Category Archives: General

Season’s greetings and last-minute gift ideas

 

By Hamish Johnston

Things are winding down for the holidays at Physics World and we are all looking forward to recharging our batteries before we get stuck in to all the exciting physics that is sure to come our way in 2015.

If you are like me, you probably haven’t finished your Christmas shopping so here are a few suggestions that are sure to get a smile out of the physicists in your life. In the above video, author and scientist Neil Downie recommends a few traditional gifts as well as several quirky presents. I’m not sure that many people have a retort stand on their wish list, but I would certainly welcome a multimeter if I didn’t own one already.

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Physics World Special Report: India

By Michael Banks

Physics World Special Report India 2014

This year has been one of change for India. In May, some 800 million eligible voters went to the polls in an election that was won by the Bhartiya Janata Party. Led by Narendra Modi, the party went on to form a coalition government called the National Democratic Alliance.

Our Special Report, which you can read free online, kicks off by looking at how science is faring under Modi’s fledgling administration. Indeed, in September, Modi was personally on hand at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to laud engineers who had just carefully manoeuvred the Mars Orbiter Mission into position around the red planet – a feat that announced India as a major player in space exploration.

Modi’s personal interest in ISRO will not only please the organization’s chairman K Radhakrishnan, who we interview for the report, but could also be seen as a sign that the new administration is serious about boosting science in the country.

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Build your own LEGO particle collider

 

By Michael Banks

You may remember last year when particle physicist Sascha Mehlhase of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen unveiled a 560-piece LEGO model of CERN’s ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider.

Well, not to be outdone, LEGO fan Jason Allemann has now created a LEGO-inspired particle accelerator. Dubbed the LEGO Brick Collider (LBC), the design has been submitted to LEGO’s CUUSOO site, which lets fans share blueprints of their own models.

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Quantum kung fu

This article first appeared in the “Lateral Thoughts” section of the July 2014 issue of Physics World

By Felix Flicker

Felix Flicker

Practising the “plate trick”. (Courtesy: Paul Blakemore)

If someone puts you in an armlock, what should you do? If you happen to be a martial artist well-practised in the art of joint manipulation, or chin na, you will know the answer already: there is one simple move that will allow you to turn the tables on your aggressor, leaving them on the wrong end of a throw. However, if your skill set tends more toward manipulating mathematical symbols, there is still hope, for the answer is also closely tied to theoretical physics.

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Physicists create ‘anelloni’ – a new kind of pasta

 

By Matin Durrani

Rigatoni, fettucine, tagliatelle, penne? We think they’ve had their day.

It’s time to say hello to “anelloni” – a new kind of pasta created by two physicists from the University of Warwick in the UK. Consisting of giant loops, it’s the brainchild of Davide Michieletto and Matthew Turner, who invented the pasta in an attempt to demonstrate the complicated shapes that ring-shaped polymer molecules can adopt.

With its name derived from anello – the Italian word for “ring” – the new pasta is exclusively unveiled in an article that Michieletto and Turner have written in the December 2014 issue of Physics World magazine, which also contains their secret recipe for making it.

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Celebrating innovation

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe celebrates the winners of the 2014 Institute of Physics innovation awards at the Palace of Westminster 27 November 2014

Clever thinking: Baroness Neville-Rolfe celebrates the winners of the 2014 Institute of Physics innovation awards. (Courtesy: Richard Lewis)

By Matin Durrani

“Commercializing physics” is the theme of the November issue of Physics World and it was therefore timely that last night saw a special ceremony at the House of Commons to celebrate the winners of this year’s Innovation Awards from the Institute of Physics (IOP), which publishes the magazine.

The awards, which are now in their third year, are given by the Institute to firms in the UK and Ireland “that have built success on the innovative application of physics”.

Four firms were honoured this year: Gas Sensing Solutions, which makes carbon-dioxide sensors; Gooch & Housego, for an opto-acoustic device that can modulate laser beams for industrial processing; nuclear-power firm Magnox for a clever way of refuelling a reactor at the Wylfa power station; and MBDA for a novel “missile-system upgrade”.

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Top physics books for 2014

Top-10-Book-2014-200x200By Margaret Harris

Is it time for end-of-the-year lists already? At Physics World HQ, the answer is a definite “yes”, and we’re kicking off the season with our annual list of the year’s best physics books.

