Category Archives: General
By Matin Durrani
For anyone living or travelling beyond the Arctic Circle, it’s going to be pretty cold and dark right now, which means it’s hard to imagine what impact climate change could have on the flora and fauna of this remote region.
But as our cover story explains, a hardy band of researchers has spent the past three summers travelling to the far north-west of Finland to find out the effects of warming conditions on the area. Joining them in August for us was Liz Kalaugher, editor of environmentalresearchweb – a website produced by IOP Publishing to complement its open-access journal Environmental Research Letters. Her first-hand account of the trip was supported by a science-journalism fellowship from the European Geosciences Union.
If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can access the entire new issue 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.
Elsewhere in the December issue, we have a feature by Martin Fischer from Duke University in the US on how the laser-based technique of pump-probe microscope has been used to map the distribution of lapis-lazuli pigment in Puccio Capanna’s 14th-century masterpiece The Crucifixion.
By Tushna Commissariat
Earlier this week I went to hear a talk about mathematics…and The Simpsons. That’s right, I am indeed referring to the long-running animated TV show that is a satirical parody of middle-class American life and its unexpected but concrete mathematical vein. Surprising as it may sound, some of show’s scriptwriters have degrees in maths and physics, meaning that some very advanced concepts, problems and ideas from all of 20th-century mathematics and physics are littered around many of the show’s 535 episodes. Regular Physics World readers will have already seen that we have released the shortlist for our Book of the Year 2013 and that physicist and science communicator Simon Singh’s latest offering – The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets – is one of 10 books on the list. I had the happy job of reading and reviewing Singh’s book for our “Between the lines: Christmas special” section in the December issue of the magazine.
By Margaret Harris
As the year draws to a close, it’s time for Physics World to dig into its cabinet full of popular-physics volumes, pore over the reviews and decide which of the 59 books we covered in 2013 deserves to be our pick for the year’s best.
As we did last year, we’ve begun by selecting a shortlist of the 10 books that most closely meet our award criteria, which are that the winning book must be novel, scientifically interesting and (of course) well written. This required us to make some tough choices: although many books fulfilled two of our requirements, fewer could claim high marks in all three areas.
The books on the 2013 shortlist are an eclectic group, reflecting the “big tent” nature of physics in recent times. They include popular-science works on biophysics, bombs and a seriously important boson, plus vivid biographies of two very different figures from the history of physics. And we are fairly certain that ours is the only “best books” list you’ll ever see that pits a scholarly argument about the nature of time up against a fan-friendly look at mathematics in the animated TV show The Simpsons.
By Margaret Harris
It’s been a good year for particle-physics prizes, and the Higgs-stravaganza continued last night in London as the cosmologist and author Sean Carroll walked away with the £25,000 Royal Society Winton Prize for his book The Particle at the End of the Universe.
Carroll’s book – which includes a behind-the-scenes account of how the Higgs boson was discovered, as well as explanations of the Higgs field and other concepts – was the “unanimous” choice of the prize’s five-member judging panel. Uta Frith, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at University College London and the judging panel’s chair, called The Particle at the End of the Universe “a real rock star of a book,” and cited Carroll’s energy and passion for his subject among the reasons why it beat out the five other books on the shortlist.
By Michael Banks
Here is an example of how to condense four years’ worth of space observations into just a minute.
The animation above, which was created by Pedro Gómez-Alvarez of the European Space Agency (ESA), shows a timeline of more than 37,000 scientific observations made by ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory.
The video runs from Herschel’s launch on 14 May 2009 until the infrared observatory made its last observation on 29 April 2013 as the craft’s detectors ran out of coolant.
Herschel – a far-infrared and submillimetre telescope – had two main goals: to study star formation in our galaxy; and galaxy formation across the universe.
Named after the German-born astronomer who in 1781 discovered Uranus, the probe carried a 3.5 m-diameter mirror – the largest to be deployed in space – and investigated light with wavelengths of 55–670 µm.
The craft was placed in an area of space some 1.5 million kilometres further out from the Sun beyond the Earth. Known as Lagrange point L2, it is where a space probe can usefully hover, little disturbed by stray signals from home and without having to use much fuel to keep it in position.
You can find some of the incredible images taken by Herschel at ESA’s multimedia gallery.
By Hamish Johnston
We’ve all had a friend who does it – you’re deep in conversation at a party, beer bottle in hand, when someone sneaks up and taps the top of your bottle with theirs, causing a foamy mess to erupt from your bottle. And to add insult to injury, their bottle doesn’t foam.
Now, physicists in Spain and France have studied this curious effect and gained a better understanding of how it occurs. While their work won’t prevent wet shoes and slippery floors at university social gatherings, the researchers believe their work could provide insights into geological features such as oil reservoirs, mud volcanoes and “exploding lakes”.
By Hamish Johnston
There is a fascinating paper this week in Nature Physics about chaotic behaviour that has been spotted in a ferroelectric material. It’s an unexpected discovery that the researchers claim could lead to the development of computers that resemble the human brain.
The story begins with Anton Ievlev and colleagues at Oak Ridge National Lab in the US using the tip of a scanning probe microscope (SPM) to draw patterns on the surface of a ferroelectric material. Ferroelectrics have a spontaneous electric polarization, the direction of which can be reversed by applying an electric field.
By Tushna Commissariat
In June we reported that physicists working on the BESIII experiment in Beijing and the Belle experiment in Tsukuba, Japan found evidence for a new “charged charmonium” called Zc(3900). A “charged charmonium” is a particle that is made of four quarks – something that had never been seen before. Since that discovery, the BESIII collaboration says it has made “a rapid string of related discoveries” of four-quark particles. “While quarks have long been known to bind together in groups of twos or threes, these new results seem to be quickly opening the door to a previously elusive type of four-quark matter,” says Frederick Harris, spokesman for the BESIII experiment. “The unique data sample collected by the BESIII collaboration has continued to yield a stream of clues about the nature of multi-quark objects.”
By Hamish Johnston
Just in time for Christmas, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have unveiled the ultimate “cocktail accessory”. It’s an edible self-propelled boat that whizzes around on the surface of an alcoholic drink.