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Giving scientific advice in Japan

Prof Tateo Arimoto

Sound advice: Tateo Arimoto

By Michael Banks in Tokyo, Japan

US President Donald Trump might be in Japan right now eating hamburgers and playing golf with the recently re-elected prime minister Shinzo Abe, but his presence didn’t stop me and Physics World editor Matin Durrani having our own high-level meeting as we began our week-long tour of the country.

After landing at Haneda airport in Tokyo, we headed straight to our downtown hotel for a meeting with Tateo Arimoto, who is director of science, technology and innovation at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies and a principal fellow of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST).

Over a light dinner of sushi, rice and vegetables, we had a wide-ranging and frank discussion about the role of scientific advice in Japan.

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Konnichiwa Japan

Lake at the University of Tokyo

An area of tranquility at the University of Tokyo (Courtesy: Michael Banks)

By Michael Banks

Suitcases packed, Matin Durrani and I will be travelling to Japan over the weekend for a week-long road trip that will see us heading to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Kamioka.

It’s a busy schedule that includes meeting with senior policy-makers and visiting a number of high-profile institutes.

The main purpose of our visit is to gather material for a special report on Japan that will be published in February 2018 (for this year’s reports on China and the US see here and here).

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Putting a stamp on gravitational waves, LEGO’s Women of Nasa, physicist competes in bake-off

Cosmic delivery: German stamp commemorates gravitational waves (Courtesy: German Federal Ministry of Finance)

Cosmic delivery: German stamp commemorates gravitational waves. (Courtesy: German Federal Ministry of Finance)

By Michael Banks and Hamish Johnston

For those wanting to add a physics twist to your season’s greetings, you now can thanks to Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance. It has announced two new stamps that will go on sale in the country on 7 December. A €0.40 stamp will feature the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite and will be the first German stamp to include a metallic coating. Gaia was launched in 2013 to measure the positions and distances of astronomical objects, including stars, planets as well as comets. The ministry also announced a €0.70 stamp that depicts the gravitational waves that emerge from the collision of two black holes. The simulation was made by researchers at the Albert Einstein Institute (AEI) in Potsdam, Germany. “The ministry did not announce whether letters equipped with the new gravitational-wave stamp will be transported at the speed of light,” states an AEI press release.

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Under the sea: the November 2017 issue of Physics World is now out

PWNov17cover-500By Matin Durrani

Physicists love a challenge. Some have experiments up in space, while others work deep underground or at the tops of mountains. But just imagine how hard it must be for the those physicists who do experiments at sea.

The November 2017 issue of Physics World, which is now out in print and digital format, examines some of the challenges for physicists working below the waterline.

Jon Willis describes his experience on the exploration ship Nautilus in the Pacific Ocean, looking for mineral-rich “black smokers” that support life in conditions mimicking those on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Helen Czerski reveals why her studies of bubbles could help those who model climate change, while Antoine Kouchner and Véronique Van Elewyck explain why and how researchers are using the ocean as a giant neutrino detector.

Remember that if you’re a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read the whole of Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOSAndroid and Web browsers.

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Happy Dark Matter Day

Darkness to light: the LSST cleanroom (Courtesy: LSST)

Darkness to light: the LSST clean room (Courtesy: LSST)

By Hamish Johnston

“On and around October 31, 2017, the world will celebrate the hunt for the unseen…” is the message on the Dark Matter Day website, which has been put together by physicists at universities and research labs across the globe. The site has links to more than 100 online and real-life events taking place in October and November of this year in more than 20 countries worldwide.

Why celebrate dark matter? Why not? After all, the elusive dark stuff appears to account for about 85% of the matter in the universe and its gravitational pull defines the fabric of the cosmos at galactic and greater distance scales.  Furthermore, working out exactly what dark matter is could provide valuable information about physics beyond the Standard Model.

