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Tag archives: particle physics

X-ray visions of the past, undead physics, stargazing cruises and more


By Tushna Commissariat

Peering into a small 17th century metallic box, without damaging its contents, is no mean feat. But thanks to the use of synchrotron radiation, scientists at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble were able to “see” inside one, using a technique known as synchrotron X-ray phase contrast micro-tomography. They were also able to create a 3D reconstruction of clay medals concealed within the very fragile and badly oxidized box, which was discovered on the archaeological site of the Saint-Laurent church, and is now at the archaeological museum of Grenoble (MAG). Take a look at the video above to see what the box held. You can also learn more about the researcher’s tomography technique in an article of ours.

Tomorrow is Halloween, so we hope you have your physics-themed pumpkins carved and out on your doorsteps. For some spooky reading this week, take a look at Davide Castelvecchi‘s “Zombie physics: 6 baffling results that just won’t die” story over on the Nature News website. In it, he lists six “undead” results – things that physicists just can’t seem to prove or disprove – including long-running disagreements over certain dark-matter results, hemispheric inconsistencies and spinning protons. Let us know what you think are some of the most undead physics results that should be laid to rest, in the comments below. And while you are at it, make sure to look at today’s creepy edition of Fermilab Today to read about the rise of the zombie accelerator and the “The cult of the Tev.”


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Can physics reveal the secrets of Egypt’s pyramids?

By James Dacey

“Just because a mystery is 4500 years old doesn’t mean it can’t be solved.” That is the tagline of a major new project to uncover the secrets of Egypt’s pyramids without damaging a single stone.

Map of locations of the pyramids in the Scan Pyramids project

Study locations. (Courtesy: Scan Pyramids)

Scan Pyramids – launched by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities – will deploy an arsenal of non-invasive technologies to probe the structure of four pyramids from Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty (from 2575 BC to 2465 BC). On the Giza plateau, about 20 km south-west of Cairo, it will study the Pyramid of Khafre, along with the Pyramid of Khufu, aka the “Great Pyramid of Giza”, the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Meanwhile, on the site of Dahshur, around 40 km south of the Egyptian capital, it will investigate the North and South pyramids. (Click to expand the map.)

Despite their global fame and familiarity, these ancient monuments still hold many mysteries. Chief among them is the question of how the ancient Egyptians managed to build these huge edifices. The Great Pyramid of Giza was originally 150 m tall and weighed 5 million tonnes, yet it was constructed in just 25 years. Egyptologists also believe that these pyramids could be concealing hidden chambers, which could house tombs and secret treasures.


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Weighing up the options for neutrino mass


By Tushna Commissariat

As I am sure all of you know, the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded yesterday to Arthur McDonald and Takaaki Kajita “for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass”. Following on from yesterday’s neutrino-flavoured excitement, here’s an explanation of why it’s so important that we better understand neutrino mass.

Our current observations and theories of neutrino oscillations suggest that at least two of the currently known three flavours of neutrinos have non-zero mass. While we know the mass differences between the different neutrino flavours accurately, their actual masses have not been measured. It’s not for lack of trying, it has simply proven very difficult to make the measurements.


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Faraday explodes in court, NIST is entangled in dance, and Oliver Sacks’ periodic table


By Hamish Johnston and Michael Banks

You may remember back in 2013 when researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US entangled the motion of a tiny mechanical drum with a microwave field for the first time ever. Not content with that feat, NIST physicist Ray Simmonds, who was involved in the work, has now made a dance about it (but no song, yet). Teaming up with choreographer Sam Mitchell, the duo has created a modern dance piece entitled Dunamis Novem (“The chance happening of nine things”). Featuring four dancers, their movements are based on nine quantized energy levels of a harmonic oscillator – like the microscopic drum in the NIST work. For each level, Mitchell created corresponding dance actions, while Simmonds created a random-number generator – to add some “quantum randomness” – for the sequence of levels that the dancers perform at. If the dancers happen to touch each other, their actions become synchronized, which can then only be broken by a beam of light – demonstrating that a measurement collapses the entanglement.

NIST has published a Q&A with Mitchell and Simmonds with links to videos of the dance and the animations of the corresponding energy levels of the harmonic oscillator. A video of the first half of Dunamis Novem is shown above and a video of the entire dance is also available.


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The June 2015 issue of Physics World is now out

By Matin Durrani

For nearly three decades, physicists have been unable to answer a seemingly simple question: where does proton spin come from? Adding up the spins of the three quarks that make up the proton seems, in principle, straightforward, but physicists have been struggling with a strange problem: the sum of the spins of its three quarks is much less than the spin of the proton itself.

