Category Archives: General

Name that column

By Margaret Harris

Covering the commercial side of physics has its challenges. Because physics is such a diverse subject, people who train as physicists find their way into a host of different industries. Once there, they tend to blend in with graduates of other scientific disciplines, who are both more numerous and more likely to have their field in their job title: “physicist” is a relatively uncommon title compared to, say, “engineer”. It also doesn’t help that companies, unlike universities, almost never encourage employees to set up official, publicly accessible websites with contact info and details of what they’re working on right now.

But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, and one of Physics World’s resolutions for 2018 (right behind laying off the biscuits and getting more exercise) is to put more emphasis on covering industrial and applied physics. As part of that, we’re introducing a new column in the magazine that will explore the interactions between physics, industry and business in general. In this way, we hope to raise the profile of physicists in industry and, by extension, to emphasize the value that physicists bring to the commercial sector.

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See in the new year with the January 2018 issue of Physics World

By Matin DurraniImage of the cover of the January 2018 issue of Physics World magazine

Happy new year and welcome back to Physics World after our winter break. Why not get 2018 off to a great start with the January 2018 issue of Physics World, which is now out in print and digital format.

In our fantastic cover feature this month, Imre Bartos from Columbia University in New York examines the massive impact on physics that last year’s spectacular observation of colliding neutron stars will have.

Elsewhere, Bruce Drinkwater from the University of Bristol explains how he is using ultrasonics to monitor the damaged Fukushima nuclear-power plant in Japan, while science writer Jon Cartwright looks at how technology can help blind physicists.

Don’t miss either our interview with Fermilab boss Nigel Lockyer and do check out our tips for how to brush up your CV if you’re chasing a job in industry.

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A very LIGO Christmas

A special Physics World comic for Christmas 2017

Light speed: LIGO gets a surprise signal (click to expand)

 

By Tushna Commissariat

Every December, we like to do something special for you, dear readers, as the year draws to an end. As you are undoubtedly aware, some of the most exciting news in physics this year came from the world of gravitational-wave research and multimessenger astronomy, in the first ever observation of a neutron-star merger. Indeed, this global discovery bagged our 2017 Breakthrough of the Year award, while the pioneers of gravitational-wave astronomy won this year’s Nobel prize in physics.

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Reviewing a year in industry

By Margaret Harris

Normally when someone talks about their “year in industry”, they’re referring to a period spent working for a company. My own “year in industry” has been rather different: instead of spending 2017 working in a physics-based industry, I’ve been reporting on half a dozen different ones. From nuclear energy and nanotechnology to optics and instrumentation, I’ve heard from physicists who’ve founded new firms, developed new products and navigated their way through tricky waters with financial backers. Here are a few highlights.

 

From hype to hyperloopPress02_HyperloopTT_highres

2017 was another high-profile year for physicist and entrepreneur Elon Musk, with his company SpaceX landing a re-used Falcon 9 rocket back in March and his other firm, Tesla Motors, starting to deliver its much-anticipated Model 3 to mere mortals just this week. But in between, there was also a little bit of hype about Musk and hyperloops: vacuum-based systems that could, according to proponents, transport passengers cheaply at more than half the speed of sound. It sounds far-fetched, but as Jon Cartwright revealed in this feature article for August’s Physics World Focus on Vacuum and Instruments, it’s an idea with a long history.

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World’s smallest Christmas card and a fusion Christmas number one

 

By Hamish Johnston

We are winding down for Christmas here at Physics World and taking a well-deserved break before we launch into 2018.

Over the next week or so, stay tuned for festive content including a comic caption competition on Christmas Day that is inspired by this year’s Nobel prize.

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Physics World’s shortlist for Book of the Year 2017

Book of the Year 2017 covers

By Tushna Commissariat

The first week of December can only mean one thing – it’s time to reveal the shortlist for the Physics World book of the year. We’ve based our choice on the 54 books we’ve reviewed over the last 12 months in Physics World, picking our favourite 10 using the same three criteria that have been in place since we launched our book of the year award in 2009. These are that the books must be well written, novel and scientifically interesting to physicists.

