Over the past year the world’s computers, mobile phones and other devices generated some 12 zettabytes of data. And by 2020 that number is predicted to rise to 44 zettabytes – nearly as many bits as there are stars in the universe.
In the August 2016 issue of Physics World magazine – now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop – Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh in the UK explains how the humble household light bulb could soon be transformed into the backbone of a revolutionary new wireless communications network based on visitible light.
Known as “LiFi”, the system could not only contribute to next-generation 5G mobile-phone systems, but also unlock the potential of the “Internet of things”, create”smart” cities, help with the introduction of driverless cars and offer new ways to monitor the health of old people. You can also read the article here.
The August issue also shows how neutrons could help in the search for new drugs, why we need to solve the ethical dilemmas surrounding space mining, and how physicists are helping to save daguerreotype photographs from decay. Don’t miss either our look at the impact of Brexit on European physics.
Topping this week’s Red Folder is an “Animated history of physics” narrated by the Irish comedian and science enthusiast Dara O Briain. Running from Galileo to Einstein’s general theory of relatively – and giving very short shrift to quantum mechanics – it’s more of a selected history. You can enjoy the animations and O Briain’s soothing brogue in the video above.
O Briain often teams up with the particle physicist and media celebrity Brian Cox, who is also in the news recently for teaching children in London how to ignite potentially explosive gas. Before you call social services, it was all in the name of science education and part of Cox’s visit to St. Paul’s Way Trust School. Cox had been invited to the school’s summer science school and obliged by leading an experiment into the properties of methane. “There is no shortage of enthusiasm for students and young people when you talk about science and engineering,” Cox told the Reuters news agency.
Preparing to navigate the exhibit hall at the European Science Open Forum on crutches
By Margaret Harris
As I prepared to travel to Manchester earlier this week for the 2016 European Science Open Forum (ESOF), I had an unwanted extra item on my to-do list: working out, in detail, whether it was physically possible for me to attend.
My problem was my foot: a few weeks ago, I broke it, and as ESOF approached, it became clear that my injury wouldn’t heal in time. I was wary of trying to do a conference on crutches, but the reassuring responses to my queries (yes, my hotel had accessible rooms; yes, the venue for the conference, Manchester Central, was “very accessible”) convinced me that it would be okay. So I headed off to Manchester last Sunday for two days of science talks – and got an eye-opening lesson on what it’s like to attend a scientific conference with a physical disability.
Don’t walk into the water! Pokémon Go arrives at Fermilab. (Courtesy: Lauren Biron/Fermilab)
By Michael Banks and Hamish Johnston
The smartphone app Pokémon GO has been all the rage since its recent launch. The augmented-reality game is based on the Nintendo franchise and features players exploring their surroundings while trying to catch as many of the virtual creatures as possible, According to Science, Pokémon have been spotted at a number of science centres including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory while Symmetry Magazine reports that the game has also infiltrated particle-physics labs such as Fermilab, with scientists seen walking around the lab peering into their phone as they hunt down Pokémon.
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about “Lateral Thoughts”, Physics World’slong-running humour column. Click to read the first, second and third posts.
As the editor in charge of Lateral Thoughts – Physics World’s long-running column of humorous or otherwise offbeat essays on physics – I am sometimes* asked whether I have a favourite. It’s an interesting question, and back in 2014, when I was writing a series of posts for this blog about how Lateral Thoughts had changed over the (then) 25-year history of Physics World, I promised to answer it.
This, however, proved easier said than done. In the weeks that followed my foolish pledge, the Physics World inbox (firstname.lastname@example.org) received a whole series of Lateral Thoughts essays that could have been my “favourite”. One of them, published in May 2014, was John Swanson’s discourse on the quantum nature of the 20:08 train from Bristol Parkway. Another, which appeared in June 2014, contained Chris Atkins’ gloriously straight-faced analysis of the physics of Poohsticks. A third, in July 2014, saw kung-fu expert Felix Flicker explore an unexpected connection between the mathematics of spinors and the art of escaping from an armlock. Then, in August 2014, John Evans pondered various physics-based ways of improving his running – such as refining his aerodynamic profile by developing a beer belly. (Evans, incidentally, went on to write a Lateral Thought on cycling in October 2015, and this month we published his essay on swimming. This means he’s now completed a lateral-thinking triathlon. Congratulations!)
If you have never been one of the lucky few to have wandered the tunnels of a particle accelerator, but have always wondered what lies within, take a look at the video above. The European X-ray Free Electron Laser (European XFEL) – which is currently under construction in Germany and will come online next year – will provide ultrashort (27,000 X-ray flashes per second) and ultrabright X-ray laser flashes that are needed to study chemical reactions in situ or to study extreme states of matter (you can read more about the kind of research that will be done there in the September issue of Physics World magazine). The XFEL tunnel is 3.4 km long and you can zoom across all of it in the 5 minute long video. I particularly enjoyed watching particular locations where engineers could be seen carrying out tests, as well as watching folks on bicycles wobble out of the camera’s way.
On a slightly related note, if, like me, you occasionally get a bit muddled when it comes to certain details of different particle accelerators – for example which came first, the synchrotron or the cyclotron – take a look at this excellent “primer” over at Symmetry magazine.
A few weeks ago I was in Germany for the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, where I moderated a “press talk” about migration and science. This was essentially a panel discussion that involved two chemistry Nobel laureates – Martin Karplus and Daniel Shechtman – and two early-career physicists: Winifred Ayinpogbilla Atiah from Ghana and Ana Isabel Maldonado Cid from Spain.
Before setting off to the International Space station (ISS) for six months, UK astronaut Tim Peake revealed that one of the meals he would miss most is the classic British roast dinner. So what better way to celebrate the 44 year old’s safe return to Earth last month than to create a portrait of him made from his favourite nosh? Designed by UK “food artist” Prudence Staite for the Hungry Horse pub chain, the culinary creation took 20 hours to make – you can watch a timelapse video of it being created above. The finished portrait weighed in at 12 kg and says “Welcome Home Tim”. Hungry Horse has even offered Tim and his family free roast dinners for life.
Triple bump: the 5 MeV bump data presented by K Joo at the Neutrino 2016 conference. (Courtesy: RENO Collaboration)
By Tushna Commissariat
A final mystery that was mentioned at the Neutrino 2016 I attended in London this week was yet another unexpected “bump” in data at 5 MeV, measured while monitoring the neutrino flux from nuclear power plants. Starting with the RENO experiment in 2012, it was spotted by the Double Chooz experiment in 2014 and finally by the Daya Bay neutrino experiment earlier this year. While the initial signal was not of high enough statistical significance, it has now held up over time and more measurements.
More data are definitely needed in the quest for the sought-after sterile neutrino. That much was clear as more than 10 different global neutrino detectors announced at the Neutrino 2016 conference in London that they have found no evidence for the slippery particle’s existence. The sterile neutrino is a hypothetical and much-debated fourth type of neutrino that would contribute mass, but only interact with the other three “active neutrinos”, making it that much more difficult to detect. In the video above, Physics World features editor Louise Mayor explains why researchers are so keen to nail down this particle, should it exist, as it may single-handedly explain some of the biggest mysteries in physics today, including dark matter.