Category Archives: General

The unexpected benefit of a malfunctioning magnet at RHIC

Inside the RHIC tunnel

Beam me down: in the RHIC tunnel. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat in New York City, US

I’m not one to rejoice in someone else’s misfortune, but I must admit that I couldn’t help but be a bit pleased when I heard that the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) had a malfunction last Friday. You see, I happened to be visiting the collider and its detectors yesterday, and if a malfunctioning superconducting magnet had not shorted a diode last Friday, I would not have had the chance to go down into the collider tunnel, which was a great experience.

RHIC – which, along with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, is the only other detector capable of colliding heavy ions and is, in fact, the only spin-polarized collider in the world – has been running since the year 2000, and accelerator director Wolfram Fischer tells me that I am rather “lucky” as “failed magnets are very rare”. Indeed, he said that after initial teething problems when RHIC was switched on, this was the first such magnet failure that has occurred in the past 15 years. But fear not, the RHIC maintenance crew is already hard at work – the diode will soon be replaced and the collider should be up and running again in the next few days.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Setting the standards for physics

The NIST campus in Gaithersburg

Keepers of time: at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat in New York City, US

As most of our regular blog readers will know, last week Physics World‘s Matin Durrani and I were in Baltimore attending the APS March meeting. While we spent most of the week at the conference centre, last Friday we visited the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Gaithersburg campus, as well as the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), which is based at the University of Maryland. It was a jam-packed, exciting day that we spent zipping around to and from more than 10 different labs and departments, meeting people who use physics to do everything from improve the safety of body armour to redefining the kilogram.

As we saw so many interesting projects, covering them all would make for a rather long read. Instead, join me for a quick visual tour of NIST below (I will cover our JQI visit in a separate blog) to get a small taste of the physics and people involved.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Finding innovation in space

Photograph of Carlton House Terrace

Way to go: Carlton House Terrace. (CC BY-SA 2.0 Richard Croft)

By Margaret Harris

I have a mental block about Carlton House Terrace. This elegant little street in central London is home to several of the UK’s national academies, including the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), and I’m sure I’ve visited it at least half a dozen times. Yet somehow, whenever I emerge from Charing Cross underground station in the middle of Trafalgar Square, I never know which way to go next.

Fortunately, this is the 21st century, so when the usual disorientation struck me yesterday on my way to an “Innovation in Space” event at the RAEng, I simply pulled out my smartphone. Within seconds, an app told me exactly where I was (plus or minus a few metres) and how to walk from there to 3 Carlton House Terrace. Minutes later, I was safely ensconced in the seminar room, nodding in agreement as the event’s chair, Sir Martin Sweeting, explained how space-related innovations – including, ahem, the network of satellites that make up the Global Positioning System (GPS) – have become an integral part of our daily lives.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Go wins for Google AI program

Go board

Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo programme has won the first two games against Go champion Lee Sedol from South Korea. (Courtesy: iStock/Peerayot)

By Michael Banks

It is a battle between man and machine, but one that has been ultimately won by the brute force of computation.

Yesterday as well as today, Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo program has made a breakthrough in artificial intelligence by defeating Lee Sedol – the current world champion from South Korea – at the game of Go.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Can a concert hall have a perfect acoustic?

Photo of Lesley Garrett

Sound engineer Paul Waton and soprano Lesley Garrett discussing theatre acoustics at the Royal Opera House. (Courtesy: Brian Slater)

 

By James Dacey

Concert hall acoustics was the theme of a fascinating panel debate last night at the Royal Opera House (ROH) in London. Among the speakers was British soprano and presenter Lesley Garrett who shared her views on the acoustics of some of the great concert halls in which she has performed. She was joined by acoustics engineer Trevor Cox, acoustics consultant Helen Butcher and sound engineer Paul Waton, who has recorded a range of classical concerts for the BBC. Insight: the Art and Science of Acoustics was co-hosted by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World.

