Posts by: Tushna Commissariat

Blockbuster physics, bowling balls and feathers in a vacuum, and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

The results of a successful scientific experiment can make scientists very happy. Indeed, in the clip above, taken from the BBC TV series Human Universe, one scientist exclaims “holy mackarel!” when he sees the outcome he was hoping for. In the video, everybody’s favourite physicist Brian Cox carries out an experiment similar to Galileo’s Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment, where he tested that no matter the mass of objects, they fall at the same rate under gravity. In the video above, Cox drops a bunch of feathers and a bowling ball in the world’s biggest vacuum chamber – the Space Simulation Vacuum Chamber at NASA’s Space Power Facility in Ohio, US. In the slow-motion video, you can see with exquisite clarity just how accurate Galileo’s prediction was, as the feathers and ball land at precisely the same time. We came across this video on the Dot Physics blog on the Wired Science network, written by physicist Rhett Allain, where he has worked out some of the maths and pointed out some of the nuances of the above experiment, so make sure you take a look.

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A 21st-century discourse on quantum mechanics and space–time

Image of Nima Arkani-Hamed

Revealing the secrets of space–time? (Courtesy: Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

By Tushna Commissariat

If you fancy a bit of late-night quantum mechanics, make sure that tonight you tune into the live webcast of “Quantum Mechanics and Spacetime in the 21st Century” – a lecture that by physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed as part of the Perimeter Institute’s Public Lecture Series. Arkani-Hamed, who won the inaugural Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012, says that he hasn’t “been this excited about physics in a very long time”. He will talk about how the most recent advances in quantum mechanics shed new light on our understanding of the universe’s fabric of time and space. In the past, Arkani-Hamed has shown how the weakness of gravity, compared with the other fundamental forces of nature, might be explained by the existence of extra dimensions of space. He has also recently been involved in the 2013 documentary Particle Fever, about the search for the Higgs boson.

The webcast will begin at 11.45 p.m. GMT (7 p.m. EST) and you can send questions to Arkani-Hamed by tweeting @Perimeter and using the hashtag #piLIVE. Take a look at a short teaser video for his talk below and tell us what you think about it in the comments section.

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Cthulhu cosmology, Halloween outfits with a physics twist and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

It’s not often that classical physics and Post-Impressionist painters collide, but when they do the results can be enchanting and intriguing. In one of the latest TEDEd videos, Natalya St Clair has created a short lesson that looks at “The unexpected math behind Van Gogh’s Starry Night.” The video above looks at the enduring mystery that is the turbulence we see in any kind of flows in the natural world and how the human brain can recognize and actually make some kind of sense of the chaotic random patterns turbulence describes.

As pointed out in the video, famous physicists such as Richard Feynman and Werner Heisenberg have noted the complexity of turbulence, with Feynman describing it as “the most important unsolved problem of classical physics” and Heisenberg saying that “when I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first”. But is it possible that the undoubted genius and troubled painter that was Van Gogh perceived something more about turbulence in nature and is this most clearly represented in his most famous masterpiece – the evocative painting known as Starry Night? Watch the video to find out.

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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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