In search of calmness – stuck in traffic in São Paulo.
By Susan Curtis in São Carlos
Sitting in one of São Paulo’s famous traffic jams as part of the Physics World fact-finding mission, we slowly turned into a road named after Order e Progresso (Order and Progress), the motto that forms a key element of the Brazilian national flag. I couldn’t help smiling, because there wasn’t much order on the roads, and precious little progress either.
The crazy traffic in Brazil’s largest city is just one reason why many physicists prefer to be stationed in the University of São Paulo (USP)’s science and engineering campus in São Carlos, some 200 km north-east of the mega-city.
Sean Carroll, winner of the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for science books.
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.
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.
Happy days – Nathan Berkovits enjoying life at the new ICTP South American Institute for Fundamental Research.
By Matin Durrani in São Paulo
Today was the second day of the Physics World trip to Brazil and I flew from Rio de Janeiro down the coast to São Paulo, which is about an hour’s flight away. After yesterday’s disappointingly poor weather in Rio, things aren’t any better further south – in fact, it’s probably raining even more heavily today.
São Paulo is the largest urban area in South America, as becomes obvious from the forest of tower blocks that you skirt over on approaching the city’s downtown airport.
But the city is also, according to US-born string theorist Nathan Berkovits, an enjoyable place to live. In fact, Berkovits has an extra reason to like the place – having worked at the São Paulo State University (UNESP) for almost two decades, he was last year appointed acting director of a new theoretical-physics institute that’s already one of the leading places of its kind in South America.
A foamy mess in the making. (Courtesy: Javier Rodríguez-Rodríguez)
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”.
Well, sadly, I’ve had to make do with just two out of the three as it’s been distinctly cloudy, rainy and cool since I flew in to the Brazilian metropolis yesterday at the start of a week in the world’s fifth largest country (by both size and population).
Is this a nascent memcomputer? (Courtesy: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)
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.
The “Collider” exhibition at London’s Science Museum. (Courtesy: Jennie Hills / Science Museum)
By Matin Durrani and Tushna Commissariat
If you’re in the tiny minority of people whose job title says “particle physicist”, chances are you’ll have been to CERN at least once in your career to help build a detector, analyse some collision data or muse in the cafeteria over supersymmetry (or the apparent lack of it so far). But for the rest of the world, going to the Geneva lab is simply not on the agenda, which is one reason why the Science Museum in London has this week unveiled a big new exhibition devoted to CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. Entitled simply Collider, the exhibition “blends theatre, video and sound art with real artefacts from CERN” that will, say organizers, “recreate a visit to the famous particle-physics laboratory”.
Family of four? (Courtesy: Shutterstock/paul_june)
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.”