Following on from a tumultuous 2016, this year has seen much political strife and human-rights crises, along with the rise of the unexpected demon of “fake news”. Unsurprisingly, the books we reviewed in Physics World this year reflected a lot of these global issues, which means that, along with the usual mix of popular-physics titles, the 2017 shortlist has a few books that at first sight might not seem to have direct links to physics. However, we feel these titles are nevertheless important and relevant to physicists (and of course scientists in general).

Given the number of strong and interesting books on our shortlist, it’s going to be hard to pick a single winner. That, however, is what we shall endeavour to do, via the Physics World podcast next week, when we’ll announce the award-winning book and discuss some of our other favourites on the shortlist. Let us know which ones you have read and are your favourite, and which you may be adding to your Christmas list.

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It’s a cracker – the December 2017 issue of Physics World is now out

Physics World December 2017 coverBy Matin Durrani

The December 2017 issue of Physics World, which is now out in print and digital format, has some great treats for you.

We’ve got two ice-related features – one by Jennifer Ouellette on a new “inverse” Mpemba effect, which suggests that cold water could warm faster than hot, and the other by two Norwegian researchers studying how best to treat wintry roads with salt.

Then there’s our festive reviews special, where we cast our eye over some of the best end-of-year reads, ranging from the physics of everyday life to extrasolar planets. Plus we review the “tremendous” new documentary about the Voyager missions.

Finally don’t miss our insight into quantum-computing careers at Google plus our great end-of-year LIGO-related caption competition.

Remember that if you’re a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read the whole of Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOSAndroid and Web browsers.

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LIGO bags another black-hole merger

The other ones: five observed black-hole mergers, plus a suspected merger with a dashed outline (Courtesy: LIGO)

The other ones: five observed black-hole mergers, plus a possible merger shown with dashed outlines (Courtesy: LIGO)

By Hamish Johnston

They have done it again. Physicists working on the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors in the US have announced the observation of another black-hole merger.

This event was spotted on 8 June 2017 and involved two black holes combining to form a black hole 18 times more massive than the Sun. The Virgo detector in Italy did not see the event because it was not switched on. This is the fifth observation of gravitational waves from merging black holes seen by LIGO, which along with Virgo also detected a signal in August from the merger of two neutron stars. Unlike the neutron-star event, no electromagnetic radiation was seen from the merger.

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Celebrating the International Day of Medical Physics

Photo of proton therapy at MGH

Proton therapy at MGH.

By James Dacey

Today is the International Day of Medical Physics (IDMP), as events around the world raise awareness of the vital work carried out by the profession. Now in its fifth year, the 2017 initiative focuses on issues affecting female patients and the safety of women working in medical physics. The theme was chosen to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Marie Curie whose pioneering work on radioactivity still underpins various medical treatments and diagnostics – particularly for cancer patients.

“It is well known that medical physicists have developed imaging and radiotherapy methods that have increased women’s length of life and have improved quality of life,” says John Damilakis of the International Organization of Medical Physics (IOMP), which co-ordinates the annual event. “For example, X-ray mammography for the early diagnosis of breast cancer, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry for the diagnosis of osteoporosis and brachytherapy methods for gynecologic cancer.”

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Under the sea: the November 2017 issue of Physics World is now out

PWNov17cover-500By Matin Durrani

Physicists love a challenge. Some have experiments up in space, while others work deep underground or at the tops of mountains. But just imagine how hard it must be for the those physicists who do experiments at sea.

The November 2017 issue of Physics World, which is now out in print and digital format, examines some of the challenges for physicists working below the waterline.

Jon Willis describes his experience on the exploration ship Nautilus in the Pacific Ocean, looking for mineral-rich “black smokers” that support life in conditions mimicking those on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Helen Czerski reveals why her studies of bubbles could help those who model climate change, while Antoine Kouchner and Véronique Van Elewyck explain why and how researchers are using the ocean as a giant neutrino detector.

Remember that if you’re a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read the whole of Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOSAndroid and Web browsers.

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