From pre-Hispanic archaeological treasures to the Modernist paintings of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Mexico is brimming with cultural artefacts. Yesterday I visited a centre at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) that has developed techniques for investigating precious objects without damaging them.
Yesterday was day three of the Physics World Mexican adventure and it turned out to be a really exciting 24 hours. Matin Durrani and I visited Teotihuacan – the “City of the Gods”– located 30 miles north-east of Mexico City. We were there to witness some of the closing moments of a 15-year particle physics experiment designed to “see” inside the Sun Pyramid, the world’s third biggest pyramid by volume.
Layered look: iron (brown) and arsenic (green) atoms in the conducting layer of a pnictide.
By Hamish Johnston
High-temperature (high-Tc) superconductivity has given hope and heartbreak in equal measure to physicists since the phenomenon was first discovered in 1986.
The hope is two-fold: that we will soon understand why superconductivity arises in this complex group of materials; and that this knowledge will lead us to a material that is a superconductor at room temperature. The former would be a triumph of the physics of highly correlated systems and the latter would spark a technological revolution.
It’s one of the biggest universities in the world with several hundred thousand students, but the Universidad Nacional Autonóma de México (UNAM) is certainly not the oldest. In fact, the first person to get a degree and PhD in physics at UNAM – Fernando Alba – is still alive. Aged 95, he studied at UNAM’s Institute of Physics shortly after it opened its doors in 1939.
When you visit an unfamiliar city, you can often discover some hidden gems by just wandering the streets with your eyes wide open. This is what happened to Physics World editor Matin Durrani and me yesterday here in Mexico City when we stumbled across the Museo de la Luz (Museum of Light) in the backstreets of the historic city centre.
Located in an old Jesuit college with a beautiful courtyard, the exhibits are spread over three floors covering a wide spectrum of themes, from human vision to the history of the theories of light. What I loved about the place is that it really did offer something for everyone. Too often I find that museums can be great for kids or great for the type of serious adult who loves to leaf through tea-stained archives. El Museo de la Luz manages to hit a sweet spot, being informative and interactive but not too whizz-bang – that is certainly not what I needed yesterday with this jetlag!
I don’t know about you, but my trick whenever flying halfway across the world is to shoehorn myself as fast as possible into the new time zone I’m in. Having travelled from the UK to Mexico City with my colleague James Dacey yesterday, that tactic seems to have worked…so far. After staying up till midnight following a mini-feast of fabulous spicy tacos at a nearby restaurant while a thunderstorm broke, I woke up on cue at 7 a.m. as dawn broke in one of the biggest urban areas in the world.
We’re both here to gather material for a Physics World special report on physics in Mexico, which is due out in September. Following fast on the heels of recent reports on India, Brazil, Korea, India (again), Japan and China, the report will shine a light on some of the exciting physics research going on in the country and highlight some of the challenges and opportunities the country’s physicists face, too.
I am a condensed-matter physicist by training and sometimes I struggle to get excited by the latest breakthrough in particle physics – usually because most don’t seem much like breakthroughs to me. The latest hot paper from physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is a perfect example of what I am talking about.
Writing in Nature this week, physicists working on the CMS and LHCb experiments at CERN announced the discovery of a rare decay of the strange B-meson, as well as further information regarding an even rarer decay of the B0-meson. In both cases the decays produce two oppositely charged muons. An animation of how the strange B-meson decay is detected by the CMS appears in the video above.
I’m sure that many of us, while watching videos of astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS), floating around with their halo-like hair, have given much thought to how they shower, wash their hair, brush their teeth and, indeed, poop and pee! Well, you can stop stretching your imagination and take a look for yourself – we spotted this story on the Slate website, where you can see the latest videos from the European Space agency, where Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who is currently on the ISS, gives us a tour of both the toilet (above) and the “shower” area (below). She even demonstrates exactly how to wash your hair in space – it looks rather fuss-free if you ask me!
Has D-Wave Systems built the world’s first commercial quantum computer? The Canada-based company says it has but some physicists in the quantum-information community beg to differ. Putting aside heady questions like “Does it work?”, I think everyone agrees that the Tardis-sized black boxes that house D-Wave’s processors look great. But what exactly is inside?
Julie Peasley, creater of the Particle Zoo. (Courtesy: CERN)
By Hamish Johnston
Peter Woit is lauded by some for having the courage to speak the truth to the physics establishment, while others see him as an enemy of science. Woit writes the Not Even Wrong blog, which has the same title as a controversial book he once wrote about the merits of string theory. In an article in the latest issue of Nautilus, Bob Henderson profiles Woit and his three decades of doubt over various incarnations of the theory that culminated about 10 years ago in the “string wars”. Henderson’s article is called “The Admiral of the String Theory Wars” and provides a fascinating insight into how the rise of string theory caused Woit to switch from physics to mathematics and his relationships with string theorists – some of whom work in the same building as Woit at Columbia University.