Category Archives: General

Behind the scenes of peer review

By James Dacey

 

 

This week is Peer Review Week 2017, a global celebration of the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining scientific quality. The theme of this year’s event is “transparency in review”, exploring how individuals and organizations could be more open at all stages of the scientific process.

Physics World is published by IOP Publishing and I’ve been part of a crack team assembled to take people behind the scenes of our peer-review processes. As the man with a camera, my job was to create a series of videos with my colleagues in the publishing department who deal with peer review on a daily basis.

First up, we have a video message from Marc Gillet, our associate director of publishing operations, introducing our plans for the week (see above). Marc is joined by a selection of staff revealing the role they play in the peer-review process – drawing inspiration from Bob Dylan’s famous flashcard skit for Subterranean Homesick Blues.

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Angela Saini discusses her book Inferior  

By James Dacey

 

Angela Saini in conversation with Andrew Glester
Science journalist Saini explains why she wrote Inferior and what she has discovered
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“Writing the book has made me question my own feelings about the world.” That is the stark conclusion of science journalist Angela Saini, referring to her recent publication Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story.

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The September 2017 issue of Physics World magazine is now out

PWSep17cover-200By Matin Durrani

Some of the daily challenges facing women in physics are tackled in the latest issue of Physics World magazine, which is now out.

As well as a round-up from the recent International Conference on Women in Physics, which took place in Birmingham, UK, there’s a fascinating feature about the life of Jocelyn Bell Burnell. She discovered pulsars 50 years ago next month and became the first female president of the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World.

As Bell Burnell points out, “Fix the women!” is often seen as the solution to why women progress more slowly in physics than men. In fact, she argues, larger problems – notably institutional bias and poor policies – are to blame.

Don’t miss either our cover feature on the stunning images Cassini has been beaming back over the last few months before it plunges into Saturn on 15 September. We’ve also got a great Lateral Thoughts article by Daniel Whiteson, illustrated by PHD Comics artist Jorge Cham. Plus, find out how groups of cells move, communicate and organize themselves in networks.

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

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A century ago Einstein sparked the notion of the laser

Another brilliant idea: laser beams illuminate fog (Courtesy: CC BY 2.0/ Jeff Keyzer)

Another brilliant idea: laser beams illuminate fog. (CC BY 2.0/ Jeff Keyzer)

By Philip Ball 

I just got back from having my broken wrist X-rayed (it’s doing fine, thanks), and noticed that a laser beam was used to position and align the X-ray source. Hardly the most sophisticated use of these optical devices, it’s true, but a little reminder that there’s probably hardly a day goes by in the life of an average urbanite without the laser’s beam of coherent photons impinging on it. From supermarket barcode scanning to broadband fibre-optic telecommunications, lasers are everywhere.

The fundamental idea behind this mainstay of modern life was published one hundred years ago by Albert Einstein. But blink and you’ll miss it in his seminal paper, “The quantum theory of radiation”, published in German in Physikalische Zeitschrift 18 121 (English translation here). Einstein is trying to work out what Max Planck’s “quantum hypothesis” – that the energy of an oscillator must take discrete values equal to some integer multiple of the oscillation frequency times a constant h – implies for the way light interacts with matter.

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The quest to create metallic hydrogen

Image of Isaac Silvera

Pressure experts: Isaac Silvera (right) together with Ranga Dias.

By Michael Banks

A team led by Isaac Silvera at Harvard University hit the headlines earlier this year when it claimed to have been the first to create metallic hydrogen. Silvera, who will be giving an invited talk about metallic hydrogen at the Chinese Physical Society meeting at Sichuan University (7–9 September), outlines the challenges in working with the material and what future applications it may have. The event is co-sponsored by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World.

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LIGO–Virgo comments on neutron star rumours, sort of

Caught in the act: has LIGO-Virgo detected merging neutron stars? (Courtesy: NASA)

Caught in the act: has LIGO–Virgo detected merging neutron stars? (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

Have gravitational waves from merging neutron stars been detected for the first time?

