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Secrets of the solar system: the July 2016 issue of Physics World is now out

PWJul16cover-200By  Matin Durrani

Members of NASA’s Juno mission are bracing themselves for the final moments of the craft’s five-year-long journey to Jupiter, which will finally reach its quarry just a few days from now (late on 4 July in North America, early morning on 5 July in Europe). There’ll be an anxious, 40-minute period of radio silence as the spinning craft fires its thrusters and slows down enough to be captured by the gas giant’s gravity.

During that time, staff at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be waiting, nervously, for Juno’s instruments to flicker back on and allow data-taking to begin as the craft starts a year-long orbit of the planet.

For the inside story of Juno and what it hopes to achieve, don’t miss the July 2016 special issue of Physics World magazine – now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop. You can also read the article here.

Devoted to planetary science, the special issue includes amazing images from NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, an investigation into auroras on planets other than Earth, and an analysis of what we know about Vesta and Ceres – the two largest bodies in the main asteroid belt.

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A Nobel view on scientific leadership

Brian Schmidt speaks to young scientists in Lindau (Courtesy: Lindau Meeting)

Brian Schmidt speaks to young scientists in Lindau. (Courtesy: Lindau Meeting)

By Alaina G Levine, at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany

One of the best things about being at the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is that there are surprises around every corner. The organizers give you a programme, but you might not even realize the significance of an event until you are knee deep in it.

This morning, I attended one of four “Science Breakfasts” held this week, in which Nobel laureates and leaders in various industries share the stage and discuss topics of interest to the young scientists who have travelled from all over the world to participate in the meeting.

Over croissants and orange juice, the 2011 physics Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt took part in a lively discussion that itself was a mouthful: “Decoding science leadership: Developing capacity for leading innovation in a rapidly evolving 24/7 world with disruptive opportunities and challenges”.

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George Smoot on mapping the universe with gravity

Measuring the universe: George Smoot enthuses about gravitational waves

Measuring the universe: George Smoot enthuses about gravitational waves.

By Hamish Johnston at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany

Yesterday I was in a fantastic session with George Smoot, who shared the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics for discovering the anisotropy in the cosmic microwave background. He will be speaking today at the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting about another important astronomical discovery, the first direct detection of gravitational waves that was made by LIGO in September 2015. Waves that were created by the merger of two unexpectedly large black holes.

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Carlo Rubbia backs a Higgs factory and methane cracking

Good craic: Carlo Rubbia wants to have a crack at methane (Courtesy: Lindau Meeting)

Good craic: Carlo Rubbia wants to have a crack at methane. (Courtesy: Lindau Meeting)

By Hamish Johnston at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany

It’s my second day here at the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, and it has been a busy one so far.

I have just been chatting with Carlo Rubbia, who shared the 1984 Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of the W and Z particles.

Rubbia gave a fantastic talk yesterday about future sources of energy and he was eager to expand on this topic. In particular, he told me about a new technology he has been working on to produce energy from natural gas without releasing any carbon dioxide – a technique called “methane cracking“. While this sounds like a fantastic solution to climate change, at least in the short term, he admits there are lots of technical challenges to overcome.

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The fallout from Brexit for physics

Is the UK now a sinking ship? (Courtesy: iStock/NatanaelGinting)

Is the UK now a sinking ship? (Courtesy: iStock/NatanaelGinting)

By Matin Durrani, Editor, Physics World

Amid all the noise and recrimination following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union (EU) in last week’s national referendum by a majority of 52% to 48%, I was reminded of a comment that Nicola Clase – Sweden’s ambassador to Britain – made to Times columnist David Aaronovitch before the referendum. When he sought her views on a potential British exit from the EU (Brexit), Clase replied: “It’s like when a child desperately wants to pee in his pants and does it. At first there’s a feeling of relief and for a few moments it’s nice and warm. Then he’s just cold and wet.”

It was a flippant comment for sure, but not far wide off the mark. As a new week dawns, physicists in the UK – and beyond – are coming to terms with the enormity and liable consequences of the vote. A poll by Nature in March showed that the vast majority of UK scientists were overwhelmingly in support of the EU, with 83% saying “no” to an exit. Although, legally, the outcome of the referendum does not have to be acted upon, we can expect huge and completely unnecessary uncertainty over the next few months, if not longer.

Learned societies in the UK, such as the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World, as well as the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society, have been putting a brave face on the prospect of Britain quitting the EU. They underlined the importance of maintaining free movement of scientists to and from the UK, and ensuring British scientists continue to have access to EU research funds and EU-supported facilities. It will be great if those principles and policies remain in place – but there is no guarantee they will. In any case, why should the rest of the EU now want to bother making life easy for the UK as it negotiates a Brexit?

