Posts by: Tushna Commissariat

‘Wizzing’ physics, fundamental prizes, galactic paradoxes and more

By Tushna Commissariat

“Wizzing” to the top of the Red Folder this week is a group of physicists at the “Splash Lab” at Brigham Young University who have studied the physics of “splashback” that occurs when people urinate. Using high-speed cameras the researchers filmed jets of liquid from a “synthetic urethra” striking toilet walls. They found that the stream of liquid breaks up into droplets when it is about 15 cm from the urethra exit. “Wizz kids” Tadd Truscott and Randy Hurd suggest that apart from sitting down on the toilet (and risk being called Sitzpinklers by their German friends), men should get nice and close when doing their business to eliminate splashback. Take a look at their video about “Urinal dynamics” above.

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Grumpy astronauts, LEGO overpopulation, videogame quantum mechanics and more

The xkcd webcomic about LEGO titled

The “Minifigs” comic from xkcd (Credit: Randall Munroe/Creative Commons)

By Tushna Commissariat

This week, the Red Folder seemed filled to bursting with amusing and captivating news stories from around the web about physics. To start off, this rather hilarious and candid account of the Apollo 7 mission on the Discovery News website. I will not give too much away and let you read the story yourself, but suffice to say that having a rather bad cold while in space sounds dreadful and is bound to make the best of us quite grumpy – and I am sure the Apollo 7 crew would agree with me!

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Peering into the dark universe

By Tushna Commissariat

Catherine Heymans

Catherine Heymans (Courtesy: University of Edinburgh)

Inquisitive minds from all over the city of Bristol (where Physics World HQ is based) met at the University of Bristol’s Peel Lecture Theatre last night to hear astrophysicist Catherine Heymans give a talk entitled “The Dark Universe”, in which she tackled dark matter, dark energy, the structure of our universe from the largest to the smallest scales, flying pigs and even astronomical tooth fairies!

Heymans’ lecture was the first of a number of talks to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Physics World that we will be running with the Bristol Festival of Ideas, which hosts special events, talks and screenings held throughout the year in the city.

This being the first time that Physics World has been directly involved with the festival, we were pleased that Heymans’ talk was entirely sold out. And having a particular interest in astronomy, I made sure to attend the event, which proved to be a great success.

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Days out at CERN, serendipitous songs, shaken scientists and more

By Tushna Commissariat

A peek into the Red Folder this week brings up the CERN Open Days – the biggest particle-physics laboratory in the world will allow people from all over the globe to roam its hallowed halls freely for this weekend. While the most exciting part of the event will undoubtedly be visits into the underground caverns that host the Large Hadron Collider’s experiments, a whole host of other activities for researchers, science enthusiasts and children are available. Also this weekend, as a part of the European Researcher’s Night festivities, CERN will be hosting events in Paris, Geneva and Bologna for their Origins 2013 event that looks at two big scientific discovers made in the past two years: the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN and the latest Planck mission data. For those of you attending, “Speed-dating – close encounters with researchers” definitely caught our eye. Those of us not fortunate enough to be in any of those places can watch many of the festivities via a live webcast. And lastly, you can explore CERN from the inside on Google Maps with Street View.

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Lectures with Peter Higgs, award-winning photographs, multidimentional shapes and more

Guiding Light To The Stars

By Tushna Commissariat

Each week, all of us here at Physics World comb the Internet for all things physics – we look at national and local newspapers, university news outlets, a variety of magazines, science websites and blogs, and, of course, all the  latest scientific papers. We then pool our research and pick the cream of our crop to report on. But we can’t always cover all the interesting bits of physics news that we have chanced upon and a lot of good stuff is left behind in a red folder. So, starting from today, at the end of each week we’ve decided to point all of you, our eager readers, to the stories that have caught our fancy but not made it to the site yet and leave you with some extra weekend reading from The Red Folder.

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Kepler telescope goes into retirement…for now

Artist’s concept of the Kepler spacecraft

Retirement among the stars: Artist’s concept of the Kepler spacecraft. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ball)

By Tushna Commissariat

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about NASA’s Kepler space telescope being in a spot of trouble, as the spacecraft shut down and went into “safe mode”. The problem was that two of the four gyroscope-like “reaction wheels” that help the telescope remain steady and pointed in a particular direction had broken. Since May, researchers have been looking at ways and means to fix the problem or work around it.

Unfortunately, after analysing and testing the systems, the Kepler Space Telescope team has decided to end its attempts to restore the spacecraft to full working order, and is now “considering what new science research it can carry out in its current condition”.

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Physics on the big screen

By Tushna Commissariat

A new documentary of Stephen Hawking’s life is due in cinemas later this summer, with the esteemed physicist himself narrating the film. Hawking, as the documentary is simply dubbed, takes a personal look at the life of the celebrated scientist – his early days as a student in Oxford and his ongoing battle with motor neurone disease – as well as documenting his academic achievements.

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Eyeing light pollution

By Tushna Commissariat

The newly patented all-sky camera

The newly patented all-sky camera (Courtesy: University of Granada)

Researchers in Spain have developed a small and light device that can quickly and accurately measure the light-pollution levels or artificial night-sky background brightness for a given location. The team, led by Ovidio Rabaza from the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Granada, has developed a portable system that includes an all-sky camera and several interference filters that can be easily transported and can be used anywhere.

Currently, methods to measure light pollution that affects the night sky involve using complex techniques such as astronomical photometry, which requires large-scale and expensive equipment generally housed in observatories, according to the researchers. According to the team, the new system is “clearly innovative because, for the first time, relative irradiance and sky background luminance have been measured through wide-field images, of all the sky, instead of using more conventional methods”.

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New portrait of Peter Higgs unveiled

Portrait of Peter Higgs

(Photo courtesy: Antonia Reeve)

By Tushna Commissariat

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has just unveiled a portrait of famed physicist Peter Higgs, at the Society’s Fellows’ Summer Reception last week. The painting, which will hang on the walls of the Kelvin Room within the RSE’s premises in Edinburgh, was commissioned to one of Scotland’s leading artists, Victoria Crowe, “to honour the man whose outstanding research was instrumental in [the Higgs boson’s] discovery”. The professor seems distinctly unperturbed by the high-energy proton–proton collision taking place in the top right corner of the painting. I shall leave you to find and discern the other interesting imagery in the painting for yourselves – click on the thumbnail to view a larger picture of the portrait.

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Kepler – it’s not all doom and gloom just yet

By Tushna Commissariat

Illustration of Kepler

NASA’s Kepler space telescope. (Courtesy: NASA)

To much general dismay, earlier this month NASA officials announced that their Kepler space telescope had gone into a self-imposed “safe mode”, something that the telescope is programmed to do if one of its primary systems is not fully functional. Although the telescope was then rebooted, it shut down again this week and it seems that all is definitely not well with our favourite exoplanet spotter: the mission collaboration announced that the instrument has suffered a critical failure and may never be fully operational again.

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