Physicists working on the LIGO and Virgo gravitational-wave detectors have issued a statement that appears to be a response to rumours that both gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation from an astronomical event have been detected.

LIGO has already detected gravitational waves from three different binary black-hole mergers. But none of these events appeared to emit electromagnetic radiation that could be detected by astronomers using telescopes on Earth or in space.

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America’s night in a day

August 2017 total solar eclipse

Day’s night: the Great American Eclipse. (Courtesy: Tami Freeman)

By Sarah Tesh

On Monday 21 August, the US witnessed some unusual events. Day turned to night, temperatures dropped as much as 6 °C, animals behaved weirdly and street lights came on in the middle of the day – all because a vast, 115 km-wide shadow swept across the land.

This was, of course, a solar eclipse – where the Moon passed in front of the Sun casting a shadow on Earth. Millions watched with special glasses, home-made pin-hole cameras, digital cameras, and – in the case of scientists – satellites and telescopes.

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The American eclipse: wonder, science and festivities

 

by David Appell in Salem, Oregon, US

The Moon partially blocks the Earth’s view of the Sun at least twice, but the 21 August total solar eclipse – the “Great American Eclipse” –  is “likely to be the single most viewed natural phenomenon in history of America”, according to Randall Milstein, an astronomy instructor at Oregon State University. He says a total of 324 million people live within a 9-hour drive of the path of totality.

While the total solar eclipse will span the US – the first to do so since 1891 – the UK will only see a slight partial eclipse, where a sliver of the Moon covers the Sun. Starting over Belfast at 7:37 p.m. BST and leaving Plymouth at 8:33 p.m. BST, this partial eclipse will extend to eastern continental Europe. But it will only be a 4% blockage at best – so be sure to use eclipse safety glasses!

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Documentary explores the history of astronomy in China

 

By James Dacey

A new documentary explores the development of astronomy in China, taking viewers from the protoscience of ancient China through to the nation’s ambitious space exploration programmes of today. Directed by Beijing-based filmmaker René Seegers, the film has recently been broadcast on Shanghai Television along with screenings at a range of academic institutions, cultural and scholarly societies and embassies throughout China. Now, you can watch the film on the Physics World YouTube channel (with English subtitles).

“The Ancient Chinese believed that Heaven was a power, or a deity, which judged humans. Heaven was responsible for weather and for natural disasters. It was not a realm accessible to humans,” explains Ying Da, the documentary’s presenter. Ying is a media personality who shot to fame in China for directing the family sitcom I Love My Family (1993–1994).

Of course, in recent times Chinese scientists and engineers have taken a much more proactive approach to understanding the cosmos. Since the People’s Republic of China launched its first satellite in 1970 (Dong Fang Hong I), the nation has been ramping up its space programmes. The documentary takes viewers to observatories and the final construction phase of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), the largest single-dish radio telescope on Earth. It also joins Chinese scientists in Antarctica and explores the leading role China is playing in the construction and operation of the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii.

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America counts down to the big eclipse

Section of NASA's 2017 Earth Day poster depicting the solar eclipse

Night in day: the Sun will be temporarily blocked from view. (Courtesy: NASA)

By David Appell in Salem, Oregon, US

On Monday 21 August tens of millions of people will view one of the most remarkable phenomena available on Earth – a total solar eclipse. The shadow created as the Moon blocks out the Sun will sweep across the US in the middle of the day and I’ve been looking forward to it since I learned of it six years ago.

I’m one of the lucky ones – I live in Salem, Oregon, which lies within the eclipse’s 10 km-wide path of totality. Along this path, day will turn dark for about two minutes and the flare of the Sun’s corona will become visible. Birds will roost, crickets will begin to chirp, the temperature will fall about 5 °C, and people will likely gape in awe as humans have no doubt done since our species first began.

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