As in previous years, the entries on our “Book of the Year” shortlist are all well written, novel and scientifically interesting for a physics audience. They represent the best of the 57 books that Physics World reviewed in 2014, being highly commended by external experts (the diverse group of professional physicists and freelance science writers who review books for the magazine) and by members of our own editorial staff, who helped winnow the field down to a shortlist of 10.

This is the sixth year we’ve picked a “Book of the Year”, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stronger shortlist. Frankly, 2014 has been a fantastic year for science books, and for physics books in particular. You’ll see that quality reflected in the list below, where first-person accounts of the latest discoveries rub shoulders with historical analyses of the foundations of the field. There’s room in our shortlist for books about acoustic physics, exoplanets, geophysics, materials science, radiation safety and scientific ethics – plus a whimsical tour of the physics of fantasy and science fiction.

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Become a CERN physicist in your bedroom

By James Dacey

Image of particle collision within the ATLAS detector

Particle collision within the ATLAS detector. (Courtesy: CERN/Higgs Hunters)

Who discovered the Higgs boson? Was it Peter Higgs and a combination of other great minds? The experimentalists at CERN who analysed reams of data? The magnificent machinery of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) itself? By the time that the next great breakthrough in particle physics comes along, the debate about who makes the discovery could become even more complex. That’s because a new citizen-science project is encouraging anyone with an Internet connection to search for new curiosities in the Higgs data.

Higgs Hunters” launched this week and invites the public to sift through collision images from the LHC’s ATLAS detector. The task at hand is to look for the paths of charged particles that seem to appear out of thin air in what are known as off-centre vertices. As explained on the Higgs Hunters website, “some scientists think the Higgs could break apart into exotic particles entirely new to science”. On the Higgs Hunters website, citizen scientists help to count the number of particle tracks and can notify the science team if they spot anything out of the ordinary.

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What makes the perfect song?

Jazz pianist  Joe Stilgoe

Jazz pianist Joe Stilgoe performed at the panel discussion on the science of music

By James Dacey

There was a telling moment early on at the event I attended last night when science writer Philip Ball was asked to name his “perfect song”. With a slightly bemused look, Ball picked a tune that I’m pretty sure few in the audience had heard of – “The Most Wanted Song”, which was co-written by a neuroscientist to incorporate the musical elements that people find most pleasing to the ear. Give the tune a listen and you’ll realise that it is a horrible saccharine track that you’ll quickly want to turn off. Of course, the point of the song – and Ball’s choice – was to ridicule the idea that you can create beautiful music with a formula.

Ball was part of a panel discussion at the Royal Opera House in London on “What makes the perfect song?”. He was joined by physicist-turned-opera singer Christine Rice and musicologist Maria Witek, and the event was chaired by the physicist, broadcaster and former pop star Brian Cox. While the panellists were unanimous in their belief that music is a complex emotional thing that cannot be fully explained by physics, they did have some fascinating insights into the science of song.

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A visit to an island called Nuuk

Blurred, shadowy photo image of a human figure in a boat

Anaïs Tondeur in collaboration with Jean-Marc Chomaz, Paul Syrillin, 2014, shadowgram, 11 × 24 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and GV Art gallery.

By Margaret Harris

The story of Nuuk began in the early 18th century when a French naval officer landed on a barren, ice-covered island and noted its coordinates in his logbook. The island, he reported, was volcanic in nature, but little else was known about it; indeed, later visitors to its supposed location found no sign of land. Rediscovered in the 20th century, Nuuk was soon visited by a series of scientific expeditions, one of which noted that the island’s surface area was shrinking. An observation station was set up on a prominent headland, but in 2012, it abruptly ceased transmitting; satellite images later revealed that Nuuk had vanished entirely beneath the ocean surface. Coincidentally, the final signal from Nuuk arrived just as the 34th International Geological Congress was meeting in Australia to discuss the emergence of a new, human-influenced geological age: the Anthropocene.

Nuuk and the various forces that contributed to its demise are the subject of a fascinating exhibition currently on show (until 29 November) at the GV Art gallery in London. Lost in Fathoms is a collaboration between an artist, Anaïs Tondeur, and a physicist, Jean-Marc Chomaz, who specializes in fluid dynamics. To develop her ideas about Nuuk, Tondeur spent a year in residence at Chomaz’s Laboratoire d’Hydrodynamique at the Ecole Polytechnique in France, while other parts of the exhibition grew out of a summer school in Cambridge, UK, that focused on fluid dynamics, sustainability and the environment.

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