Cover of Physics World June 2015

Known as the “spin crisis”, the topic appears as the cover story of the June 2015 issue of Physics World, which is out now in print and digital formats. In the feature article, science writer Edwin Cartlidge examines the origins of the problem – and whether new experiments could mean we are about to solve it at last.

If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can get immediate access to the feature with the digital edition of the magazine on your desktop via or on any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet via the Physics World app, available from the App Store and 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 digital access to Physics World.

The issue also includes a great Lateral Thoughts article by Felix Flicker that’ll have you twisting and bending your arms as you try to follow what he’s on about.


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Particle-physics lab beneath a Mexican pyramid

The Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan

The Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan.

By James Dacey in Mexico

Yesterday was day three of the Physics World Mexican adventure and it turned out to be a really exciting 24 hours. Matin Durrani and I visited Teotihuacan – the “City of the Gods”– located 30 miles north-east of Mexico City. We were there to witness some of the closing moments of a 15-year particle physics experiment designed to “see” inside the Sun Pyramid, the world’s third biggest pyramid by volume.


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The admiral of the string-theory wars, add-male-author-gate, the Einstein font and more…

Xxxx Particle Zoo. (Courtesy: CERN)

Julie Peasley, creater of the Particle Zoo. (Courtesy: CERN)

By Hamish Johnston

Peter Woit is lauded by some for having the courage to speak the truth to the physics establishment, while others see him as an enemy of science. Woit writes the Not Even Wrong blog, which has the same title as a controversial book he once wrote about the merits of string theory. In an article in the latest issue of Nautilus, Bob Henderson profiles Woit and his three decades of doubt over various incarnations of the theory that culminated about 10 years ago in the “string wars”. Henderson’s article is called “The Admiral of the String Theory Wars” and provides a fascinating insight into how the rise of string theory caused Woit to switch from physics to mathematics and his relationships with string theorists – some of whom work in the same building as Woit at Columbia University.


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Isaac Newton’s Good Friday, art meets physics and our favourite April Fool gags

APOD image of artwork "Mooooonwalk"

Suiting up for the Moon – an artwork aptly titled “Mooooonwalk”. (Courtesy: APOD/ Robert Nemiroff/Michigan Technological University)

By Hamish Johnston and Tushna Commissariat

As it’s Good Friday today, it can only mean that this week’s Red Folder will include a selection of the best physics-related April Fool jokes from earlier this week. Fermilab’s daily e-bulletin Fermilab Today had an entire joke edition up in the morning – their lead story was probably our favourite as the lab announced its new breakfast cereal dubbed “Neutrin-Os”, but their new day spa sounds pretty good too. CERN went for the funny if slightly obvious Star Wars joke, confirming the existence of the Force, but a slightly more subtle joke came earlier in the week from CERN Bulletin, which ran a story about CERN’s computer-security department handing out prizes for best password – we are still not quite sure if they were joking or not! Astronomy Picture of the Day had a truly fantastic image (see above) of a Lunar Grazing Module described as a “multipurpose celestial bovine containment system”.


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Particle-physics electronica

By Michael Banks

Fancy a bit of particle-physics electronica?

Subatomic Particles albumThen make sure you download the latest album from Isle of Wight electronic duo Cosmic Mind Warp.

In a “unique crossover” between the worlds of cosmology, quantum physics and electronic music, Alister Staniland and David Holmberg have just released a new concept album dubbed Subatomic Particles.

The 15-track album, which features songs such as “Large Hadron Collider”, “Quantum Tunnelling” and “Down Quark”, is described by the duo as a “hallucinogenic head-trip through the microscopic world of subatomic particles and the strangeness of quantum physics”.


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Last views of a huge particle detector before the Large Hadron Collider comes to life

Photograph of the author at the CMS detector at CERN

My photo opportunity: this could be the last we will see of the CMS for three years.

By Tushna Commissariat at CERN

Regular readers of Physics World will know that I am currently visiting the CERN particle physics lab in Geneva, ahead of the restart of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in the coming weeks. My first stop yesterday afternoon was a press conference in which CERN’s director-general Rolf Heuer and other leading physicists briefed us about “Run 2” and what researchers are hoping to discover. You can read about what they had to say here: “Large Hadron Collider fires up in a bid to overturn the Standard Model“.

I managed to squeeze in a quick last-minute visit to the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector before it is sealed up tight for the next three years. My host was CMS communications officer Achintya Rao, who took me and a few others deep underground into the bowels of the CMS – and what a sight it was!


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