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Sea monsters at LIGO, how to become a ‘thought leader’ and why not string theory?

"The art of naming glitches" by Antimatter Webcomic (click to enlarge).

“The art of naming glitches” by Nutsinee Kijbunchoo/Antimatter Webcomics (click to enlarge).

By Hamish Johnston

Have you ever wondered how the LIGO collaboration managed to tease out the tiny signal from gravitational wave GW150914 from all the background noise in its kilometre-sized detectors? Well you’re in luck because experts from the LIGO detector characterization group have written a lively piece on the CQG+ blog called “How do we know LIGO detected gravitational waves?”.

It’s packed full of fun facts; for example, did you know that detecting GW150914 is roughly the same as measuring a change in distance the thickness of a human hair between Earth and Alpha Centauri, the closest star to Earth? But be warned, the article is also full of technical terms such as “whistles”, “blips”, “koi fish” and even “Fringey the sea monster”. These are illustrated in the above graphic by LIGO physicist and artist Nutsinee Kijbunchoo.

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Behind the fence of a closed atomic city in Russia

 

By James Dacey

The European première of a documentary recorded secretly within a Russian “atomic city” is among the highlights at Sheffield Doc/Fest, the international documentary festival that gets under way tomorrow in Sheffield, UK. City 40, directed by the Iranian-born US filmmaker Samira Goetschel, takes viewers inside the walls of a segregated city established by the Soviet Union during the Cold War as a guarded location for developing nuclear weapons.

The social model in Ozersk (formerly known as City 40) is reminiscent of what occurred in Richland, the US city near the Hanford site in Washington State where plutonium was produced for the “Fat Man” bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. In both these US and Soviet cities, the citizens were lavished with higher-than-average salaries and standards of living, such as quality housing, healthcare and education systems. Today, Ozersk is still a closed city with an alleged population of 80,000 and exists officially as a facility for processing nuclear waste and material from decommissioned nuclear weapons.

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Physics World 2016 Focus on Optics and Photonics is out now

PWOPT16-cover-200By Matin Durrani

Research into optics, photonics and lasers is not only fascinating from a fundamental point of view. It’s also vital for technology, industry and applications in everyday life.

In the latest focus issue of Physics World, which is out now in print, online and through the Physics World app, you can find out about some of the latest research into optics and photonics – and how it’s being put to good use.

In our cover feature, take a look at some of the latest advances in invisibility cloaking – 10 years after first being demonstrated at microwave frequencies.

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IUPAC unveils names of four new elements

Portion of the periodic table showing the locations of elements 113, 115, 117 and 118. The elements are shown with provisional names, not their new proposed names. (Courtesy: IUPAC)

By Hamish Johnston

The periodic table could soon be graced by four new symbols (Nh, Mc, Ts and Og) as the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has just unveiled its proposed names for the four most recently discovered elements. Their discovery had been confirmed earlier this year jointly by IUPAC and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP).

Element 113 was discovered at the RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science in Japan and will be called nihonium (Nh). Nihon is a transliteration of “land of the rising sun”, which is a Japanese name for Japan.

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LISA Pathfinder opens the door to gravitational-wave detection in space

Flying high: LISA Pathfinder has overcome a major hurdle (Courtesy: ESA)

Flying high: LISA Pathfinder has overcome a major hurdle. (Courtesy: ESA)

By Hamish Johnston

2016 is shaping up to be a bumper year for physicists trying to detect gravitational waves. In February the LIGO collaboration announced the first ever direct detection of gravitational waves using two kilometre-sized detectors in the US.

Now, it looks like an even bigger detector will get permission to launch. Researchers working on the LISA Pathfinder space mission have just announced that they were able to isolate a 2 kg test mass at a special “Lagrangian point” between the Earth and the Sun. This is important because the planned LISA gravitational-wave observatory will use test masses located at three points in space (each separated by about one million kilometres) as the basis for a huge detector.

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On the frontline of the ‘reproducibility crisis’

Significant. (Click to view full cartoon. Courtesy: xkcd/Randall Munroe)

Significant. (Click to view full cartoon. Courtesy: xkcd/Randall Munroe)

By Margaret Harris

The “reproducibility crisis” in science has become big news lately, with more and more seemingly trustworthy findings proving difficult or impossible to reproduce. Indeed, a recent Nature survey found that two-thirds of respondents think current levels of reproducibility constitute a “major problem” for science. So far, physics hasn’t been affected much; the crisis has been most severe in fields such as psychology and clinical research, which, not coincidentally, involve messy human beings rather than nice clean atomic systems. However, that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant to physicists. Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking to three physics graduates who have become personally involved in addressing the reproducibility crisis within their chosen profession: medicine.

