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Tag archives: science and society

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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Exoplanet christening, physics on the catwalk, ultrasonic wine

Whiskey aging barrels

Quick spirit: ultrasonic waves speed up the ageing process. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Bbadgett)

By Sarah Tesh

Last week NASA announced the major find of seven Earth-like exoplanets orbiting a nearby dwarf star. The news that at least three of the seven could possibly support life was reported far and wide. Yet, as with most astronomical finds, the planets do not have the most imaginative names. Simply named after the star they orbit, they are currently called TRAPPIST-1a to TRAPPIST-1h. So NASA took to Twitter with the request #7NamesFor7NewPlanets and the public delivered. Suggestions have included the names of lost astronauts, famous composers and ancient deities. But naturally, there were also some less sensible contributions, including the seven dwarfs, many Harry Potter references, dedications to Pluto and, obviously, Planet McPlanetface 1 to 7.

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Brooklyn’s pioneering approach to art and science

 Janna Levin outside the Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York 21 February 2017

Where art and science mix – astrophysicist Janna Levin outside Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York.

By Matin Durrani in New York, US

After spending four days in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I travelled down by train to New York (gotta love those comfy Amtrak seats and free WiFi). I first hooked up with mathematical physicist Peter Woit at Columbia University and then with science philosopher Bob Crease from Stony Brook University, who’s been a long-time columnist for Physics World.

I was keen to find out if they’d be interested in writing for the new Physics World Discovery series of ebooks and, while at Columbia, I had also hoped to put the same question to astrophysicist and author Janna Levin, who’s based in the physics department. Turns out, however, that Levin is on sabbatical, spending a year as “director of sciences” at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn’s Red Hook district. Curious to find out more about a centre that seeks to “make culture accessible to all”, I accepted her invitation to pay a visit.

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Science supporters protest in Boston

Stand up for Science rally in Boston, 19 February 2017

Gathering of minds – scientists at today’s Stand up for Science rally at Copley Square in Boston.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

Hundreds of scientists and science supporters gathered in Copley Square in Boston earlier today in a rally to underline the importance of science. The “Stand up for Science” event was organized to coincide with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is taking place a few blocks away.

To find out more about the aims and purpose of the rally, I hooked up with Geoffrey Supran (picutred below), who helped to organize the event. Having originally studied physics at the University of Cambridgein the UK, Supran obtained a PhD in materials science at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and is now doing a postdoc in the history of science with Naomi Oreskes at nearby Harvard University.

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AAAS chief predicts “tough and uncertain times” for US science funding

physicist and former Congressman Rush Holt is the current president of the American Association for the Advvancement of Science at the AAAS annual meeting in Boston 17 February 2017

Not for me – president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Rush Holt says there’s “no chance” of him becoming Donald Trump’s science adviser but admits it would be hard to turn down if offered.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

Rush Holt is that rarity: a physicist who’s also been a politician, having spent 16 years as Democratic Congressman for New Jersey’s 12th congressional district from 1999 to 2015. Those two attributes make him well placed in his current role as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which is holding its annual meeting here in Boston.

So when I sat down with Holt yesterday, our conversation naturally focused on the impact on science of Donald Trump’s election as US president. The bouffant-haired, former businessman and reality-TV star may have so far said little about the subject, but Holt believes that “tough and uncertain times” lie ahead for scientific funding. “I think we will be on a very austere budget for all non-defence discretionary activity,” he warns.

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3D neutrinos on your phone, Hamiltonian: an Irish Musical, is a March for Science a good idea?

 

By Hamish Johnston

How would you like to explore a giant neutrino detector in 3D from the comfort of your mobile phone? VENu is a new smartphone app that allows you explore the physics underlying the MicroBooNE neutrino detector at Fermilab. Developed by Alistair McLean of New Mexico State University and an international team of physicists, the app is used in conjunction with the Google Cardboard headset to provide users with a virtual-reality experience of MicroBooNE. VENu includes games that offer “brain teasing challenges” including working out how to spot a neutrino event in a busy background of cosmic-ray events. The app can be downloaded free of charge from the Apple Store and the Google Android Marketplace.

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Great wagers in physics, CERN’s pine marten gets stuffed, Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight

Flat out: Wallace saw him coming (Courtesy: PI)

Flat out: Wallace saw him coming. (Courtesy: PI)

By Hamish Johnston

I bet you can’t resist clicking on “Great wagers in physics history” – which has been compiled by Colin Hunter at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. A surprising number involve Stephen Hawking, whose record on winning is quite abysmal according to Hunter. Hawking’s fellow Cantabrigian Isaac Newton also enjoyed a flutter and accepted Christopher Wren’s offer of 40 shillings to anyone who could – in two months – derive a force law that explained Keplers laws of planetary motion. Newton succeeded, but ran overtime so he didn’t collect the cash. In the image above you can read about another wager involving a “flat-Earth theorist”.

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Mercury now orbits between Mars and Jupiter, fun with liquid nitrogen, 3D printing an asteroid

 

By Hamish Johnston

He may have taken the name of a planet, but the late rock star Freddie Mercury now has an asteroid named after him. 17473 Freddiemercury, is about 3.4 km in diameter and resides in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The designation was made by the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union and announced on Sunday by Mercury’s former Queen band mate and astrophysicist Brian May. In the above video, May gives some background to the naming, which was done to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Mercury’s birth. And if you watch to the end, you will see a clip of 17473 Freddiemercury streaking across the sky with Queen rocking in the background.

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An animated history of physics, messing around with methane and Vangelis on space

 

By Hamish Johnston

Topping this week’s Red Folder is an “Animated history of physics” narrated by the Irish comedian and science enthusiast Dara O Briain. Running from Galileo to Einstein’s general theory of relatively – and giving very short shrift to quantum mechanics – it’s more of a selected history. You can enjoy the animations and O Briain’s soothing brogue in the video above.

O Briain often teams up with the particle physicist and media celebrity Brian Cox, who is also in the news recently for teaching children in London how to ignite potentially explosive gas. Before you call social services, it was all in the name of science education and part of Cox’s visit to St. Paul’s Way Trust School. Cox had been invited to the school’s summer science school and obliged by leading an experiment into the properties of methane. “There is no shortage of enthusiasm for students and young people when you talk about science and engineering,” Cox told the Reuters news agency.

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Pokémon physics, photon torpedoes, a neutrino Ghostbuster and more

Don’t fall in the water! Pokémon Go arrives at Fermilab (Courtesy: Lauren Biron/Fermilab)

Don’t walk into the water! Pokémon Go arrives at Fermilab. (Courtesy: Lauren Biron/Fermilab)

By Michael Banks and Hamish Johnston

The smartphone app Pokémon GO has been all the rage since its recent launch. The augmented-reality game is based on the Nintendo franchise and features players exploring their surroundings while trying to catch as many of the virtual creatures as possible, According to Science, Pokémon have been spotted at a number of science centres including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory while Symmetry Magazine reports that the game has also infiltrated particle-physics labs such as Fermilab, with scientists seen walking around the lab peering into their phone as they hunt down Pokémon.

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