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Tag archives: science and society

US scientists praise nuclear deal with Iran

Two hands, one with the US flag painted on it, the other teh IRanian flg

Can the US and Iran seal the deal? (Courtesy: iStockphoto/Kagenmi)

By Matin Durrani

Earlier this month my colleague Hamish Johnston published a blog post about the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, in which he reported on a piece by the science historian Alex Wellerstein about whether that first use of a nuclear weapon for non-testing purposes was justified.

It’s a hugely contentious issue – some say that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings brought to an end a conflict that might otherwise have dragged on much longer, while others claim that a detonation well away from built-up areas would have been a better deterrent. Either way, the Hiroshima anniversary served as a pertinent reminder of the long and controversial role that physicists have played in designing and creating nuclear weapons, from the Manhattan Project onswards.

However, there have been plenty of physicists who have opposed the development of nuclear arms, including the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which was founded in 1945 by Manhattan Project scientists who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work”. Another anti-nuclear group is the UK-based Scientists for Global Responsibility, whose executive director Stuart Parkinson is a physicist. Last week it published a report calling for the UK government not to replace its submarine-based Trident nuclear deterrent.

Now, a group of 29 leading US scientists and engineers, including six Nobel laureates, has written a two-page letter to US President Barack Obama backing the deal that the US – along with China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK – has struck with Iran to limit its development of nuclear weapons and permit inspections in return for a lifting of economic sanctions.

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The August 2015 issue of Physics World is now out

 

By Matin Durrani

Mention the two words “science policy” and most physicists’ eyes will probably glaze over. Most of us dream of discovering a new planet or finding the Higgs boson – not poring over budget spreadsheets, championing science to politicians or commenting on legislation.

But science policy is vital in today’s world, which depends hugely on scientific research and in the cover feature of the August issue of Physics World, which is now out, Len Fisher and John Tesh offer 12 practical tips for scientists who want their ideas incorporated into science policy. You’ll be intrigued by what the two authors have to say.

Elsewhere in the issue, as my colleague Tushna Commissariat explains in the video above, there’s a great feature based on an interview with the French physicist Hélène Langevin-Joliot – the granddaughter of Marie Curie. In the article, Langevin-Joliot explains what’s known as the “Curie complex” and gives her own tips for scientific success. Langevin-Joliot didn’t suffer from the complex herself, but she acknowledges that it is a big problem for others and, these days, spends her time actively promoting careers for women in science

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Former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam was a ‘scientist and a statesman’

A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

Missile Man: APJ Abdul Kalam delivering a speech in 2010.
(CC BY 3.0/Pushrakv)

By Tushna Commissariat

This week, India is mourning the loss of an esteemed leader – the country’s 11th president APJ Abdul Kalam, who died on Monday. Kalam was in office from 2002 to 2007 and enjoyed country-wide popularity, even post his presidency. Described by US president Barack Obama as a “scientist and a statesman” in his eulogy, Kalam was a physicist and an aeronautical engineer before he turned to politics, first acting as a science administrator and adviser for nearly four decades before his office run. Indeed, he was heavily involved in India’s nuclear tests and its military missile programme, earning him the moniker of “Missile Man”. In 2007 he was awarded the Royal Society’s King Charles II Medal, which is “awarded to foreign heads of state or government who have made an outstanding contribution to furthering scientific research in their country”.

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Rediscovering Marie Curie and the pioneering women of science

Photograph of a panel of speakers at the women in physics conference

The panel of speakers at the women in physics conference. (Courtesy: Institute of Physics)

By Tushna Commissariat

This Sunday, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, I’ll be thinking of some amazing women who had a huge impact on the world of physics, helping shape the field as we know it today. Indeed, yesterday I was at the Institute of Physics in London, attending a day-long conference on “The lives and times of pioneering women in physics” hosted by the Institute’s Women in Physics group along with its History of Physics group. While there were a host of interesting speakers at the event, undoubtedly the star of the day was French nuclear physicist Hélène Langevin-Joliot, granddaughter of one of the 20th-century’s most famous female physicists – Marie Curie.

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What makes a physics experiment go viral?

 

By Tushna Commissariat

Physics experiments are not normally the stuff of “viral” videos on the Internet, but that is precisely what happened when physics students at the University of Bath in the UK decided to get creative with the Leidenfrost effect. If you are a regular reader of Physics World, you may get that déjà vu feeling when you watch the video above of water droplets zipping about the “Leidenfrost maze” built by (at the time undergraduates) Carmen Cheng and Matthew Guy – but rest assured you have seen it right here on this blog in 2013 when editor Hamish Johnston wrote about it before it amassed a whopping 120,150 views on YouTube.

