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Tag archives: art and science

Ravens at LIGO, stained-glass physics, fake space pics

Stained glass physics plots

Grand designs: Los Alamos physicist Hubert van Hecke combines his hobby of stained-glass windows with physics. (Courtesy: Hubert van Hecke)

By Michael Banks and Sarah Tesh

Researchers working on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory might be answering some of the biggest questions in astrophysics, but last week they had a rather more down-to-Earth problem to solve. When spurious glitches were picked up by the detector characterization group at the LIGO detector based in Hanford, Washington, they went on an investigation to find the culprit. The team suspected that ravens were to blame as they had been seen causing mischief on tubes that vent nitrogen gas. These pipes are connected to the vacuum enclosure and any vibration could change the optical path length of light that is scattered from the test mass and reflected back. Upon closer inspection, LIGO researchers found peck marks that were “consistent with the size of a raven’s beak”. Not content with just watching the birds at play, the team even performed “simulated pecking” to see how this affected the machine’s performance. With the culprit now identified, you will be pleased to hear that the lines are set to be insulated to fend off the birds. “I guess we can’t blame [the ravens] for desiring ice on a hot desert afternoon,” writes Robert Schofield in a LIGO logbook post.

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Science, scepticism and fear at the theatre

Olivia Williams (left) and Olivia Colman in Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood

Sceptical siblings: Olivia Williams (left) and Olivia Colman in Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood. (Courtesy: National Theatre/Brinkhoff & Mogenburg)

By Tushna Commissariat

Working at Physics World for the last six years has taken me to some pretty cool labs – everywhere from CERN to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). My job has allowed me to meet some quite famous people too…at least in the world of physics, that is. But getting to spend a morning at the National Theatre in London watching Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams rehearse for a play is not usual even for me. That is precisely why I jumped at the chance, when I found out that the pair star as sisters in the recently opened play Mosquitoes.

You may be wondering what a play with that moniker has to do with physics. Mosquitoes tells the story of rational and lucid Alice (played by Williams), a particle physicist at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and her often-illogical sister Jenny (played by Colman) “who spends a lot of time Googling” and is easily swayed by the bad science she chances upon. Written by Lucy Kirkwood and directed by Rufus Norris – the National Theatre’s current artistic director, the play follows the siblings through a family tragedy, as well as the fairly disastrous switching on of the LHC in 2008, and takes a hard look at our relationships with science, facts, belief and so much more. Kirkwood, whose previous successes include Chimerica and The Children, was commissioned to write the play by the Manhattan Theatre Club as part of its Alfred P Sloan Foundation initiative, which aims to “stimulate artists to create credible and compelling work exploring the worlds of science and technology and to challenge the existing stereotypes of scientists and engineers in the popular imagination”.

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Snapping the Milky Way, art inspired by SLAC blueprints, doppelganger magazine covers

Top tip: use a remote shutter control (Courtesy: Clifton Cameras)

Top tip: use a remote shutter control. (Courtesy: Clifton Cameras)

By Hamish Johnston

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with dark skies, you know that the Milky Way is a truly majestic sight. But how exactly would you go about capturing its magnificence with a camera? UK-based Clifton Cameras has put together an infographic with a few helpful hints. The image above is an excerpt and you can view the entire infographic here.

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Send a birthday card to Fermilab, a huge periodic table, art meets quantum computing

Best wishes: a birthday card for Fermilab (Courtesy: Corinne Mucha/ Symmetry)

Best wishes: a birthday card for Fermilab (Courtesy: Corinne Mucha/ Symmetry)

By Hamish Johnston and Sarah Tesh

50 years ago this month, the particle physics facility that was to become Fermilab opened its doors for the first time. To celebrate a half a century of physics on the Illinois prairie, the folks at Symmetry have produced a set of themed birthday cards that you can print-out and send to your friends and family. Indeed, there is still time to send a card to Fermilab itself, because the big day isn’t until next Thursday (15th of June). My favourite card (above) uses colliding piñatas to illustrate the plethora of particles that were produced in Fermilab’s Tevatron  – which smashed together protons and antiprotons between 1983-2011.

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Sculpture inspired by neutrino lab unveiled

SNO sculpture

Putting it all together. (Courtesy: Garrett Elliott)

By Michael Banks

A sculpture inspired by the geometry of the neutrino detector at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) has been unveiled at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada.

