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The April 2016 issue of Physics World is now live

PWApr16cover-200By Matin Durrani

The April 2016 issue of Physics World magazine is ready and waiting for you to access via our app for mobile and desktop.

Our cover story this month is about Rydberg atoms – those super-sized atoms that are one of the hot topics in condensed-matter physics – and in particular how they could be used to create quantum computers.

You can also find out how virtual-reality tools could help you to learn about the science of optics and learn more about a new research centre at the National Autonomous University of Mexico that’s bringing a fresh approach to the science of complexity.

If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can now enjoy immediate access to the new issue with the digital edition of the magazine in your web browser or on any iOS or Android mobile device (just download the Physics World app from the App Store or Google Play). If you’re not yet in the IOP, you can join as an IOPimember for just £15, €20 or $25 a year to get full access to Physics World digital.

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3D-printed dog’s nose sniffs out why canines are excellent chemical analysers

 

By Tushna Commissariat

After a long trip in the US – attending the APS March meeting and visiting both the Maryland campus of the National Institute for Standards and Technology, as well as the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York – I finally made my way back home yesterday. As I flew out of New York, I was reminded of my visit to NIST’s Surface and Trace Chemical Analysis Group, where researchers develop a variety of ways to detect contraband substances at airports and other public locations. While the team looks into a variety of ways to detect trace residues of banned substances such as drugs or explosives that may be found on people or objects – from mass spectroscopy to thermal desorption to vapour-sampling – my favourite was their canine research that led them to create a 3D-printed dog’s nose!

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Carried away by a well lit shadow

Simulation of a lead ion collision in ALICE

Simulation of a lead-ion collision in the ALICE detector. (Courtesy: CERN)

By James Dacey

As concept albums go, the latest release by Jake Hertzog can certainly be stacked at the intellectual end of your record collection. This week, the US jazz-rock guitarist released his sixth studio album, entitled Well Lit Shadow – a suite of solo electric-guitar tracks inspired by images from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and other experiments at the CERN particle-physics lab. You can find details of how to purchase or stream the album on Hertzog’s website.

Now, I’m not the world’s biggest jazz aficionado but I gave the album a listen and it’s far more accessible than the concept might suggest. Hertzog’s musicianship shines through and bright walking riffs on tracks such as “Star Drops” and “Traces of You” evoke images of devoted researchers working through vast amounts of data in pursuit of knowledge. According to Hertzog’s website, some of the pieces are very literal attempts to depict the chaos and beauty of subatomic-particle collisions, while other tracks are more abstract meditations on the deeper meaning of these experiments. The album’s title track is described as “a musical poem dedicated to the philosophical implications of this science”.

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How to cook the perfect steak, Bill Nye gets tangled about entanglement and the challenges of going to Mars

Steaks on a grill (CC BY 2.0 _BuBBy_)

The wrong way: where is the liquid nitrogen and duck fat? (CC BY 2.0 _BuBBy_)

By Hamish Johnston

How do you cook the perfect steak? Materials scientist Mark Miodownik of University College London has the answer. To cook his medium-rare steak (pink in the middle with a seared coating on the outside), Miodownik first seals the steak in a vacuum bag and places it in a warm water bath until it reaches 55 °C. He then dips it in liquid nitrogen for 30 s to chill the outer layer without freezing the middle. If that wasn’t unconventional enough, he then throws it into a deep-fat fryer containing duck fat. The result? “A lusciously seared steak, medium rare all the way through. And not a pan in sight!” says Miodownik. The BBC has put together a nice animation of the recipe: “What’s the weirdest way to cook a steak?”.

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The unexpected benefit of a malfunctioning magnet at RHIC

Inside the RHIC tunnel

Beam me down: in the RHIC tunnel. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat in New York City, US

I’m not one to rejoice in someone else’s misfortune, but I must admit that I couldn’t help but be a bit pleased when I heard that the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) had a malfunction last Friday. You see, I happened to be visiting the collider and its detectors yesterday, and if a malfunctioning superconducting magnet had not shorted a diode last Friday, I would not have had the chance to go down into the collider tunnel, which was a great experience.

RHIC – which, along with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, is the only other detector capable of colliding heavy ions and is, in fact, the only spin-polarized collider in the world – has been running since the year 2000, and accelerator director Wolfram Fischer tells me that I am rather “lucky” as “failed magnets are very rare”. Indeed, he said that after initial teething problems when RHIC was switched on, this was the first such magnet failure that has occurred in the past 15 years. But fear not, the RHIC maintenance crew is already hard at work – the diode will soon be replaced and the collider should be up and running again in the next few days.

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Setting the standards for physics

The NIST campus in Gaithersburg

Keepers of time: at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat in New York City, US

As most of our regular blog readers will know, last week Physics World‘s Matin Durrani and I were in Baltimore attending the APS March meeting. While we spent most of the week at the conference centre, last Friday we visited the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Gaithersburg campus, as well as the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), which is based at the University of Maryland. It was a jam-packed, exciting day that we spent zipping around to and from more than 10 different labs and departments, meeting people who use physics to do everything from improve the safety of body armour to redefining the kilogram.

