If you like piña coladas and quantum mechanics, then we hope you are currently on the two-week “Bright Horizons 19” Southeast Asia cruise, as on board is physicist and writer Sean Carroll. He will be giving multiple lectures over the next 15 days on everything from the Higgs boson to dark matter and other fundamentals of quantum mechanics. Also floating along with Carroll are other lecturers who will cover topics from natural history to genetics to military strategy. If, like us, you are stuck at home, you can take a look at Carroll’s slides on his blog, maybe have a cocktail while you are at it.
It’s ice cold outside (–16 °C the last time I checked), but Chicago is still a hot ticket for scientists this week as the capital of the American Midwest prepares to host the 2014 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
As usual, there are plenty of fascinating talks planned for the meeting, which runs from today through Monday. Looking through the schedule just now, I’m pretty sure I could fill all five days with seminars on scientific entrepreneurship, policy and communication – although if I did, I’d miss out on some great physics topics such as dark-matter detection, quantum cryptography and next-generation materials for batteries. Which would be a shame.
I’ll be posting regular updates throughout the conference here on the physicsworld.com blog, and I’ll also be live-tweeting a few of the talks (only the really interesting ones, I promise) as @DrMLHarris on Twitter. So check back soon for more on the 2014 AAAS meeting.
Is the Euler identity the most beautiful equation of them all?
By James Dacey
If you have ever talked with your arty friends about the sense of “beauty” you feel from maths, you may well have been greeted with a sympathetic smile. Perhaps even with jeers of derision. Well, next time you find yourself in that position you will have some scientific evidence to back up what you are saying. A group of researchers in the UK has demonstrated that getting your noggin around an equation can trigger the same part of the brain as staring at the Mona Lisa or listening to The White Album.
In an experiment described in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 15 mathematicians were presented with a series of 60 equations and asked to rate them for their beauty on a scale of –5 (ugly), through to +5 (beautiful). The same subjects were then hooked up to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and asked to view the same list of equations. It turned out that when mathematicians viewed the equations they had previously rated as beautiful, it triggered activity in a part of the emotional brain associated with the experience of visual and musical beauty.*
Materials research is enjoying a new golden age. The hit parade of supermaterials that has been discovered in the relatively recent past is extensive. It includes the likes of high-temperature superconductors, quantum dots, bucky-balls, nanotubes, aerogels, silver nanowires and graphene. Meanwhile, new approaches to the commercialization of materials – such as the recent Materials Genome Initiative in the US – are improving the processes by which new materials are transferred from the science lab to practical applications in the real world.
In conjuction with these new discoveries, materials scientists have also made dramatic improvements to the tools they have available for studying and manufacturing materials. Here, the list of advances is seemingly endless. Researchers can now simulate, image and analyse materials with far more accuracy than ever before. Developments in production methods – such as the advent of 3D printing – are also enabling researchers to scale up their new materials with greater ease.
There’s definitely an educational vibe to this week’s picks from the Red Folder, which begins with Tanner Higgin’s selection of “Five apps that test your physics skills“. Writing on Mind/Shift, a website based in California and dedicated to learning, Higgin highlights Crayon Physics Deluxe, which allows users to draw physical objects and then let gravity and other physical effects take over. Also featured is Amazing Alex, which allows users to combine more than 30 different household objects to create fantastical Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg contraptions.
Library users in the UK now have access to hundreds of thousands of journal articles following a new initiative called Access to Research, which was rolled out yesterday.
The two-year pilot programme will allow public-library users in the UK to freely access 8000 journals from 17 publishers including IOP Publishing, which publishes Physics World, as well as Elsevier, Nature Publishing Group and Wiley.
Last year, about 250 libraries from 10 local authorities, the majority of which are in southern England, were involved in testing the programme, with the initiative now being launched nationwide.
Peter Knight (left) and John Dudley unveiling the historic plaque.
By Hamish Johnston
On Friday I braved the torrential rains that have been soaking southern England to make the journey from Bristol to Teddington, which is the birthplace of the atomic clock. Situated in the leafy suburbs west of London on the swollen banks of the River Thames, Teddington is the home of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), which is the UK’s standards and metrology lab.
Fire and ice will mix together in a sporting cauldron this Sunday. The Seattle Seahawks are taking on the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and all weather forecasters agree that it’s going to be rather chilly. In fact, some have criticized the National Football League (NFL) for electing to play the game in a stadium without a roof, rather than opting to stage the match under cover. Bear in mind, the Super Bowl is the sporting event of the year in the US and people take it very seriously indeed. To address some of the concerns, The Huffington Post published this article to analyse how the mechanics of the game can change under cold conditions. The entertaining article considers everything from the reduced bounciness of the ball, to the increased propensity of helmets to break due to changes in material pliability.
If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), it’s time to get stuck into the new issue of Physics World, which you can access 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.
In this month’s cover feature, Margaret Morrison from the University of Toronto examines the use of “fictional models” in science, including Maxwell’s model of electromagnetism, which included a piece of pure fiction in the form of an invisible, all-pervasive “aether” made up of elastic vortices separated by electric charge.
On a more practical note, this month’s issue examines strange discrepancies in experimental measurements of the gravitational constant, G, while our lead news and analysis piece tries to find out more about the US National Security Administration’s leaked initiative on quantum computers. There’s an abridged extract of cosmologist Max Tegmark‘s new book about the mathematical nature of the universe and don’t miss a great Lateral Thoughts about an unusual domestic mystery – why tiny spikes grow in the ice tray in your freezer.
You may remember the story of Walter Wagner, the Hawaii resident who set his sights on stopping CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
Wagner, together with his colleague Luis Sancho, filed a federal lawsuit in the US District Court in Honolulu in 2008 to prevent the LHC from starting up. In the lawsuit, Wagner and Sancho claimed that if the LHC were switched on, then the Earth would eventually fall into a growing micro black hole, thus converting our planet into a medium-sized black hole, around which the Moon, artificial satellites and the International Space Station would orbit.