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New infographics show that more than one-quarter of physics Nobel laureates are immigrants

Maps showing the movement of physics Nobel laureates

Migration of minds: maps showing the movement of Nobel laureates (click to see full infographic). (Design: Paul Matson)

By Hamish Johnston

Next Tuesday the Nobel Prize for Physics will be announced at 11:45 CEST and I am making the bold prediction that the winner – or one of the winners – will be an immigrant. Why? Because this year’s Physics World Nobel-prize infographics show that of the 198 people who have won the prize, 51 are immigrants – so I reckon there is a reasonable chance that I will be right.

What do we mean by an immigrant? This is a tough question, especially in science, where people tend to move around a lot and don’t always settle in one place. For the purposes of these infographics, we have used a rather crude definition of an immigrant laureate: someone who died or currently lives in a country other than that of their birth. There is more about how we made the infographics later in this post – but first, what do they tell us?

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The October 2015 issue of Physics World is out now


By  Matin Durrani

It’s amazing the lengths physicists will go to get things done – from building telescopes on the tops of mountains to lowering neutrino detectors to the bottom of the sea and from firing satellites into space to colliding particles in tunnels. We’ve covered all those efforts in
Physics World many times, but there’s one extreme activity that’s been off our radar – until now.

That is the new but little-known field of “speleophysics” – or “the physics of caves” – which we tackle in the cover feature of the October 2015 issue of Physics World magazine. For the small band of researchers who brave the journey underground, being a speleophysicist is almost the perfect job. Armed with helmets, ropes, torches and boots, they’re able to combine their love of physics with a fascination for the nether world – and experience the thrill (and danger) of caving, too.

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Physicists in motion: immigration and the Nobel prize


Around the world: how has immigration shaped the global physics community? (Courtesy: iStockphoto/Joel Carillet)

By Hamish Johnston

In December 1938 Enrico Fermi travelled to Stockholm, where he was presented with that year’s Nobel Prize for Physics for his insights into the atomic nucleus. But after the ceremony, Fermi did not return to his native Italy. Instead, he joined his wife and young children on a voyage to the US. Fermi went on to make major contributions to physics in that country – including playing crucial roles in developing nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

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Maxwell’s Torch arrives in Birmingham to mark International Year of Light

Photo of Julia King and others with Maxwell's Torch at the Library of Birmingham on 25 September 2015

Bright affair – Julia King (right) and other dignitaries grasp Maxwell’s Torch at the opening of Lightfest at the Library of Birmingham in the UK. (Courtesy: James Dacey)

By Matin Durrani 

Light was the theme in the UK’s second city last Friday when I and my colleague James Dacey attended Lightfest at the Library of Birmingham. Organized by Aston University and funded by the European Commission, the festival was a celebration of light in science, art, technology and culture during the International Year of Light (IYL2015).

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Carlo Rovelli discusses his ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’


By  Matin Durrani

A tiny, 83-page book about some of the basic principles of physics has been a surprise hit in Italy – becoming the single bestselling book of any kind to be published in the country this year.

The book has now been translated into English, entitled Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, and its author – the Italian-born theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli – dropped by the Physics World offices in Bristol yesterday en route to giving a sold-out lecture about the book as part of the city’s Festival of Ideas.

In the interview above, Rovelli explains what the book’s about, how he managed to condensed big physics ideas into such a short space – and why its success was absolutely not what he expected.

When he’s not writing popular-science books, Rovelli is based at the University of Marseilles in France, where he carries out research into loop quantum gravity, which he once tackled for Physics World.

If you want to find out more about the book, check out Penguin’s rather splendid interactive website.

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Disaster-proof astronomy?

Photograph of the ALMA array from the air

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) on the Chajnantor Plateau in Chile. (Courtesy: Clem & Adri Bacri-Normier/ESO)

By Louise Mayor in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

In many ways, the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes seems like one of the worst places in the world to build a very large and expensive telescope array. I have already experienced or witnessed first-hand a host of hazards on my trip to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), which is my reward for winning the European Astronomy Journalism Prize 2014.