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Hawking’s PhD thesis, Einstein letter up for auction, first zero

By Michael Banks

Page of Stephen Hawking's PhD thesis

Courtesy: University of Cambridge

The PhD thesis of the University of Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking was made freely available to read this week by the university’s Library’s Office of Scholarly Communication.

Hawking completed his PhD – entitled “Properties of expanding universes” – in 1966 when he was 24 years old. To mark Open Access Week 2017, the 117-page tome was posted on the university’s Apollo open-access repository, which is already home to some 15,000 research articles and 2400 theses.

Yet within hours of Hawking’s opus being posted online, demand was so great that the site crashed. However, according to the university, it was still downloaded more than 60,000 times in the first 24 hours.

“By making my PhD thesis open access, I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet,” Hawking noted. “Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.”

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The science and policy of green energy

Juliet Davenport

Juliet Davenport at Hampole wind farm near Doncaster. (Courtesy: kalory.co.uk)

By Margaret Harris

In the days following the Great Storm of October 1987, as people across southern England and northern France picked roof tiles and downed tree limbs out of their gardens, Juliet Davenport began thinking seriously about weather.

At the time of the storm, Davenport – now the chief executive of Good Energy, a UK-based supplier and generator of renewable energy – was a third-year physics student at the University of Oxford. She was fascinated to learn that meteorologists (including the BBC’s Michael Fish, who famously told viewers “not to worry” about an approaching hurricane) got their predictions wrong due, in part, to a simple error in the location of ship-based weather observations in the Bay of Biscay, which led them to predict that the storm would follow a more southerly track. “I realized then just how fundamentally sensitive our systems are to data fluctuations,” she told an audience at the University of the West of England (UWE) last night.

Thirty years later, Davenport is still fascinated by the science of weather and climate, but she has also become passionate about the economics of how business becomes an “engine for change” in the world. The role of business in decarbonizing the UK economy was a major theme of her talk. Often, she explained, people regard sustainability and climate change as “someone else’s problem”. That isn’t useful, she said, because “if you expect one part of a society to do all the work, it’s really hard”.

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Dialogues on physics, great women who changed science, a virtual reality journey to six exoplanets

 

By Hamish Johnston

I spend an hour or so every day looking at physics-related websites including several dozen blogs by professional physicists. One of my favourites is Asymptotia by Clifford Johnson, a theoretical physicist at the University of Southern California. Johnson is a talented visual artist and next month he has a new graphic book out called The Dialogues. The above video gives you a taste of what to expect. Continue reading

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The physics of sperm: the movie

By James Dacey

Luke Skywalker et al. re-entered the public imagination recently with the release of the trailer for Star Wars: the Last Jedi. But where that movie takes you on a galactic adventure, a new short web film by the Wyss Institute in the US takes you on a swashbuckling tour of the microscopic – tracking animated sperm on a mission to fertilize an egg.

The Beginning is based on collaborative work between a pair of researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Founding director Don Ingber teamed up with the biophysicist/professional animator Charles Reilly to seek an atomic-level understanding of sperm movement. Combining molecular dynamics simulations with film animation software, they have visualized how a sperm tail moves based on scientific data.

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What gravitational waves did (and didn’t) tell us about GW17081

100 s countdown: Jocelyn Read (centre) and undergraduate students Isabella Molina (left) and Erick Leon (Courtesy: CQG+)

Rotating into view: Jocelyn Read (centre) and undergraduate students Isabella Molina (left) and Erick Leon. (Courtesy: CQG+)

 

By Hamish Johnston

The GW170817 neutron-star merger was by no means an instantaneous event. Physicists working on the LIGO-Virgo gravitational-wave detectors were able to watch the two stars spiral towards each other for about 100 s before they merged. Valuable information about the neutron stars has been gleaned from the observation, but the detectors were unable to see the merger itself and its aftermath.

In “The gravitational-wave story of a neutron-star merger”, Jocelyn Read of California State University Fullerton takes up the story at 17 min before the merger. Then, the neutron stars would have been be separated by about 700 km and have an orbital frequency of about 10 Hz.

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