SNO, which operated from 1999 to 2006, was located 2.1 km underground in Sudbury, Ontario, and designed to detect neutrinos from the Sun through their interactions with a large tank of heavy water.

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NanoCars race on gold, sketchers invade Fermilab, physics of Thor versus the Hulk

 

By Sarah Tesh

Science has taken motor racing to a whole new, extremely small level with the NanoCar Race. The competition on 28 April will see nanoscale molecular machines “speed” around a gold racetrack for 38 hours. As the tiny-molecule cars are not visible to the naked eye, the race will take place inside a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) at the Center for the Development of Materials and Structural Studies (CEMES), part of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. The teams behind the NanoCars control their vehicles using electric pulses but are not allowed to push them mechanically. Details about the cars and their teams can be found on this website, where you will also be able to watch the race later this month. There is more about the competition in the above video.

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Physics reveals the mysteries behind art

Artists' secrets: Charles Falco describes how artists used lenses (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

Artists’ secrets: Charles Falco describes how artists used optical lenses. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Sarah Tesh in New Orleans, Louisiana, US

As a physicist who likes to sketch and paint, I love it when art and physics come together. I was therefore excited to see that the APS March Meeting had a variety of talks on the subject. Charles Falco from the University of Arizona in the US told us about his work with the famous artist David Hockney. On a trip to see the 15th century painting The Arnolfini Marriage by Jan van Eyck, Hockney decided that the chandelier was too detailed to have been done freehand. So Falco and Hockney began looking at the intricate parts of paintings by artists through the ages and found that they essentially cheated.

Through focal length and depth-of-field calculations, Falco showed that artists had used optical lenses to project the complicated parts onto the canvas before painting them. They suggest that this has been happening since the 1400s and is a technique used by artists such as Hans Holbein (who painted the iconic portraits of Henry VIII) and Johannes Vermeer (whose work includes Girl with a Pearl Earring). Obviously, they still possessed huge amounts of skill, but it definitely makes me feel a bit better about my own skill level.

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Using pottery to communicate science

one of the ceramic items created by Nadav Drukker on show at the new "Quantum ceramics" exhibition in London

Showcasing science – one of the ceramic items created by Nadav Drukker on show at the new Quantum Ceramics exhibition in London. (Courtesy: Nadav Drukker)

By Matin Durrani

You might not think theoretical physics and pottery have much in common. But they do now, thanks to a new exhibition being staged at the Knight Webb Gallery in Brixton, south-east London, which opens today.

Entitled Quantum Ceramics, the exhibition is the first solo display of ceramic works by theoretical physicist Nadav Drukker. Based at King’s College London, Drukker makes traditional studio pottery as a new way to communicate his scientific research.

Drukker, who is a string theorist, has six different projects – entitled “Circle”, “Cusp”, “Index”, “Polygons”, “Cut” and “Defect” – with each inspired by one of his research papers. His works are all traditional glazed stoneware and porcelain vessels, but decorated with mathematical symbols.

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A laser-bubble mermaid, ode to seven exoplanets, metallic hydrogen is lost

Tiny bubbles: laser-made mermaid (Courtesy: Kota Kumagai, Utsunomiya University)

Tiny bubbles: a laser-made mermaid. (Courtesy: Kota Kumagai/ Utsunomiya University)

By Hamish Johnston

A popular way of melding science and art is to create an image of a mythical being in your lab. Yoshio Hayasaki and colleagues at Utsunomiya University in Japan have made a pretty good likeness of a mermaid using a laser that forms tiny bubbles inside a liquid. “In our display, the microbubble voxels are three-dimensionally generated in a liquid using focused femtosecond laser pulses,” explains team member Kota Kumagai.

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She’s the greatest dancer, how to name an element, soccer ball finally orbits Earth

 

By Hamish Johnston

The award for most bizarre title for a scientific paper goes to psychologist Nick Neave and colleagues at the UK’s Northumbria University and University of Lincoln for “Optimal asymmetry and other motion parameters that characterise high-quality female dance”. The team says it used “a data-driven approach to pinpoint the movements that discriminate female dance quality”. Why, you might ask? “The form and significance of attractive dance, however, has been less well studied, and this limits our understanding of its role in human courtship and partner selection.” The above video is from a previous study by the team about what constitutes a good male dancer.

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