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Exoplanet christening, physics on the catwalk, ultrasonic wine

Whiskey aging barrels

Quick spirit: ultrasonic waves speed up the ageing process. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Bbadgett)

By Sarah Tesh

Last week NASA announced the major find of seven Earth-like exoplanets orbiting a nearby dwarf star. The news that at least three of the seven could possibly support life was reported far and wide. Yet, as with most astronomical finds, the planets do not have the most imaginative names. Simply named after the star they orbit, they are currently called TRAPPIST-1a to TRAPPIST-1h. So NASA took to Twitter with the request #7NamesFor7NewPlanets and the public delivered. Suggestions have included the names of lost astronauts, famous composers and ancient deities. But naturally, there were also some less sensible contributions, including the seven dwarfs, many Harry Potter references, dedications to Pluto and, obviously, Planet McPlanetface 1 to 7.

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Introducing Physics World Discovery

Image of the first five Physics World Discovery ebooks

Free to read – the first five Physics World Discovery titles.

By Matin Durrani

What better way to celebrate World Book Day than by checking out Physics World‘s new series of free-to-read, short-form ebooks. Entitled Physics World Discovery, they are short introductions to some of the hottest topics in physics written by leading voices in the physics community.

Available online here, these short-form ebooks follow all the attributes of feature articles in Physics World magazine – being well written, accessible, timely and authoritative. But as ebooks, they allow authors to go into more detail than a standard Physics World feature and include plenty of graphs, diagrams and pictures too.

Being short, each title is an ideal starting point for for physicists at all stages of their careers to get quickly up to speed with an evolving physics field.

We’ve published five Physics World Discovery texts so far, with more in the pipeline. You can read them in PDF, ePUB or Kindle format, making them perfect for those wanting intellectual stimulation on a train or plane journey.

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Coding and computing: the March 2017 issue of Physics World is out now

PWMar17cover-200By Louise Mayor

Physics these days wouldn’t succeed without software. Whether those lines of code are used to control new apparatus, make sense of fresh experimental data or simulate physical phenomena based on the latest theories, software is essential for understanding the world. The latest issue of Physics World, which is now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop, shines a light on how some physicists are exploiting software in new ways, while others are reinventing the hardware of a computer itself – binary isn’t the only way to go.

Sometimes there are so much data that software collaboration is the best way forward. In the issue, physicists Martin White and Pat Scott describe how the GAMBIT Collaboration is creating a new, open-source software tool that can test how theories of dark matter stack up against the wealth of data from various experiments such as direct searches for dark matter and the Large Hadron Collider. And with software development being so essential for physics research, data scientist Arfon Smith argues that we need to adopt better ways of recognizing those who contribute to this largely unrewarded activity. Columnist Robert Crease explores the other extreme: whether software can be patented.

Meanwhile, in an emerging field straddling both coding and computing, researcher Maria Schuld explains how quantum computers could enhance an already powerful software approach known as machine learning. (You can also read her article on physicsworld.com here.) Further into the realm of raw computing, physicist Jessamyn Fairfield describes the quest to develop a new kind of hardware that is physically, and functionally, similar to the computers inside our very own heads. As for how our brains process information, don’t miss a glimpse into the mind of physicist Jess Wade who has created a doodle based on the work Fairfield describes.

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A laser-bubble mermaid, ode to seven exoplanets, metallic hydrogen is lost

Tiny bubbles: laser-made mermaid (Courtesy: Kota Kumagai, Utsunomiya University)

Tiny bubbles: a laser-made mermaid. (Courtesy: Kota Kumagai/ Utsunomiya University)

By Hamish Johnston

A popular way of melding science and art is to create an image of a mythical being in your lab. Yoshio Hayasaki and colleagues at Utsunomiya University in Japan have made a pretty good likeness of a mermaid using a laser that forms tiny bubbles inside a liquid. “In our display, the microbubble voxels are three-dimensionally generated in a liquid using focused femtosecond laser pulses,” explains team member Kota Kumagai.

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Brooklyn’s pioneering approach to art and science

 Janna Levin outside the Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York 21 February 2017

Where art and science mix – astrophysicist Janna Levin outside Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York.

By Matin Durrani in New York, US

After spending four days in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I travelled down by train to New York (gotta love those comfy Amtrak seats and free WiFi). I first hooked up with mathematical physicist Peter Woit at Columbia University and then with science philosopher Bob Crease from Stony Brook University, who’s been a long-time columnist for Physics World.

