Tag archives: optics
By Matin Durrani
Sometimes, nature does something unexpected – something so rare, transient or remote that only a lucky few of us get to see it in our lifetimes. In the July issue of Physics World, we reveal the physics behind our pick of the weirdest natural phenomena on our planet, from dramatic rogue waves up to 30 m tall, to volcanic lightning that can be heard “whistling” from the other side of the world, and even giant stones that move while no-one is watching. We also tackle tidal bores on rivers and the odd “green flash” that is sometimes seen at sunset.
Plus, we’ve got six fabulous full-page images of a range of weird phenomena, including salt-flat mirrors, firenadoes, “ice towers”, beautifully coloured nacreous clouds, mysterious ice bubbles of gas trapped in columns, as well as my favourite – the delicately wonderful “frost flowers” seen very occasionally on plants.
By Matin Durrani
The focus issue, which can be read here free of charge, kicks off by looking at the giant laser interferometers underpinning the latest searches for gravitational waves. We also report on recent efforts to use optical instead of radio waves for satellite communication and have an interview with Ian Walmsley from the University of Oxford about the vital role that optics and photonics play in the UK’s new £270m Quantum Technologies Programme.
By James Dacey
One of the big aims of the International Year of Light (IYL 2015) is to take scientific ideas out of the lab to show the world just how inspiring and useful they can be. In the process, it can forge relationships between different communities, including scientists, engineers, artists, journalists, architects, politicians, aid workers…the list goes on.
Here in Bristol, where Physics World is produced, we’ve seen a fantastic local example of this by way of an art project at the University of the West of England (UWE). Second-year graphic-design students were set the brief of creating posters themed on IYL 2015. Last night we hosted an evening at IOP Publishing headquarters to showcase the students’ work and to let them find out more about science publishing.
By Hamish Johnston
“Dr Heisenberg’s Magic Mirror of Uncertainty” is the name of a series of photographs taken in 1999 by the American photographer Duane Michals. The picture over at that link is lovely, but I don’t really see the connection to quantum mechanics. I suspect my artist friends would accuse me of being a scientific literalist, which doesn’t bother me one bit.
More to my liking are the graphics pictured above, which have been created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. The pair run a website called spaceprob.es, which “catalogues the active human-made machines that freckle our solar system and dot our galaxy”. Here is their page on Voyager 2, which is packed with facts about the mission’s instruments and many accomplishments. These and other illustrations of space missions can be bought as stickers and posters – the perfect gift for the space enthusiast in your life.
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.
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.
By Susan Curtis in Baltimore, US
I’m in Baltimore this week for the 59th annual meeting of the Biophysical Society. The field of biophysics has grown rapidly in recent years as physics-based techniques have opened up new ways to study and understand biological processes, but with my limited knowledge of biology I was nervous that I would feel a little out of my depth.
The first talk of the “New and Notable” symposium helped to allay my fears. Michelle Wang is a physicist at Cornell University in the US who exploits optical techniques to trap and manipulate biomolecules. While established methods can only trap a single biomolecule at a time, Wang and her colleagues have pioneered the use of nanophotonic structures that can trap multiple biomolecules in a standing wave created within an optical waveguide.
“Our optical-trapping innovation reduces bench-top optics to a small device on a chip,” Wang told physicsworld.com when the team first reported their so-called nanophotonic standing-wave array trap last year. Since then, Wang and her colleagues have been working to integrate fluorescent markers with the nanophotonic trap to track the position of individual biomolecules, and have also been experimenting with optical waveguide materials other than silicon to improve performance and enable new applications.
By Matin Durrani
And so last night to St James’s Palace in London and the official UK launch of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). The building, which belongs to the British monarchy and has a long history as a royal residence, might sound a rather grand venue for the event – but when HRH The Duke of York is the patron for IYL 2015 in the UK, then who wouldn’t take up his invitation to host the opening reception for the year?
The evening began with a short speech from the Duke of York, who said that he had always had an interest in physics despite not having taken it as a single subject at school – and that he was “right behind” all the activities taking place in the IYL 2015. “The International Year of Light is about how we have used light over the centuries,” he told the 200 or so guests. “It is how we are applying light, photonics and various other aspects in order to make the world a better place, not only for ourselves, but for future generations.”
By James Dacey
“In the beginning there was light – the Big Bang,” said Steve Chu, talking on Monday at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris during the opening ceremony of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). Chu – a Nobel-prize winner and former US energy secretary – was among a smorgasbord of speakers at the two-day event, which brought together scientists, artists, politicians and many others with a particular interest in light and its applications.
Being a journalist, I was at the event with my own light-based technology, the humble SLR camera. I was recording a series of interviews with people at the event, including Chu, to get their thoughts on what the year of light means to them. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, the fact that “light” is such an all-encompassing theme can also make it difficult to get a handle on what IYL 2015 is all about. I hope that the resulting video – to be published on physicsworld.com next week – will bring clarity to some of the initiatives and projects in the spotlight this year.
By Matin Durrani in Paris
It was a grey and dank morning yesterday in the French capital, with even the top of the Eiffel Tower shrouded in clouds – perhaps not the most auspicious weather for the official opening ceremony of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015) here at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Inside the conference hall, however, all was brightly lit. The stage was bathed in beams of light in all the colours of the rainbow as the 1500 or so delegates first watched an official IYL 2015 video and then listened as a series of dignitaries voiced their backing for the initiative.
These included a message of support from UN director-general Ban Ki-moon read out by an official and a video recording from Irina Bokova, UNESCO director-general. There were also speakers from Ghana, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia and Saudi Arabia – the five nations that took a key role in getting IYL 2015 approved by the UN in late 2013.