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Blue LEDs and a revolution in light

Morning in Lindau: great scenery and wonderful talks

Morning in Lindau: great scenery and wonderful talks.

By Hamish Johnston at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany

It has been a great morning of physics talks this morning here at the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Hiroshi Amano, who shared the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics for the development of the blue LED, spoke first about the practical aspects of his creation.

Electronic displays and low-energy lighting are two obvious applications for blue LEDs. Amano pointed out that LED lighting uses 1/8 the energy of incandescent bulbs and 1/2 that of fluorescent lights. But perhaps more importantly, he says that this low-energy operation means that light can be introduced to remote and poor parts of the world. This has the potential to boost education because it enables children in areas with no mains electricity to read and study at night.

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Talking about immigration with Nobel laureates in Lindau

Lakeside view: Lindau's harbour on Lake Constance

Lakeside view: Lindau’s harbour on Lake Constance.

By Hamish Johnston at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany

I arrived in the German town of Lindau yesterday evening expecting it to be a sleepy little burg where I would struggle to find somewhere open to get a bite to eat. Instead I was greeted at the station by a cacophony of car horns and singing as Germany had just beat Slovakia and claimed its place in the next round of the Euro 2016 football tournament.

I’m here in the far south of Germany for the 66th Nobel Laureate Meeting. Tomorrow I will be hosting a “press talk” about how immigration continues to shape the scientific world. Last week’s momentous decision by the UK to leave the European Union is sure to come up in the panel discussion, which will include input from two chemistry Nobel laureates – Martin Karplus and Daniel Shechtman. I will also be joined on the panel by two early-career physicists: Winifred Ayinpogbilla Atiah from Ghana and Ana Isabel Maldonado Cid from Spain.

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Cats and causality: is your moggy an Isaac Mewton?

Causal connection: are cats feline physicists? (Courtesy: CC BY/David Corby)

Causal connection: are cats feline physicists? (CC BY David Corby)

By Hamish Johnston

It’s been a very difficult week for some UK-based physicists for reasons that you can read about here. Therefore I thought this week’s Red Folder should be a bit of a tonic, so here’s a combination that’s guaranteed to put smile on even the glummest face: cats, physics and the Internet.

Cats seem to grasp the laws of physics,” at least according to Saho Takagi and colleagues at Kyoto University in Japan. It seems that our feline friends have a firm understanding of causality, as shown by their ability to recognize that an effect (an object falling out of an overturned container) is preceded by its cause (the noisy shaking of the object in the upright container). The cats quickly realized that a noisily shaken container would yield an object, but the silent shaking of an empty container would not.

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From physics degree to Hollywood

By James Dacey

Photo of Rob Pieké

Rob Pieké. (Courtesy: Manisha Lalloo)

This summer many of you will watch smoke billowing out of buildings as yet another villain wreaks havoc on the New York skyline in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. I’m willing to bet that as you eat your popcorn you won’t be thinking about the Navier–Stokes equations of fluid dynamics. (Well, perhaps you will now that I’ve mentioned it!)

In fact, part of the reason that virtual smoke in films looks so realistic is because visual effects (VFX) specialists have applied the Navier–Stokes equations to their graphics. This was one of the interesting tidbits I learned from a talk yesterday in London by Rob Pieké, head of software at Moving Picture Company (MPC).

Pieké was speaking as part of a half-day event on “physics and film” organized by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World. The gist of his presentation was that basic physics principles are used in a variety of ways to create special effects that capture viewers’ attention. “The audience wants to see something fantastical but grounded in reality,” said Pieké. Another example he gave was how naturally bouncing hair in computer-generated characters is modelled on mass—spring systems. Each individual hair could be modelled on as many as 30 masses connecting by springs.

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Is the 750 GeV bump in LHC data going away?

End of the line: will science journalists be flocking to CERN in August? (Courtesy: CC-BY/Darkzink)

End of the line: will science journalists be flocking to CERN in August? (CC-BY/Darkzink)

 

By Hamish Johnston

Things are heating up in the blogosphere after two A-list physics bloggers have speculated that a tantalizing hint of new physics seen by the CMS and ATLAS experiments at CERN is vanishing now that the latest collision data are being analysed.

The hint is a bump at 750 GeV in the spectrum of photon pairs created when protons collide in the LHC. It is not predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics and has not yet reached a statistical significance of 5σ – the threshold for a discovery. If it turns out to be real, the bump could become one of the most important discoveries in particle physics made so far this century.

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