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Science cleans up at the Oscars

Still of Stephen and Jane from the film The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything depicts Stephen Hawking’s relationship with first wife Jane. (Courtesy: Universal Pictures International)

By Tushna Commissariat

In a sweeping win for science-themed films at this year’s Oscars, British actor Eddie Redmayne has won the best actor award for his portrayal of the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in the film The Theory of Everything. Redmayne, 33, plays Hawking in the biographical film that was inspired by the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen written by Hawking’s former wife Jane, who is portrayed in the film by the British actress Felicity Jones. The Theory of Everything was also nominated for best picture, original score and adapted screenplay, while Jones was nominated in the best actress category. Redmayne’s success at the Oscars comes after his win in the best actor category at this year’s Bafta awards, which also saw The Theory of Everything pick up best film. The movie chronicles Jane’s relationship with Hawking – from the early days of their courtship to Hawking’s diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the age of 21 and his success in physics until the two divorced in 1995. I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of the film, and I thought it was a very worthy candidate for the awards season. You can read my review of the film here.

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Poetry please, a protein-folding app for your phone, and a new home for the Institute of Physics

Artist's impression of the new headquarters of the Institute of Physics

Artist’s impression of the new headquarters of the Institute of Physics.

By Hamish Johnston

You may not know it, but you could be a poet.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope have just launched a contest to find the best “Ode to Hubble” as part of the celebrations for Hubble’s 25th birthday. Although described as an ode, the contest is actually looking for a short video tribute to Hubble that can include verse, song, prose as well as still and moving images. The piece can either be about the telescope or one of its many discoveries. There are two age categories, one for “generation Hubble” – those born after its launch – and one for over 25s. So look to the stars and get those creative juices flowing.

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The physics of pop music, a stroll around the LHC, 3D illuminations in Bath and more

Pop physics: some of the subgenres used in a study of pop music (Courtesy:  Gamaliel Percino, Peter Klimek and Stefan Thurner/PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115255)

Pop physics: some of the subgenres used in a study of pop music. (Courtesy: Gamaliel Percino, Peter Klimek and Stefan Thurner/PLOS ONE 10.1371/journal.pone.0115255)

By Hamish Johnston

The take-home message from this week’s Red Folder is that “Scientists just discovered why all pop music sounds exactly the same”, at least according to an article on Music.Mic. The report describes a paper published in PLOS ONE by Stefan Thurner – a physicist at the Santa Fe Institute – and colleagues at the Medical University of Vienna.

The researchers used the online music database Discogs to sort the material on 500,000 albums into 15 musical genres and 374 subgenres. You can see examples of some of the subgenres in the above image. They discovered that as a genre of music becomes more popular, it becomes less complex as all its constituent artists and songs start sounding the same. Music.Mic’s Tom Barnes explains in his article how this ties in with various trends in the music industry, where he says “uniformity sells”.

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Season’s greetings and last-minute gift ideas

 

By Hamish Johnston

Things are winding down for the holidays at Physics World and we are all looking forward to recharging our batteries before we get stuck in to all the exciting physics that is sure to come our way in 2015.

If you are like me, you probably haven’t finished your Christmas shopping so here are a few suggestions that are sure to get a smile out of the physicists in your life. In the above video, author and scientist Neil Downie recommends a few traditional gifts as well as several quirky presents. I’m not sure that many people have a retort stand on their wish list, but I would certainly welcome a multimeter if I didn’t own one already.

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Prizewinning book gives materials science a chance to shine

By Margaret Harris

Mark Miodownik

Mark Miodownik last night.

Materials scientist and first-time popular-science author Mark Miodownik was all smiles last night as his book Stuff Matters scooped one of the UK’s top non-fiction awards, the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. The book, an engaging and often highly personal look at some of the everyday materials that make modern civilization possible, was the unanimous choice of the five-member judging panel, coming top in a strong shortlist that also included a history of general relativity, a memoir about cancer and an analysis of the role played by physicists in Nazi Germany.

Miodownik picked up his award – a rectangular prism that looked like glass but was, he informed us, actually made of acrylic – at the end of a ceremony in which he and four of the other shortlisted authors appeared on stage at the Royal Society’s London headquarters to read passages from their books. Earlier in the evening, there had been an audible buzz in the room as Miodownik read from the introduction of Stuff Matters, in which he describes how, as a teenager, he was slashed with a razor blade during an attempted mugging, and how he became obsessed with materials and their properties afterwards. (He is now a materials engineer at University College London.)

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