Category Archives: General
By Susan Curtis in Baltimore, US
At the 59th annual meeting of the Biophysical Society today, Rommie Amaro of the University of California, San Diego, highlighted the power of computational methods to speed up the discovery of new drugs to treat diseases as diverse as flu and cancer. Amaro focused on a recent project conducted while she was at the University of California, Irvine, to identify compounds that could play a vital role in future anti-cancer drugs by helping to reactive a molecule called p53 that is known to inhibit the formation of cancer cells.
By Susan Curtis in Baltimore, US
I’m in Baltimore this week for the 59th annual meeting of the Biophysical Society. The field of biophysics has grown rapidly in recent years as physics-based techniques have opened up new ways to study and understand biological processes, but with my limited knowledge of biology I was nervous that I would feel a little out of my depth.
The first talk of the “New and Notable” symposium helped to allay my fears. Michelle Wang is a physicist at Cornell University in the US who exploits optical techniques to trap and manipulate biomolecules. While established methods can only trap a single biomolecule at a time, Wang and her colleagues have pioneered the use of nanophotonic structures that can trap multiple biomolecules in a standing wave created within an optical waveguide.
“Our optical-trapping innovation reduces bench-top optics to a small device on a chip,” Wang told physicsworld.com when the team first reported their so-called nanophotonic standing-wave array trap last year. Since then, Wang and her colleagues have been working to integrate fluorescent markers with the nanophotonic trap to track the position of individual biomolecules, and have also been experimenting with optical waveguide materials other than silicon to improve performance and enable new applications.
By Michael Banks
Fancy having a few pints while gazing at the stars? Well soon you will be able to, thanks to a new initiative at the Barge Inn at Honeystreet on the banks of the Kennet and Avon canal in Wiltshire, UK.
Known as “the most famous pub in the universe”, the boozer is already a favourite among UFO aficionados and crop-circle hunters.
But now the free house, which has its own brewery making beers such as Alien Abduction and Roswell, is turning to the stars by creating the UK’s first pub observatory.
The 205-year-old rural pub recently had planning permission accepted by Wiltshire county council for a 6 m-tall domed observatory to be constructed in the pub’s neighbouring campsite.
Dubbed the Honeystreet Observatory, it will be able to accommodate groups of about twenty people and will feature a Celestron 14″ 1400 Pro telescope. The images from the telescope will also be relayed onto screens in the pub.
It is hoped that the observatory will boost visitors, particularly in the winter months when there is less daylight and more time for observations – and drinking, of course.
“We had originally intended to build the observatory next year but due to the great
response since gaining planning consent, construction will commence next
month.” pub landlord Ian McIvor told physicsworld.com.
And will it be a good idea to mix alcohol with astronomy, particularly with the tricky ascent to the telescope? “You would be amazed at what some of the pub’s customers can accomplish after a few pints,” adds McIvor. “Gazing at the stars and falling down the stairs is a regular activity, so we think it will be business as usual!”
By Matin Durrani
If you think that writing a great feature article about physics is easy, think again. You want something that’s pitched at the right level for the audience. You’ve got to avoid jargon and explain technical terms where necessary. You can’t go on and on – you’re not trying to rewrite Wikipedia.
Most importantly, you need to tell a good story and say something new, different and intriguing. And remember, your readers could switch off at any point, so the article has to be well written, flow well from point to point, have plenty of colour and, ideally, have some pay-off or punch-line at the end. No point just trailing off into nothingness. Oh, and good pictures, headlines and captions are a must.
So I’m sure you’ll join me in congratulating my colleague Louise Mayor – features editor of Physics World magazine – who has won this year’s European Astronomy Journalism Prize for an article she wrote for the October 2014 edition of the magazine. Her winning article is entitled “Hunting gravitational waves using pulsars” and looks at efforts to detect gravitational waves using radio telescopes to observe distant pulsars.
By Matin Durrani
It’s now more than 40 years since the last person set foot on the Moon, but since then we’ve come to realize that the lunar surface is not only home to plenty of rare-earth elements, such as lanthanum and neodynium, but also to more than a billion tonnes of water-ice at the poles. Several US firms in fact have bold plans to mine those resources, as the cover story of the February issue of Physics World magazine makes clear.
One idea is to electrolyse the water into hydrogen and oxygen that could be used as a fuel source for operations on the Moon. Even more boldly, the water ice could be shipped to low Earth orbit, where it could be used to fuel space craft sent up from Earth. To find out more about whether those plans are realistic, do check out the February issue, which is now out online and through our app.
By Margaret Harris
It’s pretty easy to see why the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) wanted to stage a play about J Robert Oppenheimer. There is definitely a bit of Macbeth in the way this ambitious, aloof theoretical physicist rose to become the scientific leader of the Manhattan Project during the Second World War. Equally, there’s a hint of Caesar or Lear in Oppenheimer’s eventual downfall, which came thanks to a toxic combination of political intrigue and his own arrogance.
The parallels between “Oppie” and Shakespeare’s tragic heroes were highlighted on Saturday, when a group of physicists and artists gathered on stage at the RSC’s Swan Theatre for a panel discussion on “Oppenheimer and the Bomb”. The discussion was part of a programme of events related to the RSC’s production of Oppenheimer, a new play written by Tom Morton-Smith and based on Oppenheimer’s life in the 1930s and 40s. During the discussion, one of the panel members, director Angus Jackson, called Oppenheimer “a play about leadership” as much as science, noting that the leadership conflicts that Oppenheimer experienced were “comparable” to those of the heroes in the RSC’s traditional repertoire.
By Michael Banks
Yesterday evening I went to the Royal Society in London to hear what the three main political parties in the UK have to say about science. The event was held because in May voters in the UK will be heading to the polls to choose their next government. The three parties had therefore sent their main science representatives to the Royal Society to spell out their intentions.
Chairing the debate was space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock of University College, London. She had the unenviable task of keeping science minister Greg Clarke (Conservative), Liberal Democrat science spokesperson Julian Huppert, and shadow universities, science and skills minister Liam Byrne (Labour) in check. For non-UK readers, it’s worth pointing out that the Conservatives have been in coalition with the Liberal Democrats since 2010.
By Louise Mayor
Did you manage to solve Physics World’s festive puzzle, published last month? In case you missed it, take a look at part 1 and part 2 and see how you fare. The puzzle was created for Physics World by Colin of the UK’s Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), whose full identity cannot be revealed.
Spoiler alert: the solution in full is posted below.
By James Dacey
In what could be described as the West Country’s answer to Diwali, the city of Bath in the UK has just hosted an eight-day festival of light, featuring colourful public artworks based on lighting technologies. “Illuminate 2015″ was one of the first events on the calendar in this International Year of Light, the UNESCO-supported celebration of light science and its applications. I popped along to the event last Thursday to find out what it was all about and I’ve put together this short film, which includes the event’s creative director Anthony Head explaining what the festival is all about.
“It’s a subtle introduction to experimenting with science,” says Head, referring to the fact that many of the exhibits are interactive and involve some playful experimentation. One such exhibit, called “Light Painting”, invited the general public to create images that were then projected onto some of the local buildings. Another exhibit, called “Sonic: Sullis”, enabled people to create sounds and light projections by simply disturbing water contained in a box.
By Matin Durrani
The first issue of Physics World magazine of 2015 is now out online and through our app.
As I outline in the video above, this issue looks at the challenges of synthesizing artificial human voices. Another feature explores the little-known Jesuits who boosted astronomy in China in the 17th century. And don’t miss our exclusive interviews with Fabiola Gianotti, who takes over from Rolf-Dieter Heuer as director-general of the CERN particle-physics lab early next year, and with Mark Levinson, the former physicist who directed the film Particle Fever about what particle physicists get up to.
We also have a fascinating feature about how you can help in understanding cosmic rays simply using your mobile phone. While most “citizen-science” projects involve people analysing data collected by “real” scientists, two new apps will let you collect data using your phone itself. Indeed, the people behind one of the apps think we’d need just 825,000 phones to gather as much data as are obtained using the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina.