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Tag archives: physics

Why money is tight for Japanese science


Yashimo Iye, an executive director of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science in Tokyo on 6 November 2017

Money matters: Yasuhiro Iye is an executive director of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. (Courtesy: Matin Durrani)

By Matin Durrani in Tokyo, Japan


That was the one-word answer from Yasuhiro Iye, when I asked him what was the most important thing on his mind as executive director of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).

The society, which was founded in 1932, is responsible for funding researchers in Japan across all sectors of science, engineering and humanities. In 2015 the JSPS distributed about ¥260bn (about $2.27bn) in grants, which are awarded competitively through a rigorous peer-review process, with physicists receiving roughly 15% of the total.

It might sound a lot of money, but as Iye points out, the JSPS’s total budget has been pretty static in recent years. Money for science, Iye admits, is not as generous in Japan as in the past, which he blames on rising social-security costs to deal with the growing number of old people. “The Japanese government budget is constrained by the cost of an ageing society,” Iye says.


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The physics of sperm: the movie

By James Dacey

Luke Skywalker et al. re-entered the public imagination recently with the release of the trailer for Star Wars: the Last Jedi. But where that movie takes you on a galactic adventure, a new short web film by the Wyss Institute in the US takes you on a swashbuckling tour of the microscopic – tracking animated sperm on a mission to fertilize an egg.

The Beginning is based on collaborative work between a pair of researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Founding director Don Ingber teamed up with the biophysicist/professional animator Charles Reilly to seek an atomic-level understanding of sperm movement. Combining molecular dynamics simulations with film animation software, they have visualized how a sperm tail moves based on scientific data.


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Exploring Bristol’s physics heritage

Sir John Enderby and Felix James

Meeting of minds: Sir John Enderby (right) was Felix James’ perfect physics tour guide.  (Courtesy: Felix James)

By Felix James, a student on a work-experience placement with IOP Publishing

If you live in the UK, you are probably aware that at this time of year many school students are asked to do some kind of work experience. Teenagers like me find a placement we are interested in and then go there for a week – rather than school – to get a taste for what work is really like. For me this meant a week at IOP Publishing, which publishes Physics World, but it included an excellent tour of the physics department at the nearby University of Bristol.


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Sun, sea, sand – and science

The beach next to the venue of the 50th anniversary meeting of the Brazilian Physics Society in Natal

Paradise for physicists – the scene just metres from the venue for the 50th anniversary meeting of the Brazilian Physics Society in Natal.

By Matin Durrani in Natal, Brazil

From London via Lisbon, I arrived yesterday evening in Natal – a city of 800,000 people on the north-eastern tip of Brazil – for the 50th anniversary meeting of the Brazilian Physics Society (SBF).

I was invited by Ricardo Galvão, previous SBF president and chair of the organizing committee, to take part in a session later in the five-day meeting about the development of physics over the next two decades.

As editor of Physics World, which is published by the Institute of Physics (IOP), I’ll be joined by representatives from other physical societies around the world.


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Physics World 2015 Focus on Neutron Science is out now

By Michael Banks


For physicists who love scattering neutrons off materials, the recent ground-breaking ceremony at the European Spallation Source (ESS) in Lund, Sweden, will have been a long time coming. First proposed more than two decades ago, the ESS will – when it finally opens in 2020 – generate the world’s most intense beams of neutrons and help satisfy demand for these most useful of particles.

Neutron scattering has emerged as a mainstream scientific endeavour over the last 20–30 years, which is one reason why this month sees the first-ever Physics World focus issue on neutron science. We take a look at how researchers at the ESS are designing the facility’s tungsten target, as well as a new neutron source being built in China and how the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source in the UK is looking to bring in more users from industry.


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Friction between the sheets

Interleaved phone directories

Physics helps to explain why it is so hard to pull apart two interleaved phone directories. (CC  BY SA Mark Longair)

By Michael Banks

Ever tried – and duly failed – to pull apart two interleaved phone books? Well, a team of researchers from France and Canada, led by Héctor Alarcón of the University Paris-Sud, has now studied why this is such an impossible task.


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Five celebrities who are quantum physicists in disguise

 By James Dacey

Charlotte Church

(CC-BY Keven Law)

This week the Welsh pop star Charlotte Church (right) has released her latest EP entitled Four. In a conversation with New Scientist, Church explained that the EP’s opening track “Entanglement” was in fact named after the quantum-mechanical phenomenon known affectionately to physicists as “spooky action at a distance”. She has since told BBC Wales that she may well take her interest in science to the next level by studying for a physics degree.

There are of course several really famous people who are more directly connected with physics, having studied the subject in some form before going on to become luminaries in other fields. Examples include the Queen guitar-god Brian May, and arguably the most powerful woman in the world the German chancellor Angela Merkel. But Church is one of a new brigade of celebrities who are discovering the joys of physics after having already reached stardom for other abilities. The armchair psychologist might suggest that learning about the mechanics of the cosmos offers a refreshing alternative to the shallow nature of life that often comes with the celebrity lifestyle, or at least our view of it as presented by the media.


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Making sense of physics information

Graphic showing a connected world

(Courtesy: iStockphoto)

By James Dacey

Physicists today are faced with a multitude of options when it comes to accessing and sharing information with each other. Research collaborations are becoming increasingly international, bringing both opportunities and challenges with communication. There are ever-growing numbers of ways of accessing journal papers. And it seems that every other day sees the arrival of some shiny new social-media site for sharing and discussing the latest developments.

