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Tag archives: science and society

Identifying fingerprints, attractive scientists, what physics students should know

Easily recognized: could you be a fingerprint analyser? (Courtesy: CC BY 3.0/ Frettie)

Easily recognized: could you do fingerprint analysis? (CC BY 3.0 / Frettie)

 

By Hamish Johnston

Do you have the pattern-matching skills needed for identifying fingerprints? If so, researchers at National Institute of Standards and Technology in the US want to hear from you. They have put together a visual quiz that tests your ability to “focus on minute visual details that would leave most people cross-eyed”. You can try the test here.

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Cat-chy quantum song, science TV resurrected, $800,000 textbook, desk traffic lights

 

By Sarah Tesh 

I never realized it until now, but my life was missing a song about Schrödinger’s cat. Well, theoretical physicist, science writer and now singer/song writer Sabine Hossenfelder  has come to the rescue with a song about quantum states. This is her second music video done in collaboration artists Apostolos Vasilidis and Timo Alho. The rather cat-chy tune not only includes lyrics about quantum entanglement, Boltzmann brains and the multiverse, but also fits in references to Star Trek and The Matrix. In her BackReaction blog, Hossenfelder says, “If you think this one’s heavy on the nerdism, wait for the next.” We’re looking forward to it!

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Cassini’s emotional countdown, Steve the light show, shooting hoops ‘granny style’

 

By Sarah Tesh

This week has seen the beginning of Cassini’s Grand Finale. The rather dramatically named final mission for the NASA spacecraft involves 22 dives between Saturn and its surrounding rings. Once complete, Cassini will crash into the planet’s atmosphere in what the scientists hope will be a flurry of data gathering. The spacecraft has already sent back stunning images of storms in Saturn’s atmosphere from its first dive on 26 April. After 20 years since its launch, the mission to Saturn’s system has been a masterclass in space exploration, and NASA highlights the best bits in this theatrical video. The short film, reminiscent of Star Trek, could be considered a bit cheesy, but it’s hard not to form an emotional attachment to NASA’s loyal Cassini as you join in the countdown to its final demise.

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Snooker cues, negative mass, apps for waiting and CERN croissants

By Sarah Tesh

With the World Snooker Championship taking place at the moment, it’s that time of year when those of us who are usually snookered by the game are suddenly in its pockets. Right on cue, Phil Sutton from Loughborough University in the UK helps bridge the gap between science and snooker. In his video big break, he looks at why players use chalk on their cue tips. Interestingly, there is a right way to help you spin out a 147 and a wrong way that could leave you pocketing the white.

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From blue fogs to Brexit – the April 2017 issue of Physics World is now out

PWApr17cover-500-ruleBy Matin Durrani

“The secret of the blue fog” might sound like a Tintin book, but it’s all about a strange form of liquid crystal that’s the cover story in the April 2017 issue of Physics World magazine, which is now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop.

First observed in the late 1800s, only recently have we finally uncovered the structure of these materials, which turn blue when cooled. As Oliver Henrich and Davide Marenduzzo explain, blue liquid crystals could be used for new kinds of display devices.

Elsewhere in the issue, mathematical physicist Jason Lotay explains his work in seven extra dimensions, while science writer Benjamin Skuse examines the challenge for respected physicists with theories outside the mainstream.

Don’t miss either our latest look at Donald Trump’s scientific shenanigans, including an interview with Rush Holt – the physicist-turned-politician who’s now head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Remember that if you are a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOS, Android and desktop.

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Einstein world record, Spider-Man physics, quantum films and cakes

 

By Sarah Tesh and James Dacey

A world-record-breaking hoard of Albert Einsteins invaded Toronto in Canada on Tuesday 28 March. 404 people gathered in the city’s MaRS Discovery District dressed in the genius’s quintessential blazer and tie, and sporting bushy white wigs and fluffy mustaches. As well as breaking the previous Guinness World Record of 99 Einsteins, the gathering kicked off this year’s Next Einstein Competition. The online contest invites the public to submit ideas that can make the world a better place and awards the winner $10,000 to help them realize it.

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Quantum punchlines, the cloud atlas, NASA schooled

 

Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive (Courtesy: Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive? (Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

By Sarah Tesh

 You may not normally associate humour with quantum theory, but it’s not just jokes about Schrödinger’s cat and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that links the two. Liane Gabora of the University of British Columbia in Canada and Kirsty Kitto of Queensland University of Technology in Australia have created a new model for humour based upon the mathematical frameworks of quantum theory. The idea for their “Quantum Theory of Humour” stems from jokes like “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” Separately, the statements aren’t amusing but together they make a punchline. This requires you to hold two ideas in your head at once – a concept analogous to quantum superposition.

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How LIGO got the word out about gravitational waves

Tweeting to millions: LIGO made a social media plan before announcing the detection (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

Tweeting to millions: LIGO made a social-media plan before announcing the detection. (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

By Sarah Tesh

Nowadays, social media plays a big role in communicating science to the public. It has two important qualities – it’s free and it’s international.  A great case study for social media and science came last year when the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the first ever detection of gravitational waves. To tell us more about how the team grabbed the public’s attention (and got its work on Sheldon Cooper’s T-shirt in The Big Bang Theory), LIGO scientist Amber Stuver gave a witty talk at the APS March Meeting 2017 about the outreach strategy.

She began by telling us the story of that exciting detection day. Before the first detection, LIGO had published 80 papers on “detecting nothing”.  Yet on 14 September 2015 – the first morning of the first day of Advanced LIGO – the much-sought-after signal appeared. The first thing that had to be done was to check it wasn’t a fake. Having detected nothing for so long, those with the knowledge to do so would sometimes “inject” results to check the system worked and keep the scientists on their toes.

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Physics reveals the mysteries behind art

Artists' secrets: Charles Falco describes how artists used lenses (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

Artists’ secrets: Charles Falco describes how artists used optical lenses. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Sarah Tesh in New Orleans, Louisiana, US

As a physicist who likes to sketch and paint, I love it when art and physics come together. I was therefore excited to see that the APS March Meeting had a variety of talks on the subject. Charles Falco from the University of Arizona in the US told us about his work with the famous artist David Hockney. On a trip to see the 15th century painting The Arnolfini Marriage by Jan van Eyck, Hockney decided that the chandelier was too detailed to have been done freehand. So Falco and Hockney began looking at the intricate parts of paintings by artists through the ages and found that they essentially cheated.

Through focal length and depth-of-field calculations, Falco showed that artists had used optical lenses to project the complicated parts onto the canvas before painting them. They suggest that this has been happening since the 1400s and is a technique used by artists such as Hans Holbein (who painted the iconic portraits of Henry VIII) and Johannes Vermeer (whose work includes Girl with a Pearl Earring). Obviously, they still possessed huge amounts of skill, but it definitely makes me feel a bit better about my own skill level.

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Penguin spotting

Photograph of King penguins

A waddle of King penguins. (Courtesy: F Jones)

By Louise Mayor

Those of you who enjoyed Peter Barham’s Physics World feature “Penguin physics” might have – like me – come away enamoured of these little creatures, but not imagining that you could contribute to penguin research yourself.

Imagine my delight then when I discovered that the team behind British Science Week (BSW), which starts today, has teamed up with Penguin Watch, a citizen-science Zooniverse project that is calling for volunteers. The volunteer activity involves looking at photographs and, in each one, marking penguins, chicks, eggs and other animals such as humans. These crowd-sourced data will then then help the University of Oxford project Penguin Lifelines to better understand how threats to the ecosystem disrupt the dynamics of resident wildlife.

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