As we saw so many interesting projects, covering them all would make for a rather long read. Instead, join me for a quick visual tour of NIST below (I will cover our JQI visit in a separate blog) to get a small taste of the physics and people involved.

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Getting a fix on quantum computations

Nine superconducting qubit

Bit of choice: A photograph of the nine superconducting qubit device developed by the Martinis group at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where, for the first time, the qubits are able to detect and effectively protect each other from bit errors. (Courtesy: Julian Kelly/Martinis group)

By Tushna Commissariat in New York City, US

Although the APS March meeting finished last Friday and I am now in New York visiting a few more labs and physicists in the city (more on that later), I am still playing catch-up, thanks to the vast number of interesting talks at the conference. One of the most interesting sessions of last week, and a pretty popular one at that, was based on “20 years of quantum error correction” and I went along to the opening talk by physicist John Preskill of the California Institute of Technology. I had the chance to catch up with Preskill after his talk and we discussed just why he thinks that we are not too far away from a true quantum revolution.

Just in case you haven’t come across the subject already, quantum error correction is the science of protecting quantum information (or qubits) from errors that would occur as the information is influenced by the environment and other sorts of quantum noise, causing it to “decohere” and lose its quantum state. Although it may seem premature that scientists have been working on this problem for nearly two decades when an actual quantum computer has yet to be built, we know that we must account for such errors if our quantum computers are ever to succeed. It will be essential if we want to achieve fault-tolerant quantum computation that can deal with all sorts of noise within the system, as well as faults in the hardware (such as a faulty gate) or even a measurement.

Over the past 20 years, theoretical work in the field has made scientists confident that quantum computing of the future will be scalable. Preskill says that “it’s exciting because the experimentalists are taking it quite seriously now”, while initially the interest was mainly theoretical. Previously, scientists would artificially create the noise in the quantum systems that they would correct but now actual quantum computations can be fixed. Indeed, Preskill says that one of the key things that has really moved quantum error correction along in the past few years is the concentrated improvement of the hardware used, i.e. better gates with multiple qubits being processed simultaneously.

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‘New boson’ buzz intensifies at CERN, fire prevention in space and Neil Turok on a bright future for physics

The ATLAS detector at CERN

ATLAS under construction: has the experiment gone beyond the Standard Model? (Courtesy: ATLAS)

By Hamish Johnston

Excitement levels in the world of particle physics hit the roof this week as further evidence emerged that physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) may have caught sight of a new particle that is not described by the Standard Model of particle physics. If this turns out to be true, it will be the most profound discovery in particle physics in decades and would surely lead to a Nobel prize.

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The firm that’s made no noise over gravitational waves

A bird's eye view of LIGO Hanford's laser and vacuum equipment area (LVEA). The LVEA houses the pre-stabilized laser, beam splitter, input test masses, and other equipment.

Power me up: Kepco’s kit was used to convert mains AC into DC for the lasers, electronics and other instrumentation at LIGO. (Courtesy: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

By  Matin Durrani in Baltimore, Maryland, US

The exhibition hall at this year’s APS March meeting is so big that it can be hard to know who or what to see among the many companies displaying their wares or services. Fortunately, my colleague Joe Breck from IOP Publishing’s office in Philadelphia tipped me off about a great little story featuring Kepco Power Supplies, which is based in Flushing, New York.

I spoke to Mark Kupferberg, executive vice-president for power solutions at the firm, which was founded by his father and his two brothers in 1946 shortly afer the three had finished work on the Manhattan atomic-bomb project. Kepco mainly makes power supplies that convert mains AC into DC electricity, and has recently played a small but vital role in the discovery of gravitational waves, which were first predicted by Einstein 100 years ago.

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LEGO bricks, bony foams and Islamic art aid metamaterial advances

Photograph of Paolo Celli with his LEGO brick platform

Play time: Paolo Celli with his LEGO platform. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat in Baltimore, Maryland, US

Metamaterials are always a hot topic at the APS March meetings, and this afternoon we were treated to an array of the latest developments in the field. Just in case you have not come across the term before, a metamaterial is an artificially crafted material that aims to achieve the naturally unattainable. These materials are engineered to have special physical properties – some metamaterials act as optical or acoustic cloaks, while some can harvest energy or be used to dissipate it in some form.

Paolo Celli of the University of Minnesota in the US loved playing with LEGO bricks as a child. Now, the physicist still gets to play with LEGO, as his team has been using the bricks both to understand how metamaterials interact with waves and also as an inexpensive and accessible outreach medium. While the researchers initially looked at 3D printing to develop their platform material, they soon found that LEGO bricks attached to a baseplate made for an agile, versatile, low-cost platform that was not highly damped and could be easily reconfigured.

Celli and colleagues have already used the LEGO to experimentally demonstrate phononic band gaps and the associated energy-trapping mechanisms. They are currently working on demonstrating the control of wavelengths that are larger than the width of waveguides realized in the brick pattern, with potential applications in subwavelength wave focusing and imaging. We will be talking to Celli tomorrow, so watch out for more on LEGO metamaterials soon.

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