Category Archives: General
By James Dacey
Physicists today are faced with a multitude of options when it comes to accessing and sharing information with each other. Research collaborations are becoming increasingly international, bringing both opportunities and challenges with communication. There are ever-growing numbers of ways of accessing journal papers. And it seems that every other day sees the arrival of some shiny new social-media site for sharing and discussing the latest developments.
IOP Publishing (which publishes physicsworld.com) has teamed up with the Research Information Network (RIN) to try to improve our understanding of how information practices are changing in the physical sciences. You can help shape that understanding by taking our short survey. If you need a little sweetener, you will also be given the chance to enter a prize draw where you can win a $500 bursary to attend the academic conference of your choice. All in, the survey should take you about 10–15 minutes.
I caught up with Ellen Collins, a social researcher at RIN, to find out a bit more about what the project is designed to achieve.
By Hamish Johnston
An article in the Washington Post claims that the US National Security Agency (NSA) is funding research into how quantum computers could be used to crack cryptography systems. While the article claims to be based on leaked secret documents, the revelation doesn’t seem to surprise several of the physicists quoted in the piece.
Scott Aaronson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says that it’s unlikely that the NSA project is much further ahead of public quantum-computing research. His MIT colleague Seth Lloyd adds that it could be five years or more before the NSA or anyone else creates a quantum computer capable of breaking cryptographic systems.
Interestingly, Lloyd alludes to a space-race-like rivalry between the US, EU and Switzerland that is driving the development of code-busting quantum computers.
By Matin Durrani
Happy new year and welcome back to Physics World!
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, Peter Coles from the University of Sussex in the UK examines the implications of the data of the cosmic microwave background obtained by Europe’s Planck satellite.
There’s also a great article by science journalist Philip Ball, who looks at exactly why quantum computers are so fast – the speed is often put down to many calculations operating in parallel, but some theorists are not so sure. Meanwhile, Joshua Pearce from Michigan Technological University explains how physicists can contribute to open-source “appropriate technology” – devices that can be easily and cheaply built usiing materials and techniques available to people in developing nations.
By Margaret Harris
This is the second in a series of blog posts about “Lateral Thoughts”, Physics World’s long-running humour column. You can read the first one here.
The Lateral Thoughts column of humorous, off-beat or otherwise “lateral” essays has been part of Physics World ever since the magazine was launched in October 1988. In my previous post about the column’s history, I described some ways that Lateral Thoughts have changed since the early days (tl;dr version: loads of sexism, side order of class conflict). But in my trawl through the archive, I’ve also discovered that some things haven’t changed very much at all over the past quarter-century.
By Margaret Harris
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
I’ve been re-learning this lesson recently thanks to “Lateral Thoughts”, the column of humorous, off-beat or otherwise “lateral” essays that appears on the back page of Physics World each month. These articles are written by our readers and they have been part of the magazine ever since it was launched in October 1988. In fact, Lateral Thoughts is the only section of Physics World that has remained unaltered in its 25-year history.
Unaltered in its format, that is. But what about the actual content of the essays? Lateral Thoughts are not normally commissioned by members of the editorial team; instead, they’re selected from a pool of submissions sent in, unsolicited, by Physics World readers. Any shifts in style or subject matter should, therefore, tell us something about the way that the physics community has evolved over the years.
With this in mind, I began trawling through the archive of past Lateral Thoughts, looking for evidence of change. And boy, did I ever find it.
By Hamish Johnston
Things are winding down for the holidays at Physics World and this afternoon the team will be enjoying our Christmas lunch at a local brewpub. Hopefully they will have a festive ale or two on tap! To brighten up this festive blog, we have chosen this stunning image of the variable star RS Puppis as our Christmas picture. It was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and shows starlight reverberating through the foggy environment around the star.
By Michael Banks
From the world’s smallest video to the science behind foaming beer bottles, physics has had its fair share of interesting stories this year. Here is our pick of the best from the physicsworld.com blog.
The satirical Onion magazine once famously duped China’s People’s Daily newspaper into thinking that North Korea’s leader had been voted the sexiest man alive in 2012, but in February it seems to have failed to fool people that a spoof of former US energy secretary Steven Chu was true. “Hungover energy secretary wakes up next to solar panel” ran an Onion headline, reporting that after visiting a series of DC watering holes, Chu woke up the following morning next to a giant solar panel he had “met” that evening. “Chu’s encounter with the crystalline-silicon solar receptor was his most regrettable dalliance since 2009, when an extended fling with a 90-foot wind turbine nearly ended his marriage,” the Onion wrote. At least Chu saw the funny side of the story. In a post on his Facebook page he noted that the allegations had nothing to do with him stepping down as US energy secretary after four years in the role. “While I am not going to confirm or deny the charges specifically,” he wrote, “I will say that clean, renewable solar power is a growing source of US jobs and is becoming more affordable, so it’s no surprise that lots of Americans are falling in love with solar.”
By Michael Banks
Yesterday I joined more than 1000 people attending the day-long Nobel Week Dialogue event in Gothenburg, Sweden. The delegates battled the cold winter weather to make it to the Swedish Exhibition and Congress Centre, just south-east of the city centre (and next to a theme park, of all things).
This is the second such Nobel Week Dialogue and the first time it has been held in Gothenburg. Last year the theme for the event in Stockholm was the “genetic revolution” and this year it was on “exploring the future of energy”.
By Tami Freeman
Imaging plays a major role in a vast range of medical applications – from scanning patients for signs of disease, to guiding radiation treatments, to studying small animals in the quest to develop new drugs. And, as you’ll read in this latest Physics World focus issue, it is even being used to investigate how neural networks develop in babies’ brains before and just after birth.
Here’s a quick guide to what you can find in the focus issue on medical imaging:
• What goes on in babies’ brains? – How the latest magnetic-resonance-imaging techniques are being used to map brain connections in babies
• Nuclear-medicine techniques address small-animal imaging – Advances in high-performance molecular imaging
• OCT lines up for dermatology – Why the future is bright for optical coherence tomography in dermatology
• MRI enhances radiation treatment – Four research teams are working to create radiotherapy systems guided by magnetic resonance imaging
• Luminescence tracks oxygenation – Radiometric luminescence imaging could provide non-invasive monitoring of oxygen levels in tissues
There’s also a selection of research and industry news, as well as video interviews with some of the leading experts in the field.
By Margaret Harris
Physics World’s light-hearted quiz about the year in physics has occupied the back page of the December print edition every year since 2004 and this year, as we did last year, we’ve created an interactive online version. The 2013 quiz can be found here and although there’s no prize for getting a high score, you’ll be able to check your results once you’ve completed all of the 25 questions. Each question is based on an event or story that the magazine has reported on this year.