While at the Convergence conference at the Perimeter Institute (PI), Physics World’s Louise Mayor and I had dinner with Sean Gryb. He did his PhD at the PI and is now doing a postdoc at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In the above video he shares some of his highlights of the conference.
Gryb is working on “shape dynamics”, which is a new idea for re-evaluating Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity (GR). The idea was initiated by Julian Barbour and Gryb became involved in the development of shape dynamics while he was at PI. He now belongs to a small international band of physicists who are developing the concept. While shape dynamics is an alternative treatment of GR, the ultimate goal of their work seems to be the creation of a new framework for a theory of quantum gravity – an important goal of theoretical physics.
Today is the third day of Graphene Week, a conference at the University of Manchester devoted to the fundamental science and applications of 2D materials. While many of the talks require a PhD in materials science to even understand the title (I for one am struggling), one session taking place this evening has the refreshingly simple title: Women in Graphene. Intrigued, I caught up with the session organizer Katarina Boustedt from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.
Graphene Week is an annual event organized by the Graphene Flagship, the EU’s biggest ever research initiative with a budget of €1 billion. As promoting equality is a key part of the Flagship’s mission, Boustedt has launched this initiative to support women working in 2D materials research. Tonight’s two-hour session is designed to start the conversation and find out the types of support that women researchers would like.
The search for ripples in space–time known as gravitational waves is one of my favourite scientific endeavours. So here at the Perimeter Institute’s Convergence conference, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to talk to Nergis Mavalvala, one of the speakers here.
A physicist at MIT, Mavalvala works on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US. LIGO’s first six observing runs took place from 2002 to 2010 and yielded no detection of a gravitational wave. Since then, LIGO physicists have been working on increasing the instrument’s sensitivity – they needed to make it even better at measuring the stretching and compressing of the interferometers’ 4 km-long arms thought to occur if a gravitational wave passes through them.
But over at the UK’s new £61m National Graphene Insitute (NGI), which I toured earlier today, blackboards are very much verboten. It’s the chalk dust you see, which is a no-no for health-and-safety bosses at the University of Manchester, where the NGI is located. Incidentally, Manchester is also currently home to Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, who shared the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics for isolating graphene for the first time.
Harvard’s Subir Sachdev has just taken the audience here at the Convergence conference on a delightful romp through the phase diagram of the cuprate high-temperature superconductors. What I found most interesting was not the superconducting phase, but rather Sachdev’s description of the “strange metal” phase.
This phase occurs when the cuprate copper-oxide layer is highly doped with holes and has perplexed physicists for some time – hence its strange moniker. It has no quasiparticles and lots of low-energy excitations so there is no easy way to describe the collective behaviour of the electrons.
Caltech’s Maria Spiropulu has a great party trick. She can demonstrate the bizarre rotational property of a spin ½ particle using a full glass of water and a contortion of her arm without spilling a drop. This was just one of the many highlights of her talk about the future of experimental particle physics that she gave yesterday at the Convergence meeting here at the Perimeter Institute.
While Spiropulu doesn’t talk about spin in the above video, she does explain why she is looking forward to analysing data from the 13 TeV run of the Large Hadron Collider, where she is part of the CMS collaboration. So, what could Spiropulu and colleagues find when they dig into the vast amounts of data that CMS is currently producing? It just could be four more types of Higgs particle. To find out more watch the video.
Neil Turok at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (Courtesy: Gabriela Secara)
By Louise Mayor in Waterloo, Canada
Right now, top physicists from around the world are arriving in Waterloo, Canada, to attend a unique conference. Christened Convergence, the meeting is the brainchild of Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) in Waterloo, where the event will be based. I spoke to Turok to find out what motivated him to set up this conference, what makes it so special, and what he hopes it will achieve.
Squeaky clean: SNOLAB’s Nigel Smith (left), Ian Lawson (centre) and Chris Jillings.
By Hamish Johnston at the CAP Congress in Edmonton, Alberta
I’m a bit of a DIY enthusiast and one thing that I know about drilling into a masonry wall is that you should hold a vacuum-cleaner hose to the hole or you will end up with dust all over the wall and the floor below. Believe it or not, that is exactly what workers at SNOLAB in Canada do in order to keep background levels of radiation from affecting their dark-matter and neutrino detectors.
By Hamish Johnston at the CAP Congress in Edmonton, Alberta
One promising route to understanding the causes of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – and hopefully finding a cure – is the study of how and why proteins in the brain sometimes form neurotoxic plaques. These plaques are disc-like structures that are about 50 µm in diameter and made from polypeptides. Their presence in the grey matter of the brain is strongly associated with AD and some other neurological conditions, but why they form and why they cause dementia are both not understood.