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Probing the quantum nature of water

 

By James Dacey in Beijing on Friday 4 November

After enjoying clear blue skies for the first couple of days of my visit to Beijing, the breeze has disappeared and the smog has taken its hold. One local scientist told me this latest wave is due to pollution from factories south-west of the city, but others have told me it is difficult to pinpoint a particular source. Facemasks are being worn by every other person in the streets, but fortunately I’ve been sheltered by the walls and ceilings of Peking University (PKU).

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Robots at arXiv, physicist runs for US president, Einstein emojis galore

 

Preprint pioneer: Paul Ginsparg in 2002, long before arXiv received 10,000 papers per month (Courtesy: MacArthur Foundation)

Preprint pioneer: Paul Ginsparg in 2002, long before arXiv received 10,000 papers per month. (Courtesy: MacArthur Foundation)

By Hamish Johnston

Last month the arXiv preprint server received more than 10,000 papers – the first time in the history of the physics paper depository. While arXiv papers are not peer reviewed, they are checked to ensure that they are “of interest, relevance and value” to the scientific community – which arXiv promises to do within 24 h of submission. So how do they do it? Surely someone doesn’t read every word of every paper? The answer can be found in “What counts as science?”, which appears in Nautilus. arXiv was set up in 1991 by the physicist Paul Ginsparg, who explains how the service uses machine learning to sort the wheat from the chaff – something that has attracted controversy.

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Science elevator pitches in Beijing

 

By James Dacey in Beijing

Could you provide a short entertaining presentation of your research to a non-specialist audience, leaving them feeling both enlightened and inspired? How about trying to do it in a non-native tongue? That’s what several Chinese researchers did on Wednesday evening at the Science Slam event at the European Delegation headquarters in Beijing. The event was part of a day-long communications training workshop aimed at researchers who want to communicate their research to the general public and improve their ability to apply for research grants.

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Physics of food – the November 2016 issue of Physics World is now out

 

By Matin Durrani

If you love crisps – and frankly who doesn’t? – you’ll relish the cover feature of the latest issue of Physics World, in which features editor Louise Mayor tours the world’s biggest crisp factory at Leicester in the UK to see how physics is improving production of this yummy salty snack. The issue is now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop and will also be made available on physicsworld.com later this month.

Elsewhere in this special issue on physics and food, you can find out how electric fields could help to cut the fact from chocolate and discover why sound holds the key to our appreciation of what we eat.

You can also see how physicists – being masters of data-gathering, modelling and simulation – are ideally placed to develop products that are healthier, more nutritious and make more of our resources. Find out too how soft-matter physicists are crafting “functional” foods that promote feelings of fullness and satisfaction.

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Computing in a chilly Beijing

Peking University campus

Peking University campus.

By James Dacey

Today is my first day in Beijing and boy am I glad I packed my winter coat. Despite the clear blue skies, it was just above freezing point as I arrived at the Beijing Computational Science Research Center (CSRC) this morning, with an icy wind bringing an added chill factor. I was with my IOP Publishing colleague Tom Miller as we were delivering a presentation about scientific publishing and journalism and our taxi driver decided that 2 km from the venue was as far as he fancied going. So a brisk walk later we arrived with chattering teeth in need of a thorough thaw.

Located a few kilometres north-west of Beijing’s centre, the CSRC is within the Zhongguancun hi-tech zone. The majority of buildings within the technology hub are occupied by commercial firms, and our icy walk took us past the impressive modern offices of Baidu and Lenovo among other companies. The CSRC, however, is focused primarily on the application of computational modelling to fundamental science research. Its seven divisions include physical systems, quantum physics & quantum information, and materials & energy.

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3D cosmic-microwave background, iPhone paper and Dance Your PhD winner

By Michael Banks

It might look like a kind of dumpling at first sight, but upon closer inspection the eagle eyed might spot that it is actually a 3D version of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the thermal remnant of the Big Bang that came into being when the universe was only 380 000 years old. The model was created by physicist Dave Clements from Imperial College London who says that detailed maps of the CMB – created by space telescopes such as the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite – are difficult to view in 2D. Continue reading

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A toe-tally terrific trio

Photo of three Chatty Feet socks

Toe to toe: the three ChattyFeet physicist designs.

By Matin Durrani

It’s not even Halloween yet and Physics World HQ has already received its first gift ideas for the Christmas season. Now most of us might roll our eyes if we were given a pair of socks for Christmas, but the footwear sent to us by UK firm ChattyFeet – slogan “Let the socks do the talkin'” – are sure to bring a smile to any physicist’s face.

The company has three different physics-related sock designs on offer, each depicting a cartoon image of a famous physicist and branded with a toe-totally amusing name. First up is a fetching blue number dubbed “Stephen Toeking” with the washing instruction: “Choose a slow spinning cycle to avoid a black hole.”

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Frightening physics films, a furry physics doodle and an epic pub crawl

Magnetic attraction: scary physics (Courtesy: Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Ana Kova)

(Courtesy: Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Ana Kova)

By Hamish Johnston

There are still 10 days to go until Halloween, but some physicists can’t resist getting into the spirit a bit early. Over at Symmetry, Kathryn Jepsen suggests a few scary physics films that would make for a spooky movie night on 31 October. They’re not actually real films, but rather a series of posters dreamt up at Chicago’s Sandbox Studio in collaboration with the illustrator Ana Kova. My favourite is Poltergauss (right), because trying to understand magnetism is terrifying.

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Music for aliens, Doctor Strange’s science adviser, the physics of Bob Dylan

Sounds of Earth: An original golden record (Courtesy: NASA)

Sounds of Earth: An original golden record. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

An online initiative to reissue Carl Sagan’s golden record, which was attached to NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 craft, has so far raised a whopping $1.1m, smashing its $198,000 goal. The campaign was created in September by David Pescovitz, editor and managing partner at the technology news site Boing Boing, after teaming up with Timothy Daly from Amoeba Music in the US, who was the original producer of the record, as well as US graphic designer Lawrence Azerrad. The original LP, which was created in 1977, contains sounds of the Earth along with recorded greetings and a mix of music, and has been unobtainable for decades, having been available only on CD-ROM in the early 1990s. Now that the cash has been raised, the golden record will be released next year as an LP to mark the 40th anniversary of the Voyager launches. So how much will it set you back? It’s yours for only $98, what a bargain.

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Highlights from Ada Lovelace Day 2016

Portrait of Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace (1848): considered to be the first computer programmer.

By James Dacey

Today is Ada Lovelace Day (ALD), a day to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Named after the 19th-century polymath Ada Lovelace, the annual initiative also seeks to engage with the challenges of attracting more women into STEM careers and supporting career development. Now in its eighth year, the day includes a number of events and online activities.

The day will culminate in a few hours with Ada Lovelace Day Live!, a “science cabaret” event at the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London (18:30–21:30, tickets still available). In what promises to be “an entertaining evening of geekery, comedy and music”, the all-female line-up includes several scientists from the physical sciences. Among them is Sheila Kanani, a planetary physicist and science comedian who is the education, outreach and diversity officer for the Royal Astronomical Society in London.

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