Henry Drysdale, Ioan Milosevic and Eirion Slade are third-year medical students at the University of Oxford. All three earned their undergraduate degrees in physics, and they now make up one-third of COMPare – an initiative by Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM) that tracks “outcome switching” in clinical trials. As Drysdale explained to me over coffee in an Oxford café, researchers who want to perform clinical trials have to state beforehand which “outcomes” they intend to measure. For example, if they are trialling a new drug to treat high blood pressure, then “blood pressure after one year” might be their main outcome. But researchers generally keep track of other variables as well, and often their final report focuses on a positive result in one of these other parameters (a dip in the number of heart attacks, say), while downplaying or ignoring the drug’s effect on the main outcome.

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Fractals and infinite curves, sonified data and farewell to Sir Tom Kibble

By Tushna Commissariat

Fractals have always fascinated me and I am sure it’s the same for many of you. What I find most intriguing about them is how the relatively simple base pattern, or “seed”, quickly scales up to form the intricate designs we see in a snowflake or a coastline. In the video above, mathematician and animator Grant Sanderson has created a montage of “space filling curves” – theoretically speaking, such curves can endlessly expand without every crossing its own path to fill an infinite space. Following on from these curves, Sanderson shows you just how a simple seed pattern grows into a fractal and also describes how small changes to a seed property – such as an angle in a V – can alter the final image. The above video follows from a previous one Sanderson created on “Hilbert’s curve, and the usefulness of infinite results in a finite world” so check them both out.

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Kavli prize for gravitational-wave pioneers

Winners of the 2016 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics

Gravitational-wave pioneers: (l to r) Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss.

By Michael Banks

It’s been a great month for the people behind the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (aLIGO), which recently discovered gravitational waves.

In early May, Ron Drever, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss – who co-founded LIGO – together bagged a cool $1m share of a special $3m Breakthrough Prize together with more than 1000 LIGO scientists, who shared the remaining $2m.

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The June 2016 issue of Physics World is now out

PWJun16cover-200By Matin Durrani

Physicists can turn their hands to some unusual subjects. But in the June 2016 issue of Physics World magazine – now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop – we reveal the unexpected link between physics and ancient Icelandic sagas. If you don’t believe us, check our cover feature out.

Meanwhile, with the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union (EU) looming, we examine what impact the EU has on UK physics – and how remaining in or leaving the EU could affect the country’s science.

Don’t miss either our review of the new film The Man Who Knew Infinity, while our forum section this month has advice from Barry Sanders of the University of Calgary for how best to collaborate with scientists in China. There’s also a great interview with the new president of the US National Academy of Sciences Marcia McNutt.

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Killer asteroid bust-up, exposing academic plagiarism, #IAmAPhysicist and more

Time-lapse image of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA’s WISE space telescope

Time-lapse image of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA’s WISE space telescope, which is used by NEOWISE to measure asteroid sizes. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

First-up in this week’s Red Folder is a tale of killer asteroids, hubris and peer review from the Washington Post. The science writer Rachel Feltman has written a nice article about a claim by physicist-turned-entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold that NASA’s research on asteroids that could potentially collide with Earth is deeply flawed. On Monday, Myhrvold posted a 111-page preprint on arXiv that argues that asteroid radii measured by NASA’s NEOWISE project are far less accurate than stated by NASA scientists. What’s more, Myhrvold seems to suggest that NEOWISE scientists have “copied” some results from previous asteroid studies.

Myhrvold began his career as a theoretical physicist and, after a stint as Microsoft’s chief technology officer, founded an intellectual-property firm. He has never worked in the field of asteroids, yet he has taken great exception to some of the physics and statistical analysis underlying the NEOWISE results. His paper has been submitted to the journal Icarus, but has not yet passed peer review – unlike the NEOWISE results. In her article, Feltman ponders why Myhrvold is actively promoting his controversial work – he was featured in a New York Times article on Monday – before it has passed peer review. She also speaks to several NEOWISE scientists, who are not amused.

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