Today is my first day in Beijing and boy am I glad I packed my winter coat. Despite the clear blue skies, it was just above freezing point as I arrived at the Beijing Computational Science Research Center (CSRC) this morning, with an icy wind bringing an added chill factor. I was with my IOP Publishing colleague Tom Miller as we were delivering a presentation about scientific publishing and journalism and our taxi driver decided that 2 km from the venue was as far as he fancied going. So a brisk walk later we arrived with chattering teeth in need of a thorough thaw.
Located a few kilometres north-west of Beijing’s centre, the CSRC is within the Zhongguancun hi-tech zone. The majority of buildings within the technology hub are occupied by commercial firms, and our icy walk took us past the impressive modern offices of Baidu and Lenovo among other companies. The CSRC, however, is focused primarily on the application of computational modelling to fundamental science research. Its seven divisions include physical systems, quantum physics & quantum information, and materials & energy.
It might look like a kind of dumpling at first sight, but upon closer inspection the eagle eyed might spot that it is actually a 3D version of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the thermal remnant of the Big Bang that came into being when the universe was only 380 000 years old. The model was created by physicist Dave Clements from Imperial College London who says that detailed maps of the CMB – created by space telescopes such as the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite – are difficult to view in 2D. Continue reading →
Toe to toe: the three ChattyFeet physicist designs.
By Matin Durrani
It’s not even Halloween yet and Physics World HQ has already received its first gift ideas for the Christmas season. Now most of us might roll our eyes if we were given a pair of socks for Christmas, but the footwear sent to us by UK firm ChattyFeet – slogan “Let the socks do the talkin'” – are sure to bring a smile to any physicist’s face.
The company has three different physics-related sock designs on offer, each depicting a cartoon image of a famous physicist and branded with a toe-totally amusing name. First up is a fetching blue number dubbed “Stephen Toeking” with the washing instruction: “Choose a slow spinning cycle to avoid a black hole.”
There are still 10 days to go until Halloween, but some physicists can’t resist getting into the spirit a bit early. Over at Symmetry, Kathryn Jepsen suggests a few scary physics films that would make for a spooky movie night on 31 October. They’re not actually real films, but rather a series of posters dreamt up at Chicago’s Sandbox Studio in collaboration with the illustrator Ana Kova. My favourite is Poltergauss (right), because trying to understand magnetism is terrifying.
Sounds of Earth: An original golden record. (Courtesy: NASA)
By Hamish Johnston
An online initiative to reissue Carl Sagan’s golden record, which was attached to NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 craft, has so far raised a whopping $1.1m, smashing its $198,000 goal. The campaign was created in September by David Pescovitz, editor and managing partner at the technology news site Boing Boing, after teaming up with Timothy Daly from Amoeba Music in the US, who was the original producer of the record, as well as US graphic designer Lawrence Azerrad. The original LP, which was created in 1977, contains sounds of the Earth along with recorded greetings and a mix of music, and has been unobtainable for decades, having been available only on CD-ROM in the early 1990s. Now that the cash has been raised, the golden record will be released next year as an LP to mark the 40th anniversary of the Voyager launches. So how much will it set you back? It’s yours for only $98, what a bargain.
Ada Lovelace (1848): considered to be the first computer programmer.
By James Dacey
Today is Ada Lovelace Day (ALD), a day to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Named after the 19th-century polymath Ada Lovelace, the annual initiative also seeks to engage with the challenges of attracting more women into STEM careers and supporting career development. Now in its eighth year, the day includes a number of events and online activities.
The day will culminate in a few hours with Ada Lovelace Day Live!, a “science cabaret” event at the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London (18:30–21:30, tickets still available). In what promises to be “an entertaining evening of geekery, comedy and music”, the all-female line-up includes several scientists from the physical sciences. Among them is Sheila Kanani, a planetary physicist and science comedian who is the education, outreach and diversity officer for the Royal Astronomical Society in London.
Neutron scientists in Europe are facing a number of headwinds in the coming decade. One is the uncertainty caused by the recent UK vote to leave the European Union. Another is the impending closure of ageing reactors across the continent such as the Orphée reactor in Paris and the BER II reactor in Berlin, which could both shut down by 2020.
A recent report by an expert group of researchers – the Neutron Landscape Group – paints a worrying challenge for neutron scientists. It forecasts that the continent’s supply of neutrons could drop by as much as a half over the next decade – a shortfall in capacity that is unlikely to be met by the upcoming European Spallation Source in Lund, Sweden.
That said, there are plans to help overcome the impending neutron gap, including proposals to plug it by building compact, specialist sources. Improvements to accelerator technology and instruments could also help by boosting the number of usable neutrons. Scientists at the US Spallation Neutron Source, for example, are pioneering a method to improve its proton beam energy using plasma processing, while the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s world-leading neutron microscope will soon open up to users.
Marvel’s Luke Cage is a superhero television series that has just debuted on Netflix. Cage’s superpower is that his skin is impervious to bullets and other projectiles fired at him by villains. But could it be possible to create a skin-like layer that would allow someone to emerge unscathed from machine gun fire? The Nerdist’s Kyle Hill has the answer in the above video.
As science-inspired global initiatives go, it’s fair to say that the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015) burned brighter than its organizers could have imagined. IYL 2015 set out to raise awareness of the crucial roles light can play in areas such as sustainable development, education and health, and it did so through festivals, workshops, publications and a plethora of other activities. A final report published this week details some of IYL 2015’s key achievements and describes some of the year’s most memorable activities.
Among the highlights identified in the report is the Physics World film series “Light in our Lives”, a set of short documentaries about the role of light in people’s everyday lives. We commissioned the films as an official IYL 2015 media partner, embracing the collaborative and international dimensions of the year by working with filmmakers across the world. They include a film about how LED lanterns are enabling students to study after sunset in a rural community in India, and another about how lighting technologies are bringing a modern twist to Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City (see above).
The conference was a satellite of the annual Italian Quantum Information Science Conference (IQIS) and involved 95 students and postdocs from Italy and beyond. The day-long event was a great opportunity for the up-and-comers of quantum information to shine – and their technical talks demonstrated their expertise and passion.