Category Archives: General
By Matin Durrani, Editor, Physics World
Amid all the noise and recrimination following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union (EU) in last week’s national referendum by a majority of 52% to 48%, I was reminded of a comment that Nicola Clase – Sweden’s ambassador to Britain – made to Times columnist David Aaronovitch before the referendum. When he sought her views on a potential British exit from the EU (Brexit), Clase replied: “It’s like when a child desperately wants to pee in his pants and does it. At first there’s a feeling of relief and for a few moments it’s nice and warm. Then he’s just cold and wet.”
It was a flippant comment for sure, but not far wide off the mark. As a new week dawns, physicists in the UK – and beyond – are coming to terms with the enormity and liable consequences of the vote. A poll by Nature in March showed that the vast majority of UK scientists were overwhelmingly in support of the EU, with 83% saying “no” to an exit. Although, legally, the outcome of the referendum does not have to be acted upon, we can expect huge and completely unnecessary uncertainty over the next few months, if not longer.
Learned societies in the UK, such as the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World, as well as the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society, have been putting a brave face on the prospect of Britain quitting the EU. They underlined the importance of maintaining free movement of scientists to and from the UK, and ensuring British scientists continue to have access to EU research funds and EU-supported facilities. It will be great if those principles and policies remain in place – but there is no guarantee they will. In any case, why should the rest of the EU now want to bother making life easy for the UK as it negotiates a Brexit?
By James Dacey
This summer many of you will watch smoke billowing out of buildings as yet another villain wreaks havoc on the New York skyline in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. I’m willing to bet that as you eat your popcorn you won’t be thinking about the Navier–Stokes equations of fluid dynamics. (Well, perhaps you will now that I’ve mentioned it!)
In fact, part of the reason that virtual smoke in films looks so realistic is because visual effects (VFX) specialists have applied the Navier–Stokes equations to their graphics. This was one of the interesting tidbits I learned from a talk yesterday in London by Rob Pieké, head of software at Moving Picture Company (MPC).
Pieké was speaking as part of a half-day event on “physics and film” organized by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World. The gist of his presentation was that basic physics principles are used in a variety of ways to create special effects that capture viewers’ attention. “The audience wants to see something fantastical but grounded in reality,” said Pieké. Another example he gave was how naturally bouncing hair in computer-generated characters is modelled on mass—spring systems. Each individual hair could be modelled on as many as 30 masses connecting by springs.
By Hamish Johnston
Things are heating up in the blogosphere after two A-list physics bloggers have speculated that a tantalizing hint of new physics seen by the CMS and ATLAS experiments at CERN is vanishing now that the latest collision data are being analysed.
The hint is a bump at 750 GeV in the spectrum of photon pairs created when protons collide in the LHC. It is not predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics and has not yet reached a statistical significance of 5σ – the threshold for a discovery. If it turns out to be real, the bump could become one of the most important discoveries in particle physics made so far this century.
By Susan Curtis
When our visit was running two hours behind schedule by lunchtime, I knew it was going to be a mind-expanding day. And there was certainly plenty to discover at the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, some 120 km north-west of Moscow.
An international research centre bringing together 18 member states, the JINR has been in the news for its discovery of new superheavy elements (SHEs). According to Andrei Popeko, deputy director of the JINR’s Flerov Laboratory for Nuclear Reactions, all of the last six elements were first synthesized at the laboratory’s U400 cyclotron, in most cases using samples prepared at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US. The JINR is now building the world’s first SHE factory that will boost production efficiency by a factor of 50, which will allow the lab’s scientists to investigate the chemical properties of these short-lived elements.
By Susan Curtis in Moscow
As an update to my last post, Russia’s deputy minister for science and education, Ludmila Ogorodova, accepted that the 1990s had been a period of crisis management for Russian science, and that in the 2000s plans for rebuilding the academic sector were hampered by lack of funding. But she also pointed to figures suggesting that Russian science has turned a corner over the past couple of years.
By Hamish Johnston
Physicists working on the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors have released more information about the merging black holes that they announced the discovery of earlier this year. Dubbed GW150914, we now know that the gravitational wave was created by the merger of one black hole that was 36 times as massive as the Sun with a smaller black hole that weighed in at 29 solar masses. The result of the merger was a black hole at 62 solar masses and a spin angular momentum of 0.67, where 1.0 is the maximum value of spin a black hole can have.
By Susan Curtis in Moscow
It takes less than four hours to fly to Moscow from London, but it feels much more distant and mysterious. Even my colleagues at Physics World, who pride themselves on covering all of physics in all parts of the world, admit to a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Russian science, even though Russia has a strong tradition in physics as well as in mathematics and space science.
By Margaret Harris
How do you keep an astronaut alive, sane and (ideally) happy during a mission to Mars? The world’s space agencies would very much like to know the answer, but gathering data is tricky. The International Space Station (ISS) makes a good testbed for experiments on the physical effects of space travel, but psychologically speaking, ISS astronauts enjoy a huge advantage over their possible Mars-bound counterparts: if something goes badly wrong on the station, home is just a short Soyuz ride away. Martian astronauts, in contrast, will be on their own.
For this reason, space agencies have become interested in learning how people cope in extreme environments here on Earth, particularly in locations where rescue is not immediately possible. That’s why the European Space Agency (ESA) sent Beth Healey, a British medical doctor, to spend the winter of 2015 at Concordia Research Station, a remote base in the interior of Antarctica. During the continent’s nine-month-long winter, temperatures at Concordia can plunge as low as –80 °C, making it inaccessible even to aeroplanes, which cannot operate at temperatures below –50 °C. So once the last flight left in February 2015, Healey and the 12 other members of the overwintering team were stuck there until November.
By James Dacey
The European première of a documentary recorded secretly within a Russian “atomic city” is among the highlights at Sheffield Doc/Fest, the international documentary festival that gets under way tomorrow in Sheffield, UK. City 40, directed by the Iranian-born US filmmaker Samira Goetschel, takes viewers inside the walls of a segregated city established by the Soviet Union during the Cold War as a guarded location for developing nuclear weapons.
The social model in Ozersk (formerly known as City 40) is reminiscent of what occurred in Richland, the US city near the Hanford site in Washington State where plutonium was produced for the “Fat Man” bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. In both these US and Soviet cities, the citizens were lavished with higher-than-average salaries and standards of living, such as quality housing, healthcare and education systems. Today, Ozersk is still a closed city with an alleged population of 80,000 and exists officially as a facility for processing nuclear waste and material from decommissioned nuclear weapons.