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Tag archives: optics

Visiting the most powerful laser in the world


By James Dacey

You might find this surprising, but Romania is one of the main reasons I became a journalist. Back in 2006, having recently graduated with a degree in natural sciences, I spent the summer in the Transylvanian city of Brasov, teaching English to school kids. While there, I was talked into writing a few articles about my experiences for the local tourism magazine, Brasov Visitor. To cut a rambling story short, I had a memorable summer and caught the writing bug. Eventually, I landed a job at Physics World, which enabled me to combine my journalistic leanings with my scientific background.


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US immigration and trade policies provoke debate at Photonics West

Photo of the Golden Gate Bridge against a clear blue sky

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge welcomes scientific visitors to Photonics West – except for those banned from travelling to the US.

By Margaret Harris at Photonics West in San Francisco

“I’m an immigrant. I stole one American job. I helped create hundreds of thousands of others.”

Deepak Kamra’s words caused a stir among listeners at Photonics West, the massive industry trade show and scientific conference that descends on San Francisco, California each winter. Speaking at a panel discussion on “Brexit, US Policy, EU and China,” the Delhi-born veteran of the Silicon Valley venture capital scene said that he expected the new US administration – which recently imposed a travel ban on visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries – to target Asian and South Asian technology workers next. Restrictions on the number of foreign-born students studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) at US universities could follow. Ultimately, Kamra concluded, “We are going to lose a lot of qualified people.”


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Spotlight on the International Year of Light (IYL 2015)

By James Dacey

As science-inspired global initiatives go, it’s fair to say that the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015) burned brighter than its organizers could have imagined. IYL 2015 set out to raise awareness of the crucial roles light can play in areas such as sustainable development, education and health, and it did so through festivals, workshops, publications and a plethora of other activities. A final report published this week details some of IYL 2015’s key achievements and describes some of the year’s most memorable activities.

Among the highlights identified in the report is the Physics World film series “Light in our Lives”, a set of short documentaries about the role of light in people’s everyday lives. We commissioned the films as an official IYL 2015 media partner, embracing the collaborative and international dimensions of the year by working with filmmakers across the world. They include a film about how LED lanterns are enabling students to study after sunset in a rural community in India, and another about how lighting technologies are bringing a modern twist to Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City (see above).


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A great day out at the Institute of Physics in Beijing

Weyl theorists: Zhong Fang (left) and Hongming Weng

Weyl theorists: Zhong Fang (left) and Hongming Weng.

By Hamish Johnston in Beijing 

This morning I had a wonderful visit to see some condensed-matter physicists at the Institute of Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IOP CAS). First I met with theorists Zhong Fang and Hongming Weng and if you know your equations you can see from the above photo that they work on Weyl semi-metals. Fang is deputy director of the institute and is head of a theoretical physics group that includes six faculty members and about 20 postgraduate students. Avid readers might recall that Fang and Weng were named in the Physics World Top 10 Breakthroughs of 2015 for their work on Weyl fermions.


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Physics World 2016 Focus on Optics and Photonics is out now

PWOPT16-cover-200By Matin Durrani

Research into optics, photonics and lasers is not only fascinating from a fundamental point of view. It’s also vital for technology, industry and applications in everyday life.

In the latest focus issue of Physics World, which is out now in print, online and through the Physics World app, you can find out about some of the latest research into optics and photonics – and how it’s being put to good use.

In our cover feature, take a look at some of the latest advances in invisibility cloaking – 10 years after first being demonstrated at microwave frequencies.


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Michael Berry at 75

Sir Michael Berry unveiling a framed photograph of himself

A moment to reflect – Michael Berry unveils a framed photograph of himself in the University of Bristol at an event to mark his 75th birthday. (Courtesy: Brian R Pollard)

By Matin Durrani

Anyone who gets invited to an event that’s being held on April Fools’ Day is bound to think there’s something fishy going on. But last Friday’s meeting to celebrate the 75th birthday of Bristol University physicist Michael Berry was a genuine commemoration of his career, although it did have its lighter moments.

Grandly entitled “Physics, Art, Mathematics, Science”, the meeting was intended to reflect Berry’s extensive and wide-ranging interests, which stretch from the physics of waves and quantum phenomena to optics, tidal bores and magnetic levitation. (There’s also a phenomenon called the Berry phase, although I understand Berry himself is reluctant to use that term.)

It’s difficult to summarize Berry’s many contributions to physics – he has written approaching 500 papers – so I’m going to take the easy way out and instead point you at his excellent website, where you can easily get lost down lots of entertaining and stimulating rabbit holes.

If there’s one item on his site I can recommend, it’s his description of how his work on the mathematics of magnetic levitation led him to share the 2000 IgNobel Prize for Physics with the future (genuine) Nobel laureate Andre Geim, who in 1997 levitated a frog using a powerful permanent electromagnet while at Bristol.


