anyone involved in space exploration and astronomy, after scientists working on the Rosetta mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) made history when their “Philae” module touched down safely on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. But soon after celebrating Philae’s successful landing, a dramatic story unfolded. With a bumpy triple landing, harpoons that did not fire and tether the probe, as well as a final resting spot that lay in the shadows, which meant its solar panels received very little sunlight, Philae’s tumultuous story captivated the interest of thousands of people across the globe.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, as Philae’s batteries slowly drained of power, thousands mourned. “So much hard work..getting tired…my battery voltage is approaching the limit soon now,” Tweeted the Philae crew, and yet, the lander’s story was ultimately happy and successful. Although it spent only 57 “active” hours on the comet, ESA mission scientists were happy to report that the lander had indeed completed the entirety of its primary science mission.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Rosetta’s Philae starts drilling into comet surface

The view from Philae’s final landing spot

View of a lifetime: Philae safely on the surface of Comet 67P.
(Courtesy: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA)

By Tushna Commissariat

It had clearly been a long and busy 24 hours for members of the Rosetta mission at the European Space Agency (ESA) as they gave the latest updates in today’s Google+ Hangout. On Wednesday the mission made history as its “Philae” module touched down safely on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. But there has been a great deal of drama and uncertainty since then, as it emerged yesterday that the lander’s final resting spot was more than 1 km away from where it was meant to arrive. Also, Philae is thought to be precariously positioned in the shadows on the far side of a large crater, where its solar panels cannot get enough light to operate as planned. Despite these hurdles, the lander’s many instruments have been functioning well and sending data back to Earth, via the Rosetta orbiter.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile