Category Archives: General
By Michael Bishop
In the 60 years since James Watson and Francis Crick brought physics and biology together to unveil the molecular structure of DNA, the boundary between the two disciplines has continued to become increasingly blurred.
In this post-genomic era, ever more principles from physics have been applied to living systems in an attempt to understand complexity at all levels.
Yet cultural differences still exist between physicists and biologists, as is made clear in a set of excellent perspectives in the journal Physical Biology, published by IOP Publishing, which also publishes Physics World.
In “Perspectives on working at the physics–biology interface”, a group of eminent scientists give their accounts of working at the interface of physics and biology, describing the opportunities that have presented themselves and outlining some of the problems that they continue to face when working across two fields with quite different traditions.
By Matin Durrani
I’ve now returned to the UK from my visit to the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, which has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding. As part of those celebrations, the ICTP has created a special half-hour video documentary (above), which shows how scientists in various parts of the globe have not only furthered their own careers through visits to the ICTP, but have also used that experience to improve science back in their home countries
The video, which I watched in Trieste, features scientists from everywhere from Nepal to Cuba, from Ethiopa to Peru, and from Cameroon to China – and, of course, Pakistan itself where the ICTP’s founder Abdus Salam was from. Entitled From Theory to Reality: ICTP at 50, it was made by Italian film-maker Nicole Leghissa, who spent two months travelling around the world to the locations seen in the film.
Matin Durrani in Trieste, Italy
It’s now my third day here at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in grand style. Two days ago we had a marvellous seven-course dinner at Duino Castle, including a hugely spectacular fruit-laden golden-jubilee cake, while yesterday there was a possibly even more sumptuous eight-course dinner hosted by the city that has been home to the centre for half a century.
But pervading all the events has been Abdus Salam, the Pakistani Nobel-prize-winning theoretical physicist who set up the centre in 1964. We know pretty much what Salam did from a scientific point of view, which was celebrated in his 1979 Nobel prize for unifying the weak and electromagnetic forces, but what exactly was he like as a person?
By Robert P Crease
I’m fascinated by the interactions between science and culture, which is what led me to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which was hosting the US première of a dance piece called Quantum that had previously debuted where it had been created, at CERN. The event was staged in a simple, black-box space, with the audience seated around a square floor in three rows with no proscenium. But it was an upscale black box, with elegant seating upholstered in a blue-and-gold metallic sheen. Four industrial lights were suspended from the ceiling by long cables.
By Susan Curtis
This week, several of us from IOP Publishing have been visiting the north-east of Brazil. Our prime focus has been the annual meeting of the Brazilian Materials Research Society in João Pessoa, where we launched a new Science Impact report highlighting materials research in Brazil. But during the week I travelled to Natal with my colleague Sarah Andrieu to visit Alvaro Ferraz, director of the International Institute of Physics (IIP).
By Matin Durrani in Trieste, Italy
It was a small touch, but certainly quite surprising.
To kick off the opening session of the 50th-anniversary meeting of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), no-one spoke. Instead, the lights were dimmed until the audience was sitting in total darkness. Then emerged the voice of the ICTP’s founding father – the Pakistani theorist Abdus Salam, who died in 1996 – as a film started rolling on the screen at the front of the lecture hall. This was followed by a series of short video messages from selected physicists from around the world who benefited from the support of the ICTP early in their careers. As one physicist put it, the ICTP was “the launching pad” for their career. “It is a rare opportunity that so many people dream about,” added another.
By Matin Durrani in Trieste, Italy
When the Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam founded the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) here in Trieste in 1964, I am sure he would have never quite dared to believe that it would go on to be such a success in helping to further the careers of some of the brightest minds from the developing world. Salam’s dream was for the ICTP to be a focal point for talented theorists from countries seeking to build up their research strengths, bringing such people into contact with leading physicists from front-ranking nations to carry out top-quality collaborative projects.
Now, 50 years after it began, the ICTP is hosting a golden-jubilee conference, where it is quite rightly celebrating all that it has achieved – and looking ahead to the future too.
By Hamish Johnston
Update on 16 October 2014: The 2014 prize has been added to the infographic.
At 11.45 a.m. CET (at the earliest) on Tuesday 7 October, the winner(s) of the 108th Nobel Prize for Physics will be announced in Stockholm. Like just about everyone else, I have no information about who will win – although I do have my suspicions (more on those tomorrow).
Predicting the future is never easy, but help is at hand with a new infographic that Physics World has created charting the history of the physics Nobel by discipline. Using the categories that we apply to articles on physicsworld.com, we have split the 107 prizes since 1901 into seven categories. If you click on the image above, you can see the infographic in all its glory.
The most popular discipline with Nobel committees through the ages is nuclear and particle physics, which accounts for nearly one-third of the prizes. As well as dominating the prizes in the 1950s and 1960s, nuclear and particle physics spreads its tentacles from the very first prize – to Wilhelm Röntgen for the discovery of X-rays – to last year’s prize, which went to François Englert and Peter Higgs for predicting a much more esoteric boson.
Interestingly, that very first prize in 1901 flags up an important challenge I faced while categorizing the prizes using contemporary disciplines. You could argue that when Röntgen discovered X-rays, he was doing atomic physics. Indeed, some of those X-rays would have come from atomic processes, while others would have been bremsstrahlung – which I would consider particle physics. However, because Röntgen accelerated electrons into a target and analysed the radiation produced, I decided that it was a particle-physics experiment.
By Margaret Harris
Press releases are supposed to be attention-grabbing, but occasionally, I come across one that really goes the extra mile. That was the case this morning when – my eyes still a bit bleary, my coffee still un-drunk – I spotted a real doozy in my in-box.
“Are the world’s religions ready for ET?” the headline asked.
Some might regard this question as unimportant. Even if you care about the official views of religious groups (and many people – including some religious people – do not), their opinions about life on other planets are surely less relevant to daily life than their guidelines on, say, human morality. After all, if extraterrestrial life does exist, it is an awfully long way away: the nearest star system to ours, Alpha Centauri, is more than four light-years off, and astronomers do not regard it as a good candidate for habitable planets. So, if extraterrestrial life is ever discovered, the Earth’s religions will have plenty of time to get used to it before it causes them any practical problems down at the local synagogue, mosque, temple or church (“Baptismal Ceremony ET: For alien life forms unable to answer for themselves”).
By Matin Durrani
There’s some great material in the October issue of Physics World, which is out now in print and digital formats. Highlights include a look at Europe’s Rosetta mission, which is set to land a probe on a comet for the very first time, an analysis of whether pulsars could be used to detect gravitational waves, and a great feature by University of Maryland physicist James Gates, who insists that although CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has so far seen no signs of supersymmetry, the search for SUSY must go on.
Another great article in the issue is by my colleague Margaret Harris, who is Physics World‘s careers editor. She’s written an in-depth study of what we’re dubbing the “STEM shortage paradox”. This is the curious fact that many employers in the UK say they are struggling to find enough good people with science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM) backgrounds, whereas at the same time lots of physics graduates are finding it hard to get jobs. So is there a really a “STEM shortage”, or do STEM graduates have the wrong skills, aren’t good enough or want to work in other fields? In the video above, Margaret outlines her motivations for writing the article.