It is not unusual for physicists to find themselves leading a country. Angela Merkel, who studied physics at the University of Leipzig from 1973 to 1978, has been Germany’s chancellor since 2005, while in 2010 Japan elected former physicist Naoto Kan as its prime minister – a position he held for just over a year.
Yet while the nuclear physicist and current US energy secretary Ernest Moniz may be 14th in the US presidential line of succession, if something really terrible had happened yesterday, he may have found himself leading the world’s biggest economy.
While you would not actually be able to hear the uplifting notes of the music in the vast emptiness of space, a newly composed string and piano orchestral piece has unexpected ties to the cosmos. That’s because it is based on 36 years’ worth of data from NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft. Domenico Vicinanza, a trained musician with a PhD in physics who works at GÉANT, a European data-network company, says that he “wanted to compose a musical piece celebrating Voyager 1 and 2 together, so I used the same measurements (proton counts from the cosmic-ray detector over the last 37 years) from both spacecrafts, at the exactly same point in time, but at several billions of kilometres of distance [of] one from the other”. The result of this “data sonification” is a rather beautiful piece of music – one of the best examples of physics and the arts coming together that we have heard. Of course, the story garnered considerable interest…you can read more about on the Wired and Guardian websites.
Truth and lies in the web of social media. (Courtesy: Shutterstock)
By James Dacey
“On 27 August…Mars will look as large as the full Moon.”
This was a sentence from a widely circulated e-mail in 2005, in the lead up to one of the closest encounters between Earth and Mars in recorded history.
That our neighbouring planet could appear as prominent as the Moon is, of course, complete claptrap. Since the “Mars hoax” first appeared in 2003, it has re-emerged several times over the past decade.
The Mars hoax is an example of a “meme”, a piece of content or an idea that is spread virally across Internet networks. These days, memes such as this can spread with increasing speed and reach, thanks to the ever-growing expansion of social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Now, however, researchers at MODUL University Vienna are setting out on the ambitious task of assessing the truthfulness of information that goes viral on social-media sites. The folks behind the project, called PHEME, say that one of their major aims is to acquire an improved understanding of the types of dubious information that are most likely to spread across networks.
A most curious thing is the quantum Cheshire cat. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/koffeezilla)
By Hamish Johnston
Three months ago we ran a news article about a “quantum Cheshire cat” experiment that was proposed by Yakir Aharonov of Tel Aviv University and colleagues. Now, an international team of physicists has created a quantum Cheshire cat using polarized neutrons at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, France.
The work was done by Yuji Hasegawa and colleagues at the Vienna University of Technology, ILL, the University of Cergy-Pontoise and Chapman University.
Can you spot all 20 or so LEGO figurines in the CERN computing centre?
By Michael Banks
You may remember that late last year CERN teamed up with Google Street View to allow users to go on a virtual tour of the lab, including 12 km of the 27 km Large Hadron Collider (LHC) tunnel plus the caverns that house the ATLAS, CMS, LHCb and ALICE experiments.
This involved Google‘s Zurich team spending two weeks at CERN in 2011 photographing the LHC using a “Street View Trike” – a specially created camera-mounted bike.
Well, what we didn’t known then was that Stefan Lüders, CERN’s computer security officer, had decided to stash about 20 LEGO figurines around the CERN computing centre before the cameras rolled.
Spannungsfeld by Julian Voss-Andreae is set to be installed at the University of Minnesota next month.
By Matin Durrani
I don’t know if they’re going to be dubbed “Alice” and “Bob”, but those names seem fairly appropriate for the two new figures – one male, one female – that make up the latest artwork from the German-born quantum-physicist-turned sculptor Julian Voss-Andreae.
Set to be installed at a new physics and nanotechnology building at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St Paul, the work is officially titled Spannungsfeld – a German term that literally means “tension field” and which implies, according to Voss-Andreae, a “dynamic tension, often between polar opposites, that permeates everything in its vicinity”.
Daresbury Laboratory: SuperSTEM is the small, white building right of centre and surrounded by trees. (Courtesy: STFC)
By Hamish Johnston
Recently I was in Liverpool with the Physics World camera crew to film a series of videos, including a feature about the NA62 experiment based at CERN. On the way back to Bristol we spent the afternoon at the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire, where we made videos about two major facilities at that lab.
Today, we are premiering the video that we made about Daresbury’s SuperSTEM, which is the UK’s national facility for aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM).
Would you know exactly where to run and shelter in the event of nuclear fallout in your city? Would it be best to stay where you are or move, and for how long should you stay inside before venturing out into your post-apocalyptic world? If these questions have plagued your mind, you can now turn to a new model developed by Michael Dillon, an atmospheric scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, US. Dillon’s practical model outlines simple ideas and suggestions that the average person – without advanced equipment and know-how – could apply in the event of a low-level nuclear attack, which is the most plausible type likely to take place in today’s political climate. You can read all about about the model on both the io9 website and inScience magazine, and then map out your perfect route.
Mirror made from tiny polystyrene spheres. (Courtesy: Grzegorczyk et al., Phys. Rev. Lett.112 023902)
By Hamish Johnston
There are two fantastic papers in Physical Review Letters this week that made me smile. Both of them are about controlling macroscopic objects using waves. While there are practical applications for both techniques, I can’t help thinking that the authors did the work for the sheer joy of it.
Earlier this week, the UK’s Science Council – an umbrella group for learned societies and professional bodies – published a list of the country’s 100 leading practising scientists. The rationale behind the list is interesting: according to the Council’s press release, it’s meant to “highlight a collective blind spot” in our attitudes towards scientists, which tend to “reference dead people or to regard only academics and researchers as scientists”.
I gave a quiet cheer when I read this. As I’ve noted before, fully 96% of the UK’s science PhD graduates make their careers in something other than academic research, yet their contributions often go unrecognized. There are many reasons for this, including commercial confidentiality and poor visibility (almost every academic scientist has their own webpage; most industry scientists don’t) along with the aforementioned “blind spot”. But whatever the reasons, a list honouring non-academic scientists seems long overdue.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure the Science Council’s list fits that description.