IOP Publishing (which publishes has teamed up with the Research Information Network (RIN) to try to improve our understanding of how information practices are changing in the physical sciences. You can help shape that understanding by taking our short survey. If you need a little sweetener, you will also be given the chance to enter a prize draw where you can win a $500 bursary to attend the academic conference of your choice. All in, the survey should take you about 10–15 minutes.

I caught up with Ellen Collins, a social researcher at RIN, to find out a bit more about what the project is designed to achieve.


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Physics on the big screen

By Tushna Commissariat

A new documentary of Stephen Hawking’s life is due in cinemas later this summer, with the esteemed physicist himself narrating the film. Hawking, as the documentary is simply dubbed, takes a personal look at the life of the celebrated scientist – his early days as a student in Oxford and his ongoing battle with motor neurone disease – as well as documenting his academic achievements.


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Much ado about the LHC

Rolf-Dieter Heuer talking to journalists at the Royal Society, London.
(Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has had its share of good and bad press over the past few years. Controversy and rumours abounded when the machine was switched on in September 2008. The mood then turned quickly to disappointment when its magnets failed and finally to euphoria when the first beams collided at 7 TeV in March 2010.

This week, a meeting to discuss the LHC and all things related was held at the Royal Society in London. The “Physics at the High Energy Frontier – the Large Hadron Collider Project” meeting took place on 16–17 May and saw leading lights of the project come together to discuss the collider and its future.

I was at the meeting for the second day, when a press briefing was held where CERN director Rolf-Dieter Heuer, plus Fabiola Gianotti and Guido Tonelli of the ATLAS and CMS experiments respectively, answered all of the questions that the Higgs-hungry reporters could throw at them!

The three speakers described how the collider has “surpassed all expectations” – experimental and computational. Talking about how the LHC is the very essence of global co-operation, Tonelli stressed that “no country could have done it as a stand-alone”. Heuer boasted that every year about 1000 students get their PhDs thanks to the LHC, while just the ATLAS experiment involves about 3000 researchers.

Explaining how things work at the LHC, Tonelli said, “We [experimental scientists] try to test the theory without prejudice. We ask our friends the theorists to come up with something that we can observe.” The collider has already produced the top quark in Europe for the first time and now it is poised to begin a regime of “new physics”, to look for supersymmetry (SUSY), multiple dimensions, matter–antimatter disparity and, of course, the Higgs boson.

The Higgs…or something else?

“We will have an answer to the Shakespeare question for the Higgs – ‘To be or not to be’ – by the end of 2012” declared a confident Heuer. While he did show a great deal of enthusiasm about discovering the Higgs, Heuer was also keen to point out that not finding the particle would be a great result in itself. “Not finding [the Higgs] when it does not exist is a success,” he exclaimed. “If it does not exist, we need to find something else that takes up the job of the Higgs and gives mass to elementary particles,” he added.

The LHC will run until the end of 2012 without any major breaks and Heuer is confident that it will decide the fate of the Higgs by the end of this run. “Physics will not be the same after 2012.” declared Tonelli. “It will change the view of the world.”

Not amused

One of the first questions, asked by BBC reporter Pallab Ghosh, was about the recent ”leak” of an unconfirmed sighting of the Higgs by ATLAS. A sighting that was later denied by a paper released by the ATLAS team and in interviews with physicists on various media channels.

“Unfortunately we live in a world of WikiLeaks, so it leaked!” said a grinning Gianotti. On a more serious note, she explained that such leaked results have not undergone the scientific scrutiny that is necessary, and hence are almost always insubstantial.

“The CERN management was not amused by the leak” said Heuer. He went on to ask journalists not to believe leaked results in the future. “Don’t trust it on first sight” he said. Although Heuer’s displeasure was clear, the leak did put the LHC back in the public eye after a few quiet months. Also, the media interest did provide the public with a rare insight into the vetting process that all scientific discoveries undergo. So perhaps the CERN management should lighten up and enjoy the renewed interest in the LHC!

Rolf-Dieter Heuer giving a talk about the future of the LHC at the Royal Society, London. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

Bumps and jumps

When asked about the Higgs-like ‘bumps’ seen at other experiments like the Tevatron and CERN’s Large Electron Positron Collider (LEP) the panel had mixed replies. The Tevatron bump was dismissed by Gianotti and Tonelli, as they both explained that it was too small, statistically speaking, and was only seen by one of the Tevatron’s two detectors. Would the LHC have a look for the Tevatron signal? “No”, was their reply.

However, “interesting events” seen at 115 GeV by the LEP just before its closure in 2000 are of interest to them. While Heuer did say that it is very difficult to determine if it was anything more than a “hint”, the LHC will be looking for the Higgs at that energy soon.


Colliding linearly

The International Liner Collider – a possible successor to the LHC – is another project that Heuer is excited about. He feels that CERN, with the LEP and now the LHC under its belt, would be the perfect host for the collider. “I think CERN has huge potential, not only on the human side, but on its experience side. We have all the instruments. So I see CERN in a very good position.” he said.

But what about the money? “If you have an excellent science case, you will get the money. Don’t ask for the money until you have the science figured out.” he said. He pointed out that, compared to the US, in Europe the politics of funding are more stable and for that reason CERN would be a better host.

Right: prototype microwave cavity for the ILC, illuminated for a “Science Night” in Hamburg. (Courtesy: DESY)

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