Tag archives: science communication
How to cook the perfect steak, Bill Nye gets tangled about entanglement and the challenges of going to Mars
By Hamish Johnston
How do you cook the perfect steak? Materials scientist Mark Miodownik of University College London has the answer. To cook his medium-rare steak (pink in the middle with a seared coating on the outside), Miodownik first seals the steak in a vacuum bag and places it in a warm water bath until it reaches 55 °C. He then dips it in liquid nitrogen for 30 s to chill the outer layer without freezing the middle. If that wasn’t unconventional enough, he then throws it into a deep-fat fryer containing duck fat. The result? “A lusciously seared steak, medium rare all the way through. And not a pan in sight!” says Miodownik. The BBC has put together a nice animation of the recipe: “What’s the weirdest way to cook a steak?”.
By Margaret Harris at the AAAS meeting in Washington DC
Not with a bang, but a chirp.
That’s how the 2016 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) kicked off on Thursday, thanks to the spectacular news that the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) has, for the first time ever, directly observed the ripples in space–time known as gravitational waves. As our news story explains, LIGO’s twin interferometers picked up the waveform produced as two black holes spiralled into each other, emitting gravitational waves at frequencies and amplitudes that rose sharply with time, like the chirp of a cricket.
The LIGO researchers announced their discovery at a packed press conference in downtown Washington, DC. The excitement in the room was palpable, even though, as it turned out, most of the journalists present already knew what they were about to hear. This actually isn’t unusual. It’s common practice for scientific journals to send new research papers to journalists a few days ahead of publication; the idea behind this so-called embargo system is that it gives journalists time to report accurately on complex science stories.
What was unusual was that this time, there was no embargoed paper. Instead, there was a vigorous rumour mill casting out information in a messy, somewhat underhand and highly anisotropic way. This is rather interesting, and I wish that LIGO’s Gabriela González hadn’t dismissed the journalist who asked about it with an incredulous “The facts are so beautiful – why do you talk about rumours?”
By Margaret Harris
Here’s a Tuesday quiz for you. If you disagree with a colleague about something scientific, what should you do? Your choices are:
(a) Nothing. This is science, and the truth will win out no matter what I do;
(b) Take them aside and explain, privately, why you think they are wrong. Then, if they still disagree with you, get even by writing snarky anonymous reviews of their papers;
(c) Organize a panel “discussion” and tear them to shreds in front of all your colleagues;
(d) Take your case to the public by writing a popular-science book explaining the superiority of your own theory.
Okay, this is a trick question: I’m not sure any of those options is really a good idea (although I’m sure they’ve all been tried). I’d like to focus on the last one, though, because it was the subject of an interesting talk at the Science in Public conference, held last week in Physics World’s home city of Bristol.
By Robert P Crease in Singapore
It’s not often that you come across a museum exhibit based on a Physics World article. But I did on Saturday at the Mind Museum – an extraordinarily beautiful and original science museum in Taguig, on the outskirts of Manila in the Philippines.
Not only that, the exhibit is right at the entrance. You may recall that I once asked Physics World readers for their thoughts on the 10 most beautiful experiments and wrote up the results in an article in September 2002. The project turned into a book, The Prism and the Pendulum: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments in Science, which came out the following year and which Physics World reviewed.
Maria Isabel Garcia, who was planning exhibits for the then-future Mind Museum, saw the article and book, and created an exhibit based on it, consisting of videos and explanations of each of the 10 experiments, along with a sculpture designed by the Philippine artist Daniel de la Cruz.
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.
By Margaret Harris
Some people fear public speaking more than illness or death. I’m not one of them, but I’ll admit to some qualms on Monday morning, when I travelled to the University of Westminster to speak about science to a group of journalism students.
As I rode the Metropolitan Line train up to Westminster’s Harrow campus, I wondered what sort of speaker the students were expecting. I was giving the talk as part of a Royal Statistical Society (RSS) programme to train journalists in basic statistical principles and how science works; however, unlike most of the people involved in the programme, I am neither a professional scientist nor a statistician. Moreover, the official RSS curriculum places a strong emphasis on statistics and scientific practices in medical science, which isn’t exactly my strong suit either. So while I knew the programme was aimed at helping non-specialists understand basic concepts like risk, the scientific method and the role uncertainty plays in science – all topics that I’m fairly comfortable with – I couldn’t help feeling like a bit of an imposter.
By Margaret Harris
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.)
By Hamish Johnston
One of my favourite radio programmes is The Life Scientific, in which the physicist Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their lives and work. Al-Khalili introduces this week’s guest as “the pin-up of particle physics”, whose remarkable career has taken him from playing keyboards in pop bands, to winning a Royal Society University Research Fellowship to do particle physics, to hosting one of the BBC’s most popular science programmes.
By Robert P Crease in CERN, Geneva
It’s great to go first.
Then you can actually listen to the other performances without fretting about your own. Somewhere near the middle of my TEDxCERN talk yesterday (Wednesday 24 September) I stopped being aware of the timer at my feet, began to have fun and left the stage at the end without even noticing whether I had exceeded my time limit. I made a brief stop backstage to lose my “Madonna” – a microphone that’s not on a neck clip or attached to a headset but extends out from an ear brace – then retook my seat in the front row.
By Robert P Crease in CERN, Geneva
“TED”, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a non-profit organization that promotes talks on what it calls “ideas worth spreading”; the “x” denotes an independent event organized in that spirit. This is the second TEDxCERN – the first took place last year – and it’s hosted by Brian Cox. More than 1000 people will watch 14 speakers, three performances and three animations; tens of thousands more viewers are expected online.
James Gillies, CERN’s head of communication, invited me to be a speaker. The subject this year, he said, was how science could better engage with major social challenges. He said that my May Physics World column “Why don’t they listen?” – on why scientists have difficulty getting politicians’ ears – had “hit the nail on the head”, and asked if I’d be interested in discussing the idea.
A week at CERN? A great excuse to implore colleagues take over my classes? Sure! All I had to do, I thought, was talk my way through some extended version of the column.