Birds flock over Central Park. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/giovanni1232)
By James Dacey
It’s been a great week for birds – or at least those flying over the state of New York – after state governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to create safer migration routes for our feathered friends. All state buildings will now have to comply with a national US initiative that seeks to curb levels of light pollution, which can disorient birds and lead to huge numbers of avian deaths by “fatal light attraction”.
Many species of bird rely on the light from star constellations to help them navigate during spring and autumn migrations. Unfortunately, artificial light sources can throw the animals off course, and light reflected from glass can cause the birds to smack into windows, walls, floodlights and other hard surfaces. It is estimated that as many as a billion birds succumb to this cruel end each year in the US alone, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Shine on: Hubble’s official 25 anniversary image of the Westerlund 2 cluster. (Courtesy: NASA, ESA, (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), Westerlund 2 Science Team)
By Tushna Commissariat
25 years ago today, the ESA/NASA Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched aboard the Discovery space shuttle and since then, it has changed the face of observational astronomy as we know it; taking millions of people worldwide from their homes to the most distant and far-flung reaches of the universe and the imagination. The telescope has also been instrumental in some of the biggest, Nobel-prize-winning discoveries in physics in the past two decades, including that of the accelerating expansion of the universe. The stunning image above of the giant cluster of nearly 3000 stars dubbed “Westerlund 2″ was especially released yesterday to celebrate Hubble’s 25th anniversary. The stellar nursery is difficult to observe because it is surrounded by dust, but Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 peered through the dusty veil in near-infrared light, giving astronomers a clear view of the cluster. Once you are done staring in awe at the image, watch the short video below, put together by NASA on the HST’s lifetime.
IYL 2015 is the theme of this student poster project.
By James Dacey
One of the big aims of the International Year of Light (IYL 2015) is to take scientific ideas out of the lab to show the world just how inspiring and useful they can be. In the process, it can forge relationships between different communities, including scientists, engineers, artists, journalists, architects, politicians, aid workers…the list goes on.
Here in Bristol, where Physics World is produced, we’ve seen a fantastic local example of this by way of an art project at the University of the West of England (UWE). Second-year graphic-design students were set the brief of creating posters themed on IYL 2015. Last night we hosted an evening at IOP Publishing headquarters to showcase the students’ work and to let them find out more about science publishing.
Say cheese: is this self-powered camera the future of photography? (Courtesy: Computer Vision Laboratory, Columbia Engineering)
By Ian Randall
With a smartphone in every pocket and remotely operated cameras on every street corner, digital cameras are a ubiquitous part of life. Last year alone an estimated two billion cameras of various sorts were sold worldwide – with such sales likely to increase. While personal cameras are easily recharged, many new remote applications require smaller and longer-lasting power supplies.
But what if your camera could self-power while you take selfies? This is the idea put forward by Shree Nayar and his colleagues at Columbia University in New York City, who have created the first ever completely self-powered video camera.
The cold spot (bottom right) resides in the southern galactic hemisphere. (Courtesy: ESA Planck collaboration)
By James Dacey
Astronomers believe they may finally be able to explain the origin of the “cold spot”, a glaringly large cool region in the cosmic microwave background (CMB). Maps of the CMB, such as that created by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and more recently by the Planck mission, reveal the distribution of radiation left over after the Big Bang. When in 2004 researchers noticed this cold spot on the map, they soon realized it was either a sign of exotic physics linked to the Big Bang itself or it was caused by some sort of structure in the foreground between the CMB and the Earth.
This year marks 20 years since Stephen Chou, Peter Krauss and Preston Renstrom first published their work showcasing a versatile approach for mass production of identical nanostructures for the electronics industry. This technique is called nanoimprint lithography and it involves pressing a nano-patterned structure into a hot molten polymer. As the polymer cools, the pattern stamped into it sets so that it can be used as a mould to make several identical replicas of the original structure.
Just as the printing press brought literature to the masses, it is easy to imagine how this nanofabrication technique could have a significant impact on the production of integrated circuits. To commemorate the development, Nanotechnology has published a perspective article on the technique, and I had a chance to talk to the author Qiangfei Xia of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst about the technique’s advantages, challenges and outlook for the future.
I’m sure that most of you have wondered what the Higgs boson would sound like if it were a heavy-metal song. Now you can turn it up to 11 (TeV that is) courtesy of CERN physicist and guitarist Piotr Traczyk, who has “sonified” data from two plots from the CMS experiment that were presented at the Higgs discovery seminar on 4 July 2012. His heavy-metal ditty is based on gamma–gamma and 4-lepton data from CMS and after you listen to his excellent song in the above video, you can find out more about how it was created by reading this entry by Traczyk on the Cylindrical Onion blog.
Here comes the Sun: the Philae lander may reawaken soon. (Courtesy: ESA/ATG medialab)
By Michael Banks
Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) are hoping that the Philae lander, which successfully landed on a comet last year, will re-establish contact soon as it travels closer to the Sun. Philae was part of ESA’s Rosetta mission that was launched in 2004 but when Philae separated from Rosetta in November, it landed on the comet in an awkward position. This meant that the craft’s solar panels did not receive enough sunlight to recharge its battery, but the lander’s 10 instruments were able to carry out measurements before it went into hibernation mode about 50 hours after landing.
By Tamela Maciel at the APS April Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland
Little bits: the CRIBFLEX logo. (Courtesy: Drexel University Society of Physics Students)
A group of undergraduate students at Drexel University in Philadelphia is ready to click “confirm” on an Amazon order that will include a weather balloon, a memory storage device, a GPS, a Geiger counter and a BeagleBoard computer (described to me as a “beefier version of Raspberry Pi”). For less than $2000, this team of physics, engineering and computer-science students plans to launch a weather-balloon experiment that will measure the effects of cosmic rays on DRAM memory devices at high altitudes.
DRAM is a very quick and simple type of electronic memory – each bit takes the form of a capacitor that either has charge or doesn’t, according to whether it’s storing a zero or one. Unfortunately, this simple design can make the bits very sensitive to radioactivity or cosmic rays, which can cause bits to flip values and introduce “soft errors” into the data.
Cast your vote for the Physics Party. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/TylaArabas)
By Margaret Harris
It’s the issue no-one is talking about in the run-up to the UK’s general election on 7 May, but I’m convinced that a brand-new party is set to make significant inroads on the British political scene, increasing both its overall share of the vote and its number of parliamentary seats.
“What is this bold new force?” I hear you ask. “Is it the Green Party? The Scottish or Welsh nationalists? The UK Independence Party (UKIP)?” My friends, it is none of these. Nor is it the Conservatives, Labour or the Liberal Democrats (the three parties that traditionally grab the lion’s share of seats at Westminster), or any of the parties representing Northern Ireland. It is something far more novel. More interesting. And above all, more able to solve the Schrödinger equation.