Tag archives: science communication
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.
By Matin Durrani in Boston, US
Physics World has been involved in making online videos and what we call “mini documentaries” for more than seven years. But these are mostly low-budget affairs aimed at people who are, by and large, already interested in physics.
So what if you’re a physicist who wants to work with a big-shot producer to make a full-blown, hour-long TV documentary watched by millions? Shows such as Horizon on the BBC or Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman on Discovery’s Science Channel get massive audiences, putting you in touch with far more people than most scientists could ever dream of.
A special session at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science had some of the answers. It brought together a bevvy of top TV producers (see slide above) who shared their tips on how scientists should pitch ideas for documentaries to them. A further session will be held tomorrow to let scientists propose real ideas in a kind of TV-science speed-dating.
By Matin Durrani
It’s time to check out the February issue of Physics World magazine, where our cover story looks at the physicists studying how dinosaurs moved. The issue is now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop, and you can also read the article on physicsworld.com here.
There’s also a great feature about whether supersolids could be making a comeback, while science writer Brian Clegg explains why anticipating people’s questions is the secret to good science communication.
Elsewhere in the new issue, check out why Jules Verne was spot-on with the physics of drones and meet the man who’s been the driving force behind statistical physics meetings.
If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can now enjoy immediate access to the new issue with the digital edition of the magazine in your web browser or on any iOS or Android mobile device (just download the Physics World app from the App Store or Google Play). If you’re not yet in the IOP, you can join as an IOPimember for just £15, €20 or $25 a year to get full access to Physics World digital.
By Sarah Tesh
If I got woken in the middle of the night by my screaming child and then saw beams of light in the sky, I think I’d be worried. When Timmy Joe in Ontario saw them, however, he assumed the multi-coloured beams were the Northern Lights. Turns out they were actually caused by the extreme cold. Moisture was freezing so fast that it formed ice flakes only a few molecules thick that could float in the air. These then refracted the city lights to create a colourful light show in the night sky.
Hungry reindeer could mitigate climate change, talking about quantum computing and our breakthroughs of the year
By Hamish Johnston
It’s that time of year when everyone is looking for stories with a Christmassy angle. My colleagues here at IOP Publishing are no exception and they have just put out a press release about some reindeer-related physics. Apparently, hungry reindeer in northern Norway are increasing the albedo of their feeding grounds by eating lots of plants. Albedo is a measure of how much sunlight is reflected back from the surface of the Earth – rather than being absorbed and dissipated as heat – and plays an important role in climate. A worry in the far north is that global warming will lead to greater plant cover – which will reduce albedo and lead to even more warming. Now, it looks like reindeer could help break this cycle. “The effect reindeer grazing can have on albedo and energy balances is potentially large enough to be regionally important,” says Mariska te Beest, from Umeå University in Sweden. “It also points towards herbivore management being a possible tool to combat future warming. Most of the arctic tundra is grazed by either domesticated or wild reindeer, so this is an important finding.”
By James Dacey
This summer many of you will watch smoke billowing out of buildings as yet another villain wreaks havoc on the New York skyline in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. I’m willing to bet that as you eat your popcorn you won’t be thinking about the Navier–Stokes equations of fluid dynamics. (Well, perhaps you will now that I’ve mentioned it!)
In fact, part of the reason that virtual smoke in films looks so realistic is because visual effects (VFX) specialists have applied the Navier–Stokes equations to their graphics. This was one of the interesting tidbits I learned from a talk yesterday in London by Rob Pieké, head of software at Moving Picture Company (MPC).
Pieké was speaking as part of a half-day event on “physics and film” organized by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World. The gist of his presentation was that basic physics principles are used in a variety of ways to create special effects that capture viewers’ attention. “The audience wants to see something fantastical but grounded in reality,” said Pieké. Another example he gave was how naturally bouncing hair in computer-generated characters is modelled on mass—spring systems. Each individual hair could be modelled on as many as 30 masses connecting by springs.
By James Dacey
The European première of a documentary recorded secretly within a Russian “atomic city” is among the highlights at Sheffield Doc/Fest, the international documentary festival that gets under way tomorrow in Sheffield, UK. City 40, directed by the Iranian-born US filmmaker Samira Goetschel, takes viewers inside the walls of a segregated city established by the Soviet Union during the Cold War as a guarded location for developing nuclear weapons.
The social model in Ozersk (formerly known as City 40) is reminiscent of what occurred in Richland, the US city near the Hanford site in Washington State where plutonium was produced for the “Fat Man” bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. In both these US and Soviet cities, the citizens were lavished with higher-than-average salaries and standards of living, such as quality housing, healthcare and education systems. Today, Ozersk is still a closed city with an alleged population of 80,000 and exists officially as a facility for processing nuclear waste and material from decommissioned nuclear weapons.
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.