Tag archives: physics
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.
By James Dacey
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.
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 physicsworld.com) 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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)
By James Dacey
First there was the LHC rap then the media bonanza for the big September switch-on; also playing their part were the harbingers of doom – foretelling apocalypse from Geneva’s ‘black hole machine’.
Now CERN’s (in)famous experiment is about to get even more dramatic as it provides the fictional setting for a new theatre production.
The Gentlemen’s Tea Drinking Society is produced by Ransom Theatre Company who bill it as “a fast and funny exploration of science, friendship, sexuality and the end of everything as four men face the truth on one fateful night”.
The play was written by Richard Dormer who made a name in 2003 with his internationally-acclaimed portrayal of the talented-yet-troubled snooker legend Alex “Hurricane” Higgins. It also contains an original score by Belfast born DJ David Holmes who produced the music for Ocean’s Twelve and Out of Sight.
Dormer and Co haven’t revealed much about the plot other than it centres around four men in a room, one of whom is a physicist harbouring a very big secret – he’s found the Higgs boson.
This is not the first time physics has taken to the stage. Famous examples include Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia (1993) — a look at the life of Byron which incorporated ideas from thermodynamics and chaos theory; and Michael Fryan’s Copenhagen (1998) — a play built around a 1941 conversation between Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg about the nature of the quantum world.
More recently American composer John Adams created an opera based on The Bomb and its creation at the Manhattan project. Dr Atomic premiered in 2005 and finally comes to London this February.
The Gentlemen’s Tea-Drinking Society launches on 4 February at Belfasts’s Old Museum before going on tour across Ireland until 10th March. Later in the year it will appear in Glasgow and London.