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Highlights from Ada Lovelace Day 2016

Portrait of Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace (1848): considered to be the first computer programmer.

By James Dacey

Today is Ada Lovelace Day (ALD), a day to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Named after the 19th-century polymath Ada Lovelace, the annual initiative also seeks to engage with the challenges of attracting more women into STEM careers and supporting career development. Now in its eighth year, the day includes a number of events and online activities.

The day will culminate in a few hours with Ada Lovelace Day Live!, a “science cabaret” event at the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London (18:30–21:30, tickets still available). In what promises to be “an entertaining evening of geekery, comedy and music”, the all-female line-up includes several scientists from the physical sciences. Among them is Sheila Kanani, a planetary physicist and science comedian who is the education, outreach and diversity officer for the Royal Astronomical Society in London.

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The 2016 Physics World Focus on Neutron Science is out now

By Michael Banks

pwneut16cover-200Neutron scientists in Europe are facing a number of headwinds in the coming decade. One is the uncertainty caused by the recent UK vote to leave the European Union. Another is the impending closure of ageing reactors across the continent such as the Orphée reactor in Paris and the BER II reactor in Berlin, which could both shut down by 2020.

A recent report by an expert group of researchers – the Neutron Landscape Group – paints a worrying challenge for neutron scientists. It forecasts that the continent’s supply of neutrons could drop by as much as a half over the next decade – a shortfall in capacity that is unlikely to be met by the upcoming European Spallation Source in Lund, Sweden.

That said, there are plans to help overcome the impending neutron gap, including proposals to plug it by building compact, specialist sources. Improvements to accelerator technology and instruments could also help by boosting the number of usable neutrons. Scientists at the US Spallation Neutron Source, for example, are pioneering a method to improve its proton beam energy using plasma processing, while the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s world-leading neutron microscope will soon open up to users.

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The physics of Luke Cage’s skin, meet the ‘mathekniticians’, lessons from the only girl in a physics class

By Hamish Johnston

Marvel’s Luke Cage is a superhero television series that has just debuted on Netflix. Cage’s superpower is that his skin is impervious to bullets and other projectiles fired at him by villains. But could it be possible to create a skin-like layer that would allow someone to emerge unscathed from machine gun fire? The Nerdist’s Kyle Hill has the answer in the above video.

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Spotlight on the International Year of Light (IYL 2015)

By James Dacey

As science-inspired global initiatives go, it’s fair to say that the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015) burned brighter than its organizers could have imagined. IYL 2015 set out to raise awareness of the crucial roles light can play in areas such as sustainable development, education and health, and it did so through festivals, workshops, publications and a plethora of other activities. A final report published this week details some of IYL 2015’s key achievements and describes some of the year’s most memorable activities.

Among the highlights identified in the report is the Physics World film series “Light in our Lives”, a set of short documentaries about the role of light in people’s everyday lives. We commissioned the films as an official IYL 2015 media partner, embracing the collaborative and international dimensions of the year by working with filmmakers across the world. They include a film about how LED lanterns are enabling students to study after sunset in a rural community in India, and another about how lighting technologies are bringing a modern twist to Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City (see above).

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Aspiring quantum physicists gather in Rome

Up and coming: Fulvio Flamini (left) and Mario Ciampini (right) with Alaina Levine (Courtesy: Alaina Levine)

Up and coming: Fulvio Flamini (left) and Mario Ciampini (right) with Alaina Levine. (Courtesy: Alaina Levine)

By Alaina Levine

Recently I had the pleasure of travelling to La Sapienza University of Rome, to serve as the keynote speaker for the first ever Young Italian Quantum Information Science Conference. I was invited as part of a visiting lectureship programme run by the International Society of Optics and Photonics (SPIE), which supports SPIE student chapters around the world by providing travel funds for speakers.

The conference was a satellite of the annual Italian Quantum Information Science Conference (IQIS) and involved 95 students and postdocs from Italy and beyond. The day-long event was a great opportunity for the up-and-comers of quantum information to shine – and their technical talks demonstrated their expertise and passion.

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The October 2016 issue of Physics World is now out

pwoct16cover-200By Matin Durrani

The cover story in the October 2016 issue of Physics World magazine – now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop – reveals the inside story of how military labs are opening up their research facilities to the world. You can read the article here too.

The October issue also looks at how breakthroughs in physics really occur – is it flashes of insight or just long, hard graft? – and examines why we could finally find discrepancies in the “equivalence principle” that inertial and gravitational mass are the same.

Don’t miss either the ding-dong over China’s plans to build a new collider, our interview with Nithaya Chetty on transforming South African astronomy, or Robert P Crease’s Critical Point column on the danger of “unknown unknowns”.

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LIGO physicists favourites for Nobel prize, physics superstar tournament, and how long does it take to win a Nobel?

Prize winning: will the detection of gravitational waves win this year's Nobel? (Courtesy: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

Prize winning: will the detection of gravitational waves win this year’s Nobel? (Courtesy: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

By Hamish Johnston

The first week of October is nearly upon us and the question on almost every physicist’s lips is “who will win this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics?”. The people’s favourite for 2016 seems to be the physicists who pioneered the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors. In February 2016 LIGO researchers announced that they had made the first ever detection of a gravitational wave – from two merging black holes. A few months later, a second detection was announced.

Normally, Nobel nominations are closed in January so it’s possible that LIGO missed the boat. However, both the first and second detections were actually made in 2015 – with the results subsequently published in 2016. So the LIGO pioneers could have been nominated before the deadline as the collaboration already knew it had detected gravitational waves. It’s all pure speculation, of course, as each year’s deliberations are kept top secret for 50 years.

So who could be claiming the prize for LIGO? Three people favoured by pundits are Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever. Drever and Weiss played crucial roles in designing and building LIGO, whereas Thorne calculated what gravitational waves would look like to the detector.

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A look back at peer-review week and particle physicists say hello to Hello Kitty

By Matin Durrani

Today marks the end of Peer Review Week  – a “global event celebrating the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining scientific quality”. The event brought together “individuals, institutions and organizations committed to sharing the central message that good peer review, whatever shape or form it might take, is critical to scholarly communications”.

It’s probably fair to say that Peer Review Week – now in its second year – didn’t quite have the media profile of, say, London Fashion Week, but then you have to start somewhere. And celebrating peer review seems a worthy and worthwhile thing to do. I bet even Rio de Janeiro’s Restaurant Week started out small. Continue reading

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My first experience of peer review

(Courtesy: Shutterstock/Lorelyn Medina)

(Courtesy: Shutterstock/Lorelyn Medina)

By Margaret Harris

My first experience of being peer reviewed did not begin well. Here’s the opening of the referee’s report:

“The purpose of publication is to disseminate knowledge to other people who may be able to use it. Since the model dramatically fails the authors’ own experimental tests more than half of the time, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to use it. I therefore recommend against its acceptance, here or anywhere else.”

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A monument to peer review

The world's first momument to peer review

The world’s first monument to peer review could be completed by mid-October. (Courtesy: Igor Chirikov)

By Michael Banks

The Russian sociologist Igor Chirikov from the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow has much to celebrate during this year’s Peer Review Week.

He is now putting in place plans to build what will be the world’s first monument to anonymous peer review and is expecting it to be complete in mid-October.

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