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The April 2016 issue of Physics World is now live

PWApr16cover-200By Matin Durrani

The April 2016 issue of Physics World magazine is ready and waiting for you to access via our app for mobile and desktop.

Our cover story this month is about Rydberg atoms – those super-sized atoms that are one of the hot topics in condensed-matter physics – and in particular how they could be used to create quantum computers.

You can also find out how virtual-reality tools could help you to learn about the science of optics and learn more about a new research centre at the National Autonomous University of Mexico that’s bringing a fresh approach to the science of complexity.

If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can now enjoy immediate access to the new issue with the digital edition of the magazine in your web browser or on any iOS or Android mobile device (just download the Physics World app from the App Store or Google Play). If you’re not yet in the IOP, you can join as an IOPimember for just £15, €20 or $25 a year to get full access to Physics World digital.


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A great day out in celebration of Maxwell’s equations

Pillars of light: this week's meeting at the Royal Society focussed on how Maxwell's equations illuminate physics (Courtesy: Tom Morris/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Pillars of light: this week’s meeting at the Royal Society focused on how Maxwell’s equations illuminate physics. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Tom Morris)

By Hamish Johnston

Earlier this week I caught the 6.30 a.m. train from Bristol to London to attend the second day of “Unifying physics and technology in light of Maxwell’s equations” at the Royal Society. It was a particularly damp and gloomy morning as I emerged from Piccadilly Circus station and tramped through St James, my sights set on the Duke of York pillar next to the Royal Society in Carlton House Terrace.

It seemed like the perfect morning to be thankful for the light described by James Clerk Maxwell’s equations, and to ponder how they have since illuminated many shadowy corners of physics.

The meeting was organized by three physicists at nearby King’s College London: biophysicist and nanotechnologist Anatoly Zayats; particle physicist John Ellis and condensed-matter physicist Roy Pike. Already, you can see the breadth of physics covered at the meeting.


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Leaping across the innovation divide

Glasgow's Technology and Innovation Centre. (Courtesy: University of G)

Glasgow’s Technology and Innovation Centre. (Courtesy: University of Strathclyde)

By Margaret Harris in Glasgow

If you’re the first speaker after lunch at a conference, how do you make sure your audience stays awake and engaged?

For Oliver Ambacher – who occupied the dreaded post-prandial slot during Wednesday’s applied photonics conference at Glasgow’s Technology and Innovation Centre (TIC) – the answer is simple. You pretend to jump off a cliff.

Ambacher, the director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics in Freiburg, Germany, made his leap (actually, several leaps of varying lengths) to illustrate one of the toughest challenges in applied physics: the yawning gap between what academic researchers can provide, and what industry scientists need to turn that research into innovative products. This gap is sometimes called the “valley of death”, and Ambacher’s point was that the risks of leaping across it are generally higher on the industry side. “If I, whose heart is still in physics, jump into the valley of death, I lose funding, maybe a project,” Ambacher explained. “But somebody from industry, they may lose their job. So they cannot jump so far.”


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Horsing around with some innovative physics

Photograph of three physicists, Giedre Podolyak, Steve Roberts and Snezhana Chater, holding their IOP Innovation Award

(Left to right) Physicists Giedre Podolyak, Steve Roberts and Snezhana Chater of Hallmarq Veterinary Imaging celebrate their success in the IOP Innovation Awards.

By Margaret Harris

Imagine you’re a veterinarian and a trainer asks you to take a look at a horse. The animal, a champion showjumper, is limping slightly but there is no obvious injury. Exploratory surgery would probably do more harm than good, and the alternative – magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – isn’t risk-free either. You’d need to put the horse under a general anaesthetic, and you know horses don’t react well to that; in fact, around 0.5% suffer serious injuries while coming round afterwards. And that’s assuming you can even find a scanner big enough to fit a horse. What do you do?

This might sound like a fairly niche dilemma, but for Hallmarq Veterinary Imaging it has become the basis for a thriving business – a business, moreover, that has just won an IOP Innovation Award for the successful application of physics in a commercial product.

At the awards ceremony – which took place last night in the Palace of Westminster, London, just down the hall from the House of Commons chamber – I caught up with Hallmarq’s operations and technical director, Steve Roberts. After sketching out the scenario of the veterinarian and the injured horse, Roberts, a physicist, explained that Hallmarq’s MRI scanner fits around the horse’s leg. This means that equine patients can simply be led into it, sedated but conscious. Sophisticated error-correction and image-processing software helps the scanner compensate for the horse’s movement, and in 15 years of operation, Roberts estimates that veterinarians have used Hallmarq’s machines to scan more than 60,000 horses.


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