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Blog

Einstein world record, Spider-Man physics, quantum films and cakes

 

By Sarah Tesh and James Dacey

A world-record-breaking hoard of Albert Einsteins invaded Toronto in Canada on Tuesday 28 March. 404 people gathered in the city’s MaRS Discovery District dressed in the genius’s quintessential blazer and tie, and sporting bushy white wigs and fluffy mustaches. As well as breaking the previous Guinness World Record of 99 Einsteins, the gathering kicked off this year’s Next Einstein Competition. The online contest invites the public to submit ideas that can make the world a better place and awards the winner $10,000 to help them realize it.

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Quantum punchlines, the cloud atlas, NASA schooled

 

Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive (Courtesy: Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive? (Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

By Sarah Tesh

 You may not normally associate humour with quantum theory, but it’s not just jokes about Schrödinger’s cat and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that links the two. Liane Gabora of the University of British Columbia in Canada and Kirsty Kitto of Queensland University of Technology in Australia have created a new model for humour based upon the mathematical frameworks of quantum theory. The idea for their “Quantum Theory of Humour” stems from jokes like “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” Separately, the statements aren’t amusing but together they make a punchline. This requires you to hold two ideas in your head at once – a concept analogous to quantum superposition.

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Building bridges with the west

Fuchun Zhang, director of the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Sciences

Physicist Fuchun Zhang, director of the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Sciences.

By Michael Banks in Beijing, China

It’s my final day in Beijing and keeping up with the daily weather reports, it is still raining. But that is better than the snow that was forecast only a couple of days ago.

My time in Beijing has been short, but packed full of interesting discussions with researchers.

Yesterday I headed to the Beijing Institute for Nanoenergy and Nanosystems. Today, I visited the theoretical condensed-matter physicist Fuchun Zhang, who is director of the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Sciences (KITS).

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Quantitative finance: what’s it really all about?

Photo of Jessica James from Commerzbank - the author of a Physics World Discovery e-book on quantitative finance

Mixing physics and finance – Jessica James is the author of the new Physics World Discovery ebook Quantitative Finance.

By Matin Durrani

Among the many joys of studying physics is that a degree in the subject can take you down lots of different paths. As our recent Physics World Careers 2017 guide revealed, they range from research and industry to education, IT and even sports, politics and the arts.

One particularly popular destination is the world of finance, which is hardly surprising given physicists’ love of numbers. Those in finance work in many different areas, with one of the most high profile – and lucrative – being the field of “quantitative finance”.

But what exactly does the term mean and what’s the field all about? To find out more, do check out the new, free-to-read Physics World Discovery ebook entitled Quantitative Finance, written by Jessica James – a managing director and senior quantitative researcher at Commerzbank in London.

As James explains in the introduction to her book, the field includes “complex models and calculations that value financial contracts, particularly those which reference events in the future, and applies probabilities to these events”. I encourage you to read her book, which is available in PDF, ePub and Kindle formats. And to whet your appetite, James has kindly answered some questions about what she does, her career to date and what the book’s about.

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A blue energy dream

Zhong Lin Wang

Zhong Lin Wang, director of the Beijing Institute of Nanoeergy and Nanosystems.

By Michael Banks in Beijing, China

I was told that it wouldn’t rain much in Beijing, a city known for its dry air – and pollution.

But since I arrived here last night courtesy of the bullet train, all I have seen is drizzle. The wet weather also made it a challenge during rush hour, but I finally made it to the Beijing Institute for Nanoenergy and Nanosystems (BINN).

I met with BINN’s director, Zhong Lin Wang, who has been in the US for more than 39 years, most of which has been spent at the Georgia Institute of Technology. While he is still affiliated to Georgia Tech, he came back to China in 2012 to establish BINN.

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Shanghai round-up

NYU Shanghai

NYU Shanghai is the first Sino–US joint-venture university

By Michael Banks in Shanghai, China

It’s been a busy three days in Shanghai and now I’m on my way to Beijing to continue reporting for the China special report, which will be published in June.

As I mentioned in previous blog posts, Shanghai has thrown up some interesting stories. I heard about plans for a new 12 m telescope and also received a progress update on the construction of a new X-ray free electron laser in the city.

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How LIGO got the word out about gravitational waves

Tweeting to millions: LIGO made a social media plan before announcing the detection (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

Tweeting to millions: LIGO made a social-media plan before announcing the detection. (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

By Sarah Tesh

Nowadays, social media plays a big role in communicating science to the public. It has two important qualities – it’s free and it’s international.  A great case study for social media and science came last year when the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the first ever detection of gravitational waves. To tell us more about how the team grabbed the public’s attention (and got its work on Sheldon Cooper’s T-shirt in The Big Bang Theory), LIGO scientist Amber Stuver gave a witty talk at the APS March Meeting 2017 about the outreach strategy.

She began by telling us the story of that exciting detection day. Before the first detection, LIGO had published 80 papers on “detecting nothing”.  Yet on 14 September 2015 – the first morning of the first day of Advanced LIGO – the much-sought-after signal appeared. The first thing that had to be done was to check it wasn’t a fake. Having detected nothing for so long, those with the knowledge to do so would sometimes “inject” results to check the system worked and keep the scientists on their toes.

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China outlines free-electron laser plans

Zhenjiang Zhao, director of the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics

Zhentang Zhao, director of the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics.

By Michael Banks in Shanghai, China

There was a noticeable step change in the weather today in Shanghai as the Sun finally emerged and the temperature rose somewhat.

This time I braved the rush-hour metro system to head to the Zhangjiang Technology Park in the south of the city.

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Chinese astronomers pin their hopes on LOT

Lei Hao from the Shanghai Astonomical Observatory

Lei Hao from the Shanghai Astonomical Observatory.

By Michael Banks in Shanghai, China

It was a cold, rainy day here in Shanghai, so coming from the UK, I felt right at home.

Jumping into a Shanghai taxi to avoid the downpour, I headed to the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, belonging to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, to meet astronomer Lei Hao.

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Physics World visits LIGO Livingston

(Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

Wave sign: the secluded road that leads to LIGO Livingston. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

 

By Tushna Commissariat and Sarah Tesh at LIGO Livingston, Louisiana, US

Being a journalist can be a busy and often stressful job, especially as deadlines loom fast and furious. But one of the best perks of the job is the chance to meet some amazing people and visit some of the best scientific facilities in the world. As most regualr readers of Physics World will know, we – Sarah and Tushna – have been in New Orleans, Lousiana for the APS March Meeting 2017. And it just so happens that about a two-hour drive away from New Orleans lies one half of one of the most advanced experiments in the world – the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) at Livingston.

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