I was keen to find out if they’d be interested in writing for the new Physics World Discovery series of ebooks and, while at Columbia, I had also hoped to put the same question to astrophysicist and author Janna Levin, who’s based in the physics department. Turns out, however, that Levin is on sabbatical, spending a year as “director of sciences” at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn’s Red Hook district. Curious to find out more about a centre that seeks to “make culture accessible to all”, I accepted her invitation to pay a visit.

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Science supporters protest in Boston

Stand up for Science rally in Boston, 19 February 2017

Gathering of minds – scientists at today’s Stand up for Science rally at Copley Square in Boston.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

Hundreds of scientists and science supporters gathered in Copley Square in Boston earlier today in a rally to underline the importance of science. The “Stand up for Science” event was organized to coincide with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is taking place a few blocks away.

To find out more about the aims and purpose of the rally, I hooked up with Geoffrey Supran (picutred below), who helped to organize the event. Having originally studied physics at the University of Cambridgein the UK, Supran obtained a PhD in materials science at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and is now doing a postdoc in the history of science with Naomi Oreskes at nearby Harvard University.

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AAAS chief predicts “tough and uncertain times” for US science funding

physicist and former Congressman Rush Holt is the current president of the American Association for the Advvancement of Science at the AAAS annual meeting in Boston 17 February 2017

Not for me – president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Rush Holt says there’s “no chance” of him becoming Donald Trump’s science adviser but admits it would be hard to turn down if offered.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

Rush Holt is that rarity: a physicist who’s also been a politician, having spent 16 years as Democratic Congressman for New Jersey’s 12th congressional district from 1999 to 2015. Those two attributes make him well placed in his current role as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which is holding its annual meeting here in Boston.

So when I sat down with Holt yesterday, our conversation naturally focused on the impact on science of Donald Trump’s election as US president. The bouffant-haired, former businessman and reality-TV star may have so far said little about the subject, but Holt believes that “tough and uncertain times” lie ahead for scientific funding. “I think we will be on a very austere budget for all non-defence discretionary activity,” he warns.

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Discover the secrets of science on TV

the panel of top TV producers seeking documentary ideas

Talent seekers – the panel of top TV producers wanting documentary ideas from delegates at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

Physics World has been involved in making online videos and what we call “mini documentaries” for more than seven years. But these are mostly low-budget affairs aimed at people who are, by and large, already interested in physics.

So what if you’re a physicist who wants to work with a big-shot producer to make a full-blown, hour-long  TV documentary watched by millions? Shows such as Horizon on the BBC or Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman on Discovery’s Science Channel get massive audiences, putting you in touch with far more people than most scientists could ever dream of.

A special session at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science had some of the answers. It brought together a bevvy of top TV producers (see slide above) who shared their tips on how scientists should pitch ideas for documentaries to them. A further session will be held tomorrow to let scientists propose real ideas in a kind of TV-science speed-dating.

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US policy chiefs explain how to handle Trump

At the AAAS meeting in Boston, February 2017, Neal Lane introduces John Holdren (left), Kerri-Ann Jones (centre) and Rosina Bierbaum

Speaking out – Neal Lane introduces John Holdren (left), Kerri-Ann Jones (centre) and Rosina Bierbaum at the 2017 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

I’m here at the 2017 meeting of the American Assocation for the Advancement of Science in Boston, where the theme is “Serving society through science policy”. The focus was picked last year, but it turned out to be an auspicious choice with the election of Donald Trump throwing the science community into uncharted policy waters.

Trying to make sense of what life will be like for US scientists under the Trump administration were five people with extensive experience of working closely with recent US presidents.

Chairing the session was Neal Lane, who served as Bill Clinton’s presidential science adviser for two years in the 1990s. Also present was physicist John Holdren, who spent eight years until last month as Barack Obama’s science chief, for which the audience gave him a generous round of applause.

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Churchill discusses aliens, quantum films make the cut, graphene in a dress

 

By Sarah Tesh

Last September, the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore invited people to submit short films about quantum physics for their Quantum Shorts 2016 competition. Both scientists and filmmakers alike have made the short list, which has just been released. The films could be about the science, history, theories, technologies or philosophies of quantum mechanics – anything that sparked the imagination. The online competition has been going since 2012 and alternates between short films and flash fiction, and this year the films will be screened at a film festival as well. The shortlist comprises of 10 films, all available to watch and vote for online. There are supernovae, love triangles, muesli with bananas and cats – everything you could want to help explain quantum physics.

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