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Tag archives: condensed matter

Why did a drop of pitch in Dublin go viral?

 

By Matin Durrani

It’s always surprising to see the kinds of things that go viral – who’d have thought that a blog with amusing animal pictures would prove such a hit or that a chubby Korean pop singer would clock up nearly two billion views on YouTube?

But I doubt anyone could have predicted that a video of a drop falling from an antique funnel of pitch at a lab at Trinity College Dublin would become one of the science stories of 2013. In fact, here at Physics World we didn’t even write about it at the time.

Partly to make amends, the May issue of Physics World magazine, which is now out, includes a fabulous article by Shane D Bergin, Stefan Hutzler and Denis Weaire from the lab in Dublin where the experiment is based. In the article, they explain the science behind the pitch drop, discuss the history of the experiment and reflect on the value of “slow science” to a hyper-connected, social-media world.

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Why electricity grids fail, what to do if your PhD is stolen, and what is a ‘Suris tetron’?

 

By Hamish Johnston

It’s the nightmare scenario for any PhD student: losing all those research results that you carefully squirreled away for when you finally sit down to write your thesis. That’s just what happened to biologist Billy Hinchen, who lost four years’ worth of 3D time-lapse videos of developing crustacean embryos when his laptop and back-up drives were stolen. Find out what happened next in “What would happen if you lost all of your research data?” by Julia Giddings at the scientific software firm Digital Science. Hinchen also tells his tale of woe in the video above.

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‘Mile-high’ physics

The Colorado Convention Centre where the APS is being held.

By Tushna Commissariat at the APS March Meeting in Denver

The city of Denver, Colorado has been invaded…or so I am sure the locals will feel over the next few days, as more than 9000 physicists from all over the world have arrived to take part in the APS March Meeting. I have been here in the “Mile-high city” of Denver – so nicknamed thanks to its official elevation that is exactly one mile or 5280 feet above sea level – since Sunday morning, and physics is the talk of the town as everyone descends upon the Colorado Convention Center (pictured above).

As always, there is a wide variety of interesting talks, sessions and press conferences over the next few days and I would have to clone myself multiple times to get around to all of them. Talking about cloning, though – I have just been to my first session, where Stanford researcher Patrick Hayden was taking about quantum information and asking whether or not it could be cloned in space–time. I will be speaking with Hayden later in the day, so watch this space if you would like to know more.

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Lights, camera, action at Daresbury Laboratory

Daresbury Laboratory: SuperSTEM is the small, white building just right of centre and surrounded by trees (Courtesy: STFC)

Daresbury Laboratory: SuperSTEM is the small, white building right of centre and surrounded by trees. (Courtesy: STFC)

By Hamish Johnston

Recently I was in Liverpool with the Physics World camera crew to film a series of videos, including a feature about the NA62 experiment based at CERN. On the way back to Bristol we spent the afternoon at the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire, where we made videos about two major facilities at that lab.

Today, we are premiering the video that we made about Daresbury’s SuperSTEM, which is the UK’s national facility for aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM).

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Splitting sausages, immigration and the “Silence of the labs”

A hot topic this week. Courtesy: Shutterstock/indigolotos

A hot topic this week. (Courtesy: Shutterstock/indigolotos)

By Hamish Johnston

Why do sausages usually split lengthwise when cooked? That’s the subject of a fantastic article on Gizmodo that applies physics and maths to answer this important culinary question. Full of diagrams, a dozen equations and an evocation of Pascal’s principle, the article concludes that the “hoop stress” on the casing, which tends to cause lengthwise splits, is double that of the stress in the perpendicular direction. The article was adapted from a piece by the blogger Nick Berry about why pipes usually split lengthwise when frozen.

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How to build a “memcomputer”

Is this a nascent memcomputer? (Courtesy: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Is this a nascent memcomputer? (Courtesy: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

By Hamish Johnston

There is a fascinating paper this week in Nature Physics about chaotic behaviour that has been spotted in a ferroelectric material. It’s an unexpected discovery that the researchers claim could lead to the development of computers that resemble the human brain.

The story begins with Anton Ievlev and colleagues at Oak Ridge National Lab in the US using the tip of a scanning probe microscope (SPM) to draw patterns on the surface of a ferroelectric material. Ferroelectrics have a spontaneous electric polarization, the direction of which can be reversed by applying an electric field.

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What can superconductivity do for the environment?

Trains levitated by superconducting magnets could be in commercial service in less than 15 years

Trains levitated by superconducting magnets could be in commercial service in less than 15 years (Courtesy: Shigehiro Nishijima et al.)

By Hamish Johnston

When I think of superconductivity, applications that could improve the environment don’t usually come to mind. Perhaps that’s because superconductors only work at very low temperatures and lots of energy is needed to cool them. However, a review article just published in the IOP Publishing journal Superconductor Science and Technology points out some interesting environmental applications.

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Leidenfrost drops race through a maze

By Hamish Johnston

In this fantastic video, physics students at the University of Bath in the UK have had some fun with the Leidenfrost effect. This occurs when a liquid drop comes in contact with a hot surface that produces an insulating layer of vapour that keeps the drop from evaporating rapidly. This layer also allows the drop to glide effortlessly over the surface – and that’s where the fun begins.

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How to write a physics book

By Hamish Johnston

John Inglesfield could live a life of leisure. Retired, he has homes in two very desirable locations – England’s Lake District and Aude in south-western France.

But alas, John is a physicist; so instead of lounging by the pool reading, he is busy writing a book. His chosen topic is the embedding method in condensed-matter physics and the book will published as an ebook by IOP Publishing, which also publishes physicsworld.com.

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View from the beamlines

By James Dacey

Photo of film shoot at ILL

This photo looks a little bit like we were filming the moment that I got down on my knee and popped the big question to Andrew Harrison, the Director General of the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL). While that would certainly make for an intriguing story worthy of a blog entry, the truth is that earlier this week we were interviewing Harrison for a short film about his international research facility. In case you are still wondering, the reason I am kneeling is so that we could frame our shot to include the dome that houses the ILL’s nuclear reactor, where neutrons are generated.

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