Cox – who featured in our 2014 podcast about sonic wonders – set the scene by describing some of the fundamental acoustic considerations in designing a concert hall. We heard clips of Cox playing a saxophone in an “anechoic” chamber, followed by the same sax lick performed in an oil tanker – the place with officially the longest echo in the world. Cox’s point was to show the difference between high clarity at the one extreme and intense reverberation at the other. The sound wasn’t quite “right” in both cases. “Concert hall design is about finding a pleasing balance between these two extremes,” he said.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , | 3 Comments | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Sounding off about valleytronics

Photograph of a valley in Glacier National Park in the US

Valley state: real-life landscapes can be as beautiful as their condensed-matter counterparts. (CC BY-SA BorisFromStockdale)

By Hamish Johnston

Condensed matter is a physicist’s paradise because of the seemingly endless number of ways that atoms can be rearranged to create systems with new and exciting behaviours. A great example of this is the emerging field of “valleytronics”, which is concerned with a property of electrons that emerges in some semiconductors and 2D materials such as graphene.

The eponymous valley is a local minimum in the conduction band of a solid that “traps” electrons into a specific momentum state. Things get interesting when a material has two valleys that result in two distinct momentum states. In some materials these states resemble the quantum-mechanical property of spin: an electron can be in one of two spin states (up or down) and it can also be in one of two momentum states. As a result, this property is sometimes referred to as valley pseudospin.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Physics for all: the March 2016 issue of Physics World is now out

 

By Matin Durrani

Welcome to the March 2016 issue of Physics World magazine, which is ready and waiting for you to access via our app for mobile and desktop.

The new issue looks at ways to make physics a more inclusive discipline, including spotting your unconscious bias, tuning in to talent and tackling “microaggressions” – small acts of injustice that make people uncomfortable because of who they are, not what they do.

We also look at what life’s like for gender and/or sexual minorities at CERN – one of the most international physics labs on the planet – and explore how to find an employer who understands the value of a diverse workforce. There are plenty of practical tips for how you can make a difference.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Celtic god of thunder gets an attosecond makeover

Gods of thunder: Gagik Nersisyan (left) and Matt Zepf at the TARANIS laser facility

Gods of thunder: Gagik Nersisyan (left) and Matt Zepf at the TARANIS laser facility.

By Hamish Johnston

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Matt Zepf, who directs the Centre for Plasma Physics at Queen’s University Belfast. Zepf and his colleague Gagik Nersisyan showed me around the TARANIS laser facility, which creates extremely bright flashes of light just like its namesake the Celtic god of thunder.

TARANIS is about to upgraded to TARANIS-X, which will deliver ultrashort pulses of extreme ultraviolet light (EUV) that are just a few attoseconds (10–18 s) in duration. Each attosecond pulse will deliver more than 10 µJ, which Zepf says will make TARANIS-X the most powerful laser of its kind by a comfortable margin.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Progress update in Chinese physics

Photo of Wenlong Zhan, president of Chinese Physical Society, at meeting with Paul Hardaker and Matin Durrani, 23 February 2016

Wenlong Zhan, president of the Chinese Physical Society (second from left on right-hand side) and colleagues, in discussion with Paul Hardaker, chief executive of the Institute of Physics (far left), and colleagues.

By Matin Durrani

China continues to make great progress in physics, with new facilities and projects starting up all the time. Just this week we’ve reported on plans to build a new neutrino experiment at the China Jinping Underground Laboratory (CJPL). The world’s deepest lab, it’s located under a mountain – with about 2400 m of rock cover – in China’s south-western Sichuan province.

Physics World has long kept a close eye on the progress of the physics community in China and in fact we published our first ever special report on the country in 2011. Since then, however, so much more has been going on that we felt it’s time to make a return trip and will be producing another special report in September this year to give you further insights into physics in China.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

A big Lidl telescope in Belfast

Alan Fitzsimmons and his telescope

Not so Lidl: Alan Fitzsimmons and his bargain telescope.

By Hamish Johnston

There is an old joke in the UK about going to the discount supermarket Lidl for a pint of milk and coming home with a new set of power tools or ski-wear for the entire family. That’s because the retailer is famous for its seemingly random special offers. One week it could be car accessories and the following week the same shelves could be stocked with pyjamas or camping gear.

But Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University Belfast deserves an award for best physics-related Lidl bargain with this huge telescope that he bought at the supermarket. It makes perfect sense to me – both Lidl and the telescope’s maker Bresser are German companies and, of course, Germany is famous for its optics.

(more…)

Posted in General | Tagged , , | 2 Comments | Permalink
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile