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Oscar-nominated physics, putting the jump into popping corn and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

There is nothing quite like a bowl of hot, buttery popcorn – and it seems as if even physicists are enthralled by it as they dig into the pops and jumps of this tasty snack. A recent article in the New York Times caught our attention this week, as it talked about how a French research duo used high-speed video cameras and a hot plate to see just why a kernel of corn not only pops, but also leaps up as it puffs. The team found that as the kernel’s hull is breached, we hear the popping sound and this is swiftly followed by the jump that happens when a puffy bit of the inside pushes out and makes the corn jump, a bit like a muscle twitch. Take a look at the lovely slow-motion video above of individual kernels leaping about like perfect puffy ballet dancers.

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Read all about it

By Michael Banks

Cover of the book "Tricked!" by Paul FramptonThe 71-year-old theoretical physicist Paul Frampton, who was arrested in Argentina in 2012 with 2 kg of cocaine in his luggage, has released his own version of events.

The British-born physicist was in Argentina after thinking he had struck up a correspondence on the Internet with Czech-born lingerie model Denise Milani.

However, when he arrived, Milani was nowhere to be seen and Frampton was apparently asked by someone else to carry a suitcase for her, which turned out to contain the drugs.

Despite protesting his innocence, Frampton was sentenced in November 2012 to 56 months in jail in Buenos Aires, some of which he spent under house arrest.

Now, in a 45-page e-book – Tricked!: the Story of an Internet Scam – Frampton outlines “the true story of an adventure that I would rather not have had”. According to the book’s blurb, it provides an “important lesson” that is “essential reading for everybody who uses the Internet”.

It could be the best £3.83 you ever spend.

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Physics World 2015 Focus on Medical Imaging now live

By Tami Freeman

Medical imaging is a multidisciplinary science encompassing a wide range of powerful techniques with applications in both patient care and fundamental biological studies. In this latest Physics World focus issue, we examine how imaging technologies such as X-ray computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging and other nuclear, ultrasound and optical imaging techniques have evolved in recent years. We also take a look at what improvements can be expected in the future.

Created in collaboration with our sister website medicalphysicsweb, the new focus issue on medical imaging can be accessed free of charge in digital-magazine format.

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Coming soon(ish) to a galaxy near you

Image of Smith's Cloud taken by the Green Bank Telescope.

Image of Smith’s Cloud taken by the Green Bank Telescope. (Courtesy: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

By Margaret Harris at the AAAS meeting in San Jose

A giant cloud of hydrogen gas is barrelling towards the Milky Way faster than the speed of sound, and dark matter may hold it together long enough to produce a spectacular outburst of new stars in the night sky – but not for another 30 million years.

The cloud – which is known as Smith’s Cloud after Gail Bieger-Smith, who discovered it as an astronomy student in 1963 – is one of several starless blobs of hydrogen known to exist in the space between galaxies. According to Felix “Jay” Lockman, principal scientist at the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Green Bank Telescope, such gas clouds are, in effect, “construction debris” left over from an earlier age of galaxy formation. “These are parts for remodelling your house that didn’t arrive by the time the contractor left,” Lockman told an audience at the 2015 AAAS meeting in San Jose, California.

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A sight for blind eyes

Diagram of a system showing how images get to the retina

A schematic of the prosthetic vision system developed by Daniel Palanker. (Courtesy: Daniel Palanker)

By Margaret Harris at the AAAS meeting in San Jose

“Restoration of sight to the blind” is a brave claim, one with an almost Biblical ring to it. For Daniel Palanker, though, it is beginning to look as if it is an achievable goal. A medical physicist at the University of Stanford, Palanker has developed a prosthetic vision system that replaces damaged photoreceptors in the retina with an array of tiny photodiodes. When infrared images are projected onto this array, the photodiodes convert the light pulses into electrical signals, which are then picked up by the neurons behind the retina and transmitted to the brain. The result is an artificially induced visual response that, while not as good as normal vision, could nevertheless provide “highly functional restoration of sight” to people with conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

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Decoding the dark arts of Interstellar's black hole

moderately realistic, gravitationally lensed accretion disk

A moderately realistic, gravitationally lensed accretion disc around a black hole, created by Double Negative artists. (Courtesy: Classical and Quantum Gravity)

By Tushna Commissariat

In recent years, science and science fiction have come together in cinema to produce a host of rather spectacular visual treats, the best of the lot being Christopher Nolan’s epic Oscar-nominated film Interstellar. That actual science has played a major role in film is pretty well known, thanks to the involvement of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who was an executive producer for the project. But in a near-cinematic plot twist, it has emerged that Thorne’s work on trying to develop the most accurate and realistic view of a supermassive black hole “Gargantua” has provided unprecedented insights into the immense gravitational-lensing effects that would emerge if we were to view such a stellar behemoth.

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William Blake’s graphene sensor, boiling an egg inside out, quantum woo and more

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By Hamish Johnston

Are you tired of the same old boiled egg staring up at you every morning? Then why not try this simple trick from the Japanese chef Yama Chaahan, who in the video above creates a boiled egg with the yolk on the outside and the white in the middle. There is angular momentum and fluid dynamics involved, and if you don’t understand Japanese, the Huffington Post has a step-by-step guide in English.

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Flying high in Baltimore

 

By Susan Curtis in Baltimore, US

After two days of getting to grips with biophysics – see here and here for my experiences –  I was ready for a change of scene. And a visit to the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), co-located with the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore but operated on behalf of NASA, was just what I needed.

The STScI is home to many of the scientists and engineers who made the Hubble Space Telescope possible, and who have been working for many years to design the optics and instrumentation for its successor – the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is due to be launched in 2018. The institute also runs the science operations for Hubble and soon will for the JWST, providing software tools for astronomers to make their observations and processing the raw data acquired by the onboard instruments to make it ready for scientific analysis.

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Photonics by the Bay

 

By Margaret Harris in San Francisco

The International Year of Light is a global celebration, but right now, it’s definitely got its heart in San Francisco. For the past five days, experts in optics, lasers and biomedical imaging have been converging on the “city by the bay” for the annual Photonics West conference, and I’ve joined them in order to learn more about the hot topics in optical science.

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Big data offers biomedical insights

A molecular dynamics simulation of the p53 protein shows stictic acid fitted into the protein’s reactivation pocket

Suits you. This simulation of the p53 protein shows stictic acid fitted into the protein’s “reactivation pocket”. (Courtesy: Özlem Demir)

By Susan Curtis in Baltimore, US

At the 59th annual meeting of the Biophysical Society today, Rommie Amaro of the University of California, San Diego, highlighted the power of computational methods to speed up the discovery of new drugs to treat diseases as diverse as flu and cancer. Amaro focused on a recent project conducted while she was at the University of California, Irvine, to identify compounds that could play a vital role in future anti-cancer drugs by helping to reactive a molecule called p53 that is known to inhibit the formation of cancer cells.

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