Category Archives: General

Exoplanets are everywhere

Known exoplanets

The latest haul of exoplanets is skewed towards Earth-like masses. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

Just a few years ago the idea that more than 700 exoplanets could be discovered in a single study would seem fantastical. But that’s exactly what astronomers working on NASA’s Kepler mission have just done.

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Rebirth of the SSC?

The derelict site of the Superconducting Super Collider

Physicists entering the derelict site of the Superconducting Super Collider in 2011.

By Michael Banks

Following the closure of Fermilab’s 1 TeV Tevatron particle collider near Chicago in 2011 – and with no similar facility being planned to replace it in the US – many physicists in the country felt not surprisingly concerned that America was losing its place at the “energy frontier”. That baton had already passed to the CERN particle-physics lab near Geneva when its Large Hadron Collider (LHC) fired up in 2008, and with collisions set to restart there next year at 13 TeV, the US’s day looked certain to have passed.

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CERN creates new office for medical research

Steve Myers (far left) and colleagues at the LEIR facility

Steve Myers (far left) and colleagues at the LEIR facility.

By Hamish Johnston

Earlier this month my colleague Tami Freeman was at CERN where she had a tour of what will soon be the Geneva-based lab’s first major facility for biomedical research. Called BioLEIR, the facility is now being created by modifying the existing Low Energy Ion Ring (LEIR).

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Are ‘sterile neutrinos’ dark-matter particles after all?

Graph showing recent constrains on sterile neutrino production

Could sterile neutrinos constitute dark matter? (Courtesy: Bubul et al./ arXiv:1402.2301)

 

By Tushna Commissariat

It is always interesting to us at Physics World when a particular topic suddenly attracts the attentions of the physics community, especially when it’s a rather hotly debated subject. The past couple of days, for example, have seen a lot of talk about “sterile neutrinos”, based on two papers – published in quick succession on the arXiv preprint server – that suggest the tentative detection of these hypothetical paricles.

Both papers are based on an unidentified emission line seen in the X-ray spectrum of some galaxy clusters obtained by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton observatory. Intriguingly, sterile neutrinos are also considered to be possible dark-matter candidates, meaning that – if discovered – they would be the first fundamental particles to lie beyond the bounds of the Standard Model of particle physics.

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Beauty is in the eye of the mathematician

Euler equation

Is the Euler identity the most beautiful equation of them all?

By James Dacey

If you have ever talked with your arty friends about the sense of “beauty” you feel from maths, you may well have been greeted with a sympathetic smile. Perhaps even with jeers of derision.  Well, next time you find yourself in that position you will have some scientific evidence to back up what you are saying. A group of researchers in the UK has demonstrated that getting your noggin around an equation can trigger the same part of the brain as staring at the Mona Lisa or listening to The White Album.

In an experiment described in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 15 mathematicians were presented with a series of 60 equations and asked to rate them for their beauty on a scale of –5 (ugly), through to +5 (beautiful). The same subjects were then hooked up to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and asked to view the same list of equations. It turned out that when mathematicians viewed the equations they had previously rated as beautiful, it triggered activity in a part of the emotional brain associated with the experience of visual and musical beauty.*

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Embracing the materials world

By James Dacey

Materials research is enjoying a new golden age. The hit parade of supermaterials that has been discovered in the relatively recent past is extensive. It includes the likes of high-temperature superconductors, quantum dots, bucky-balls, nanotubes, aerogels, silver nanowires and graphene. Meanwhile, new approaches to the commercialization of materials – such as the recent Materials Genome Initiative in the US – are improving the processes by which new materials are transferred from the science lab to practical applications in the real world.

In conjuction with these new discoveries, materials scientists have also made dramatic improvements to the tools they have available for studying and manufacturing materials. Here, the list of advances is seemingly endless. Researchers can now simulate, image and analyse materials with far more accuracy than ever before. Developments in production methods – such as the advent of 3D printing – are also enabling researchers to scale up their new materials with greater ease.

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Giving the public access to research

By Michael Banks

Library users in the UK now have access to hundreds of thousands of journal articles following a new initiative called Access to Research, which was rolled out yesterday.

The two-year pilot programme will allow public-library users in the UK to freely access 8000 journals from 17 publishers including IOP Publishing, which publishes Physics World, as well as Elsevier, Nature Publishing Group and Wiley.

Last year, about 250 libraries from 10 local authorities, the majority of which are in southern England, were involved in testing the programme, with the initiative now being launched nationwide.

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Celebrating Louis Essen and the birth of atomic time

Peter Knight (left) and John Dudley unveiling the historical plaque

Peter Knight (left) and John Dudley unveiling the historic plaque.

By Hamish Johnston

On Friday I braved the torrential rains that have been soaking southern England to make the journey from Bristol to Teddington, which is the birthplace of the atomic clock. Situated in the leafy suburbs west of London on the swollen banks of the River Thames, Teddington is the home of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), which is the UK’s standards and metrology lab.

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The February 2014 issue of Physics World is out now

By Matin Durrani

Physics World February 2014

If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), it’s time to get stuck into the new issue of Physics World, which you can access free via the digital version of the magazine or by downloading the Physics World app onto your iPhone or iPad or Android device, available from the App Store and Google Play, respectively.

In this month’s cover feature, Margaret Morrison from the University of Toronto examines the use of  “fictional models” in science, including Maxwell’s model of electromagnetism, which included a piece of pure fiction in the form of an invisible, all-pervasive “aether” made up of elastic vortices separated by electric charge.

On a more practical note, this month’s issue examines strange discrepancies in experimental measurements of the gravitational constant, G, while our lead news and analysis piece tries to find out more about the US National Security Administration’s leaked initiative on quantum computers. There’s an abridged extract of cosmologist Max Tegmark‘s new book about the mathematical nature of the universe and don’t miss a great Lateral Thoughts about an unusual domestic mystery – why tiny spikes grow in the ice tray in your freezer.

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Life on Mars?

Rock on the surface of Mars

Magic mushroom? (Courtesy: NASA)

By Michael Banks

You may remember the story of Walter Wagner, the Hawaii resident who set his sights on stopping CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Wagner, together with his colleague Luis Sancho, filed a federal lawsuit in the US District Court in Honolulu in 2008 to prevent the LHC from starting up. In the lawsuit, Wagner and Sancho claimed that if the LHC were switched on, then the Earth would eventually fall into a growing micro black hole, thus converting our planet into a medium-sized black hole, around which the Moon, artificial satellites and the International Space Station would orbit.

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