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The field that could improve your research ‘impact’

Preparation of ice-cream in a factory

Where physics meets food: preparation of ice-cream in a factory. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/Leonid Shcheglov)

By Matin Durrani

As Physics World editor, I spend most of my time covering science that I have never been involved in. I might write articles about astrophysicists, interview atomic physicists or edit features by particle physicists, but it doesn’t mean I’ve ever done any research in those fields.

It was therefore a pleasant change last Friday to attend a summit organized by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World, on physics in food manufacturing. Back in the 1990s, I did a PhD with Athene Donald at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge on the physical properties of mixtures of gel-forming biopolymers – materials that apart from being interesting from a fundamental point of view are also relevant to the food industry.

Many foods, after all, are complex, multicomponent mixtures – and if you can understand how they behave, then you can create foods that are healthier, cheaper and perhaps even tastier too.

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LIGO could soon detect one gravitational wave per week

The LIGO detectors in Louisiana

The LIGO detectors in Louisiana (above) and Washington are currently being upgraded. (Courtesy: LIGO/Caltech)

By Hamish Johnston at the APS April Meeting in Salt Lake City 

I came to Salt Lake City hoping to glean a few golden nuggets of information about what future gravitational-wave detections we can expect from LIGO. What I found is that the collaboration is as tight-lipped as ever about discussing potential results. That’s fair enough and I understand the caution. However, I was hoping that the researchers would have loosened up a bit after their February announcement of the first gravitational-wave detection and share a little more with the general public.

So, what have I learned?

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HAWC spots TeV gamma ray flare

A TeV gamma-ray flare spotted by HAWC

Now you see it, now you don’t: a TeV gamma-ray flare spotted by HAWC. (Courtesy: Michelle Hui)

By Hamish Johnston at the APS April Meeting in Salt Lake City 

Talk about luck. Just 10 days before the April Meeting the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) gamma-ray observatory lit up with the detection of a galaxy that produced large numbers of teraelectronvolt (TeV) gamma rays for just one day (see image).

Dubbed Markarian 501, HAWC astrophysicists believe that the flare could be driven by a supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy. However, they admit that they don’t really understand how such flares occur.

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Feedback on a scheme to cloak Earth from hostile aliens

David Kipping

David Kipping doesn’t want to hide from aliens.

By Hamish Johnston at the APS April Meeting in Salt Lake City 

Earlier today I caught up with David Kipping of Columbia University in the US after his fascinating talk about what could make an exoplanet habitable. I wanted to ask Kipping about a quirky paper that he and Alex Teachey published a few weeks ago, which I wrote about in the The Red Folder.

Kipping and Teachey described how a laser could be used to cloak the Earth from the prying eyes of an extraterrestrial civilization. The paper was published just before 1 April, so at the time I wasn’t sure whether the paper was legitimate (it is) and Kipping told me that publishing before April Fools’ Day did cause some confusion.

So what feedback has Kipping had about the paper?

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The accelerator tree bears fruit

Photograph of a tree in Salt Lake City

Accelerator science is blossoming in Salt Lake City.

By Hamish Johnston at the APS April Meeting in Salt Lake City

This morning Mei Bai of the Jülich Institute for Nuclear Physics in Germany used a lovely phrase during her talk at the APS April Meeting. She showed a slide called the “accelerator tree”‘, which refers to a paper by Ugo Amaldi called “The importance of particle accelerators“.

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Merging black holes come to Salt Lake City

The Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City

The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City.

By Hamish Johnston at the APS April Meeting in Salt Lake City 

Will the LIGO collaboration announce today that it has detected more gravitational waves? There is a session this morning at 10.45 a.m. at the APS April Meeting with the enticing name “Results from Advanced LIGO“, and I think it’s safe to say that you should get there early if you want to get a seat.

In February the LIGO announced the first ever detection of a gravitational wave, which was made while the collaboration’s two detectors were being calibrated. Now that the experiment has been running since September 2015, it will be interesting to see if the first detection was a rare event that they were lucky to see,  or if LIGO will be detecting the mergers of black-hole pairs on a regular basis.

Stay tuned to for updates, and in the meantime enjoy this photograph I took of the Mormon Temple, which is across the road from the convention centre here in Salt Lake City.

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Riding a laser beam to Alpha Centauri, how the Sun pushes on the Earth and 22 kinds of space tape

Photograph of Yuri Milner (left) and Stephen Hawking

Stars in their eyes: Yuri Milner (left) and Stephen Hawking. (Courtesy: Bryan Bedder)

By Hamish Johnston

What to do if you have millions of dollars lying around and a keen interest in physics? The physicist turned Internet tycoon Yuri Milner has already spent some of his fortune rewarding leading scientists and funding research. His latest project is called “Starshot” and involves spending a cool $100m on sending a spaceship to Alpha Centuri – the closest star system to Earth at just 40 trillion kilometres away.

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Physics World 2016 Focus on Nuclear Energy is out now

By Michael Banks

Proponents of nuclear power in the UK have endured an agonizing wait for Hinckley Point C – a European pressurized water reactor (EPR) to be built in south-west England that would fulfil 3.5% of the UK’s electricity needs. Earlier this year, it looked as if the French utility giant EDF would finally give the project the thumbs up and start construction. However, following months of political wrangling – and resignations by senior EDF executives – a final decision by the EDF board is yet to see the light of day.

Cover of the 2016 Physics World Focus on Nuclear Energy

Hinckley Point C is not the only EPR under construction that has been beset with delays and cost hikes: two in China, one in France and one in Finland have also had issues. In this first-ever Physics World Focus on Nuclear Energy, we delve into the EPR design and Hinckley Point C, as well as look ahead to other, more ambitious reactor designs in the pipeline – known as generation-IV designs – that could vastly reduce the amount of nuclear waste produced. Although work on such designs has slowed following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, supporters argue that generation IV will still play a vital role in the long term.

The focus issue is not only devoted to fission, but fusion too. For decades physicists have dreamed of using fusion to generate electricity and, with construction well under way on the ITER fusion tokamak in Cadarache, France, that vision is now getting closer to a reality. But is ITER the only way forward? We explore how several private firms are developing small-scale fusion technologies, while in Germany a novel “stellarator” device has just started up that promises to deliver a “steady state” plasma.

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The toll of a year in space, running a marathon on the ISS, skip-diving at CERN and more

By Tushna Commissariat and Michael Banks

“A year here is a really really long time,” says astronaut Scott Kelly in an interview (watch the video above) that he did on board the International Space Station (ISS) just a month before he returned to Earth in March this year. The retired astronaut is talking about the very real effects of spending a long period in space, specifically citing both the physical effects as well as the “psychological stress” involved. “During my time in orbit, I lost bone mass, my muscles atrophied and my blood redistributed itself in my body, which strained my heart. Every day I was exposed to 10 times the radiation of a person on Earth, which will increase my risk of developing a fatal cancer for the rest of my life. Not to mention the psychological stress, which is harder to quantify and is perhaps as damaging,” he says.

The comments were part of the announcement of his upcoming memoir, Endurance: My Year in Space and Our Journey to Mars, which will be published later this year. Despite the damming tone, Kelly is still a staunch supporter of manned spaceflight and missions such as those to Mars, he just has a much clearer view on the realities involved. Read more about his announcement over at the GeekWire website.

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Michael Berry at 75

Sir Michael Berry unveiling a framed photograph of himself

A moment to reflect – Michael Berry unveils a framed photograph of himself in the University of Bristol at an event to mark his 75th birthday. (Courtesy: Brian R Pollard)

By Matin Durrani

Anyone who gets invited to an event that’s being held on April Fools’ Day is bound to think there’s something fishy going on. But last Friday’s meeting to celebrate the 75th birthday of Bristol University physicist Michael Berry was a genuine commemoration of his career, although it did have its lighter moments.

Grandly entitled “Physics, Art, Mathematics, Science”, the meeting was intended to reflect Berry’s extensive and wide-ranging interests, which stretch from the physics of waves and quantum phenomena to optics, tidal bores and magnetic levitation. (There’s also a phenomenon called the Berry phase, although I understand Berry himself is reluctant to use that term.)

It’s difficult to summarize Berry’s many contributions to physics – he has written approaching 500 papers – so I’m going to take the easy way out and instead point you at his excellent website, where you can easily get lost down lots of entertaining and stimulating rabbit holes.

If there’s one item on his site I can recommend, it’s his description of how his work on the mathematics of magnetic levitation led him to share the 2000 IgNobel Prize for Physics with the future (genuine) Nobel laureate Andre Geim, who in 1997 levitated a frog using a powerful permanent electromagnet while at Bristol.

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