Category Archives: General

LIGO physicists favourites for Nobel prize, physics superstar tournament, and how long does it take to win a Nobel?

Prize winning: will the detection of gravitational waves win this year's Nobel? (Courtesy: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

Prize winning: will the detection of gravitational waves win this year’s Nobel? (Courtesy: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

By Hamish Johnston

The first week of October is nearly upon us and the question on almost every physicist’s lips is “who will win this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics?”. The people’s favourite for 2016 seems to be the physicists who pioneered the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors. In February 2016 LIGO researchers announced that they had made the first ever detection of a gravitational wave – from two merging black holes. A few months later, a second detection was announced.

Normally, Nobel nominations are closed in January so it’s possible that LIGO missed the boat. However, both the first and second detections were actually made in 2015 – with the results subsequently published in 2016. So the LIGO pioneers could have been nominated before the deadline as the collaboration already knew it had detected gravitational waves. It’s all pure speculation, of course, as each year’s deliberations are kept top secret for 50 years.

So who could be claiming the prize for LIGO? Three people favoured by pundits are Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever. Drever and Weiss played crucial roles in designing and building LIGO, whereas Thorne calculated what gravitational waves would look like to the detector.

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Physics World Special Report: China

pwchina16-cover-200By Michael Banks

Physics World published its first special report on China in 2011, which looked at China’s lunar programme and how the country was tackling fraud, as well as profiling the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Institute for High Energy Physics, which are both located in Beijing.

Five years on and physics in the world’s most populous country has rapidly expanded, with China building a number of other huge facilities – including the China Neutron Spallation Source and the China Jinping Underground Laboratory. Now close to completion, they will put the country at the forefront of physics.

So what better time to have another special report on China? Based on visits to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, the issue, which you can read free here, includes an overview of the current state of physics in the country as well as an interview with Wei Yang, president of the National Natural Science Foundation – the country’s biggest investor in basic science – and a piece looking at how scientists can foster good collaborations with physicists in China.

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Capturing your research on film

Photo of Hannover Congress Centrum

TPDL 2016 took place at the grand Hannover Congress Centrum.

Communicating science through video was the theme of a workshop I participated in yesterday in Hannover, Germany, as part of the Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries conference (TPDL 2016). It was a varied audience that included journalists, academics and librarians. I came away feeling inspired by all the possibilities, but realizing that science communication has a long way to go to use this medium to its full potential. I’ll share with you here some of the key messages.

As Physics World’s multimedia editor, I used my slot to talk about some of the journalistic videos I’ve produced and commissioned during the past few years – discussing what’s worked, what hasn’t and where I think journalistic video production is heading. I made the point that to create engaging web video you have to think carefully about how your audience will be watching the films. Your film may look great on a large monitor, but will it be enjoyed by someone watching it on a smartphone on a bus or train? Also, what are you trying to achieve with the film? Are you trying to entertain or promote something? Or perhaps you are trying to teach? The style and tone will vary depending on the purpose.

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The September 2016 issue of Physics World is now out

By Matin Durrani

The cover story in the September 2016 issue of Physics World magazine – now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop – reveals the fascinating new field of “crowd breath research”, which can even shed light on how cinema audiences react during the changing scenes in a movie. You can read the article here on physicsworld.com too.

The September issue also shows how to do crystallography without crystals, explains how first data from the Gaia spacecraft could revolutionize astronomy (see the above video for more on that), and contains one physics teacher’s fascinating story about what she did to change her school’s gender balance.

Don’t miss either reader feedback on the potential impact of Britain leaving the EU on physics or Robert P Crease’s Critical Point column on why science denial is one of the most important issues in the US presidential campaign.

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‘Chemtrails’ are a con, say experts

Conspiracy theory: aeroplanes up to no good high above Horfield Common in Bristol

Vast conspiracy: contrails over Horfield Common in Bristol.

By Hamish Johnston

Is there a government-led conspiracy that uses aeroplanes to lace the atmosphere with chemicals? Of course there isn’t, and now there is a peer-reviewed study that says so.

Dubbed the “secret large-scale atmospheric programme” (SLAP), the conspiracy concerns condensation trails (contrails) that can often be seen high up in the sky. These are the lines of cloud that are formed when water condensates around particulate matter in the exhaust from jet engines. But are those contrails actually “chemtrails” that are spreading noxious substances far and wide?

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Physics World 2016 Focus on Vacuum Technology is out now

PWVAC16cover-200By Matin Durrani

I’m pleased to say that the latest focus issue of Physics World, which explores the many fascinating applications of vacuum science and technology, is now out.

Plasma processing is a strong theme this year, as we discover why tools and techniques developed as part of the boom in semiconductor fabrication are now benefiting biomaterials. Elsewhere, we reflect on the strengths of the vacuum community with outgoing IUVSTA president Mariano Anderle.

And, as always, this vacuum focus issue provides a great chance to catch up with major industry players, including Pfeiffer Vacuum, Agilent, Honeywell and Edwards, to examine the latest instrument upgrades and trends across the sector.

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Cracking water drops caught on camera

(Courtesy: E Ghabache et al., Phys. Rev. Lett.)

(Courtesy: E Ghabache et al./Phys. Rev. Lett.)

By Tushna Commissariat

Drops of water normally tend to splash when they strike a surface. But what happens if they hit something very cold? It turns out they first freeze and then crack, forming intricate fracture patterns, one of which you can see in the image above.

It was taken using a high-speed camera by Christophe Josserand, Thomas Séon and colleagues at the Jean Le Rond d’Alembert Institute in France. They watched water solidifying as it dripped onto a stainless-steel surface cooled to various temperatures between 0 and −60 °C (Phys. Rev. Lett. 117 074501). Due to the contact between the drop and the surface, the water’s ability to freeze is limited and mechanical stress makes it fracture in a few milliseconds.

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When a water slide goes wrong

By Margaret Harris

A couple of years ago, I came across what I thought was a funny (and physics-related) video about a water slide. The slide is called “Verrückt”, which my German-speaking colleagues translate as “mad” or “crazy”, and it caught my attention because it was being built at an amusement park in my home town of Kansas City. As the video shows, the slide experienced a few problems during its testing phase.

“When the rafts are loaded with more than 1000 pounds, the slide becomes unsafe,” says the video’s announcer as the test raft goes airborne. “We’re going to have to redesign the entire slide,” an unnamed official adds.

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And so to bed for the 750 GeV bump

the combined 2015 nd 2016 ATLAS diphoton data

No bumps: ATLAS diphoton data – the solid black line shows the 2015 and 2016 data combined. (Courtesy: ATLAS Experiment/CERN)

By Tushna Commissariat

After months of rumours, speculation and some 500 papers posted to the arXiv in an attempt to explain it, the ATLAS and CMS collaborations have confirmed that the small excess of diphoton events, or “bump”, at 750 GeV detected in their preliminary data is a mere statistical fluctuation that has disappeared in the light of more data. Most folks in the particle-physics community will have been unsurprised if a bit disappointed by today’s announcement at the International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP) 2016, currently taking place in Chicago.

The story began around this time last year, soon after the LHC was rebooted and began its impressive 13 TeV run, when the ATLAS collaboration saw more events than expected around the 750 GeV mass window. This bump immediately caught the interest of physicists the world over, simply because there was a sniff of “new physics” around it, meaning that the Standard Model of particle physics did not predict the existence of a particle at that energy. But also, it was the first interesting data to emerge from the LHC after its momentous discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012 and if it had held, would have been one of the most exciting discoveries in modern particle physics.

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From WiFi to LiFi: the August 2016 issue of Physics World is out now

PWAug16cover-200By Matin Durrani

Over the past year the world’s computers, mobile phones and other devices generated some 12 zettabytes of data. And by 2020 that number is predicted to rise to 44 zettabytes – nearly as many bits as there are stars in the universe.

In the August 2016 issue of Physics World magazine – now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop – Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh in the UK explains how the humble household light bulb could soon be transformed into the backbone of a revolutionary new wireless communications network based on visitible light.

Known as “LiFi”, the system could not only contribute to next-generation 5G mobile-phone systems, but also unlock the potential of the “Internet of things”, create”smart” cities, help with the introduction of driverless cars and offer new ways to monitor the health of old people. You can also read the article here.

The August issue also shows how neutrons could help in the search for new drugs, why we need to solve the ethical dilemmas surrounding space mining, and how physicists are helping to save daguerreotype photographs from decay. Don’t miss either our look at the impact of Brexit on European physics.

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