At 2.39 a.m. local time last Monday, I was rudely reminded that I was in a tectonically active region by a magnitude-6.3 earthquake. At the time, I was staying overnight in Santiago, with two flights down and one to go on my way to the ALMA site in the Atacama Desert further north.

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Blood Moon at night, stargazers’ delight

By Tushna Commissariat

I am rather tired as I type up this post, but I do have an excellent excuse for being so sleepy today as I was awake until the wee hours of the morning watching the  “super blood Moon” eclipse. As most of you know, today’s eclipse was particularly impressive as a super Moon (when the Moon is at its closest point to the Earth) coincided with a total lunar eclipse – when the Earth is perfectly in-between the Sun and Moon.

Rather unusually for the UK, we (in and around Bristol, at least) had a crystal-clear night, devoid of any clouds. I set up camp in my backyard, armed with a pair of binoculars, my camera with a zoom lens (but, unfortunately, no tripod) and a hot cup of tea…or two!

Despite the cold bite of an autumn night, the Moon really was a sight to behold. Before the eclipse, the super Moon was so bright that I could hardly look at it through my binoculars.

The full super Moon

The full “super Moon” at around 10 p.m. BST, a few hours before the eclipse began. (Courtesy: Graeme Watt)

Lunar eclipse, just beginning

The Moon partially eclipsed, not quite bloody just yet, with a lunar flare. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

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Our true place in the universe, an eclipse for insomniacs and how far the Chilean landmass moved last week


By Tushna Commissariat

An image of the solar system – showing our luminous Sun ringed by nine (or is it eight?) evenly spaced planets and the asteroid belt – is a familiar feature in many school textbooks. In fact, such images are so commonplace that we often forget just how wrong they are when it comes to showing the true scale of the solar system. In particular, the billions and billions of kilometres of empty space that lie between each planet are rarely depicted.

Now, filmmakers and friends Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh have “drawn” a realistic model of the solar system on a dry Nevada lakebed, complete with planetary orbits. The duo describes it as “a true illustration of our place in the universe”. Watch the video above to see how the pair planned and executed their massive portrait.

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Time to claim the Chilean prize

Chilean flag in Santiago

By Louise Mayor in Santiago, Chile

When I got to immigration at Santiago airport in Chile this morning, the man behind the glass asked me whether I was here for business or pleasure. “Business,” I replied. But that word didn’t sit right with me. To me, the word “business” conjures the image of some dull suit-and-briefcase affair. But I’m here to go to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) as my reward for winning the European Astronomy Journalism Prize 2014, and I’ve been thinking of it as quite the once-in-a-lifetime treat. “Perhaps,” I thought to myself in those split-seconds following my reply, “my trip does fall under ‘pleasure’ after all?”

Not one to mislead immigration officers, I immediately wanted to clarify the situation. “Well,” I added, “er,” before quickly realizing that changing one’s answer at the immigration counter is perhaps not the best idea. The man then stopped his document-checking and looked at me square-on, fixing me with an intense gaze. “Why are you here?” he asked.

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Black-hole Sun, ticking clocks, coffee-stain avalanches and more

clipse Totality over Sassendalen" by Luc Jamet

“Eclipse Totality over Sassendalen” by Luc Jamet.
(Courtesy: Luc Jamet/RAS)


By Michael Banks and Tushna Commissariat

It’s that time of the year again when the Royal Observatory Greenwich announces the winners of its Astronomy Photographer of the Year award and releases some of the most wonderful and awe-inspiring celestial images. Pictured above is this year’s overall winning image – titled “Eclipse Totality over Sassendalen” and taken by French photographer Luc Jamet, this stunning skyscape was taken from Svalbard during the total solar eclipse that took place earlier this year. “It is one of those heart-stoppingly beautiful shots for which you feel grateful to the photographer for sharing such an exceptional moment,” says Melanie Vandenbrouck, who was one of the judges. If you are in London, then you can drop in to the observatory to see the full exhibition , which opens today, and you can  see all the winning images online.

While you’re admiring pictures, do take a look at the latest images of Pluto – backlit by the Sun and showing off its many rugged mountains and icy planes – taken by the New Horizons probe. The pictures are eerily similar to something you would see at the poles of our very own planet, while still maintaining its alien air.

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