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Behind the scenes of peer review

By James Dacey

 

 

This week is Peer Review Week 2017, a global celebration of the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining scientific quality. The theme of this year’s event is “transparency in review”, exploring how individuals and organizations could be more open at all stages of the scientific process.

Physics World is published by IOP Publishing and I’ve been part of a crack team assembled to take people behind the scenes of our peer-review processes. As the man with a camera, my job was to create a series of videos with my colleagues in the publishing department who deal with peer review on a daily basis.

First up, we have a video message from Marc Gillet, our associate director of publishing operations, introducing our plans for the week (see above). Marc is joined by a selection of staff revealing the role they play in the peer-review process – drawing inspiration from Bob Dylan’s famous flashcard skit for Subterranean Homesick Blues.

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Angela Saini discusses her book Inferior  

By James Dacey

 

Angela Saini in conversation with Andrew Glester
Science journalist Saini explains why she wrote Inferior and what she has discovered
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“Writing the book has made me question my own feelings about the world.” That is the stark conclusion of science journalist Angela Saini, referring to her recent publication Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story.

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A punt on Planck, physicist puts Frankenstein to music, would Brian Cox cope on Mars?

Fancy a flutter? The NIST napkin (Courtesy: NIST)

Fancy a flutter? The NIST napkin. (Courtesy: NIST)

By Hamish Johnston

A paper napkin with a load of numbers scrawled on top has been an unusual source of excitement for physicists at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. One evening in December 2013, a group of them had gathered at a local watering hole to celebrate the success of NIST’s latest watt balance – NIST-3 – that had just determined Planck’s constant to a new accuracy. While enjoying “happy hour”, NIST researcher Dave Newell pulled out a napkin and the 10 researchers began to write down their predictions for the final value of Planck’s constant that NIST would submit to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris to help redefine the kilogram. The researchers then sealed the napkin in a plastic bottle and buried it inside a cavity within the foundation of NIST-3’s successor NIST-4, which was then being constructed.

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The sounds of Saturn, dancing particles, distracted funding agency

 

By Hamish Johnston

Astronomy can be a highly visual science and therefore developing ways of sharing data with visually impaired colleagues – and the public – is an important challenge. Sound offers one way forward, as astrophysicist Wanda Diaz Merced explains in “The sounds of science”. Now, fellow astrophysicists Matt Russo and Dan Tamayo at the University of Toronto have converted the motions of the rings and moons of Saturn into two musical compositions. You can listen to a composition based on the orbital frequencies of moons and rings by playing the video above. The second piece is called “Resonances of Janus translated into music”.

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The September 2017 issue of Physics World magazine is now out

PWSep17cover-200By Matin Durrani

Some of the daily challenges facing women in physics are tackled in the latest issue of Physics World magazine, which is now out.

As well as a round-up from the recent International Conference on Women in Physics, which took place in Birmingham, UK, there’s a fascinating feature about the life of Jocelyn Bell Burnell. She discovered pulsars 50 years ago next month and became the first female president of the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World.

As Bell Burnell points out, “Fix the women!” is often seen as the solution to why women progress more slowly in physics than men. In fact, she argues, larger problems – notably institutional bias and poor policies – are to blame.

Don’t miss either our cover feature on the stunning images Cassini has been beaming back over the last few months before it plunges into Saturn on 15 September. We’ve also got a great Lateral Thoughts article by Daniel Whiteson, illustrated by PHD Comics artist Jorge Cham. Plus, find out how groups of cells move, communicate and organize themselves in networks.

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

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A century ago Einstein sparked the notion of the laser

Another brilliant idea: laser beams illuminate fog (Courtesy: CC BY 2.0/ Jeff Keyzer)

Another brilliant idea: laser beams illuminate fog. (CC BY 2.0/ Jeff Keyzer)

By Philip Ball 

I just got back from having my broken wrist X-rayed (it’s doing fine, thanks), and noticed that a laser beam was used to position and align the X-ray source. Hardly the most sophisticated use of these optical devices, it’s true, but a little reminder that there’s probably hardly a day goes by in the life of an average urbanite without the laser’s beam of coherent photons impinging on it. From supermarket barcode scanning to broadband fibre-optic telecommunications, lasers are everywhere.

The fundamental idea behind this mainstay of modern life was published one hundred years ago by Albert Einstein. But blink and you’ll miss it in his seminal paper, “The quantum theory of radiation”, published in German in Physikalische Zeitschrift 18 121 (English translation here). Einstein is trying to work out what Max Planck’s “quantum hypothesis” – that the energy of an oscillator must take discrete values equal to some integer multiple of the oscillation frequency times a constant h – implies for the way light interacts with matter.

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The quest to create metallic hydrogen

Image of Isaac Silvera

Pressure experts: Isaac Silvera (right) together with Ranga Dias.

By Michael Banks

A team led by Isaac Silvera at Harvard University hit the headlines earlier this year when it claimed to have been the first to create metallic hydrogen. Silvera, who will be giving an invited talk about metallic hydrogen at the Chinese Physical Society meeting at Sichuan University (7–9 September), outlines the challenges in working with the material and what future applications it may have. The event is co-sponsored by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World.

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Spacesuit of the future, another ancient Pythagoras, Disney’s football analysis

Photograph posted by Elon Musk of SpaceX astronaut suit

The stuff of movies: new SpaceX suit could be in a film (Courtesy: SpaceX)

By Sarah Tesh and Michael Banks

Astronauts on board the SpaceX Dragon Capsule will look like they’ve stepped out of a sci-fi film. This week, Elon Musk revealed his company’s futuristic space attire on Instagram. The suits are aesthetically very different to the bulky gear NASA astronauts currently wear, the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU). They are even sleeker than NASA’s next generation Z-2 suit, which was previewed in 2015. The SpaceX garb are apparently also easier to walk in and more practical for everyday use. While not quite at the tech standard of fiction, the SpaceX suits definitely look the part.

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LIGO–Virgo comments on neutron star rumours, sort of

Caught in the act: has LIGO-Virgo detected merging neutron stars? (Courtesy: NASA)

Caught in the act: has LIGO–Virgo detected merging neutron stars? (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

Have gravitational waves from merging neutron stars been detected for the first time?

Physicists working on the LIGO and Virgo gravitational-wave detectors have issued a statement that appears to be a response to rumours that both gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation from an astronomical event have been detected.

LIGO has already detected gravitational waves from three different binary black-hole mergers. But none of these events appeared to emit electromagnetic radiation that could be detected by astronomers using telescopes on Earth or in space.

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America’s night in a day

August 2017 total solar eclipse

Day’s night: the Great American Eclipse. (Courtesy: Tami Freeman)

By Sarah Tesh

On Monday 21 August, the US witnessed some unusual events. Day turned to night, temperatures dropped as much as 6 °C, animals behaved weirdly and street lights came on in the middle of the day – all because a vast, 115 km-wide shadow swept across the land.

This was, of course, a solar eclipse – where the Moon passed in front of the Sun casting a shadow on Earth. Millions watched with special glasses, home-made pin-hole cameras, digital cameras, and – in the case of scientists – satellites and telescopes.

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