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Tag archives: science communication

What can you learn at a quantum ‘boot camp’?

By Tushna Commissariat in Stockholm, Sweden

Google the word “quantum” and take a look at what comes up.
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In addition to the obvious news articles about the latest developments in the field and the Wikipedia entries on quantum mechanics, you’ll undoubtedly come across a heap of other, seemingly random, stories.

I found, for example, a David Bowie song being compared to a quantum wavefunction (by none other than British science popularizer Brian Cox), as well as a new cruise ship being named Quantum of the Seas. Then there’s the usual jumble of pseudo-scientific “wellness” therapies that misguidedly adopt the word in a strange attempt to give their treatments some sort of credibility.

So while it seems that everyone is talking about quantum something or other, how much do we really understand this notoriously difficult subject? More to the point, how much do science journalists, like me, really know about the subject? I write stories about quantum mechanics from time to time for Physics World and the subject can, I assure you, be fiendish and quite mind-bending.

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Life after a nuclear bomb, farewell to MetroCosm and the nerdiest thing ever

 

(Courtesy: David Ng)

Observed change in Tatooine surface temperature 100BBY – 10ABY. (Courtesy: David Ng)

By Hamish Johnston

What’s it like to have a nuclear bomb dropped on you? Okay, I know the question is a bit heavy for this light-hearted column but I was really inspired by this piece about Shinji Mikamo who was less than a mile from the epicentre of the Hiroshima bomb. He was 19 at the time and not surprisingly the bomb changed the course of his life in many ways. What I found most amazing is that Mikamo managed to survive an explosion so intense that it blasted off the glass and hands of his father’s pocket watch, but not before imprinting the time of the blast on the watch’s melted face. The article is called “When time stood still” and it appears on the BBC website.

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‘Outspoken’ scientist reveals his Hollywood life

Photograph of Caltech cosmologist Sean Carroll at the Cheltenham Science Festival in 2014

Sean Carroll helps Hollywood use more believable science better in films. (Courtesy: Matin Durrani)

By Matin Durrani

This blog is a shameless plug for the latest Physics World podcast, in which I talk to Sean Carroll – the California Institute of Technology cosmologist who also serves as a science adviser to Hollywood.

I chatted with Carroll when he was in the UK speaking at the recent Cheltenham Science Festival and, in the podcast, you can find out about his favourite science-fiction films and why he thinks it’s important to get the science in such films right. Carroll also reveals who he thinks he’s most like in TV’s The Big Bang Theory.

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Women Rock Science author bags new student-science award

Hadiza Mohammed

Hadiza Mohammed being presented with the inaugural IOP Student Science Publication Award last night.

The photo above shows me presenting the inaugural Student Science Publication Award, sponsored by the Institute of Physics and IOP Publishing, which publishes Physics World, to Hadiza Mohammed of the online magazine Women Rock Science. She is a working civil engineer currently doing a Master’s in advanced environmental and energy studies.

The award, which was launched this year, recognizes student journalists who produce a regular science publication and seeks in part to nurture the next generation of science writers. It forms part of the annual awards given by the Association of British Science Writers and was presented at a reception held at the Royal Society in London as the culmination of this year’s UK Conference of Science Journalists.

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Capturing science on film

People watching an outdoor screen in Sheffield

People enjoying an outdoor screening in Sheffield’s Peace Gardens.

By James Dacey, reporting from Sheffield

For the past few days I’ve been back to the place where I grew up: the city of Sheffield in the north of England. It’s famed for its steel production and snooker, but I’ve been in town for what is billed as the world’s most exciting documentary and digital media festival: Sheffield Doc/Fest. There has been an eclectic mix of films and audio documentaries from around the world to enjoy but I’ve been focusing on a strand of the festival dedicated to “Ideas & Science”.

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Boson book scoops Royal Society prize

Sean Carroll, winner of the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for science books

Sean Carroll, winner of the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for science books.

By Margaret Harris

It’s been a good year for particle-physics prizes, and the Higgs-stravaganza continued last night in London as the cosmologist and author Sean Carroll walked away with the £25,000 Royal Society Winton Prize for his book The Particle at the End of the Universe.

Carroll’s book – which includes a behind-the-scenes account of how the Higgs boson was discovered, as well as explanations of the Higgs field and other concepts – was the “unanimous” choice of the prize’s five-member judging panel. Uta Frith, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at University College London and the judging panel’s chair, called The Particle at the End of the Universe “a real rock star of a book,” and cited Carroll’s energy and passion for his subject among the reasons why it beat out the five other books on the shortlist.

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How to build brain-like circuits

Jim Gimzewski speaking about art and science at Institute of Physics Publishing

Jim Gimzewski speaking about art and science at IOP Publishing.

By Hamish Johnston

Yesterday Jim Gimzewski, who is professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA, paid a visit to IOP Publishing – which publishes Physics World. Gimzewski was here to give a lecture about his two professional passions: art and science. He spoke about his involvement in a travelling art installation that was inspired by butterfly metamorphosis and also about his work in synaptic electronics

Jim Gimzewski on synaptic electronics
Why scientists are trying to build artificial brains
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Stings, furloughs and women in physics

The National Institute of Standards and Technology website is on furlough this week

The National Institute of Standards and Technology website is on furlough this week.

By Hamish Johnston

This week the magazine and journal Science published an article called “Who’s afraid of peer review?“. It describes a remarkable “sting” operation by the journalist John Bohannon, who submitted a spoof scientific paper to 300 or so open-access scientific journals. The  paper claimed to offer evidence for the anti-cancer properties of a naturally occurring compound. It contained several fundamental errors that should have been caught by the peer-review process, not to mention made-up authors working at fictitious institutes.  Instead of being rejected by all the journals, more than half of the submissions (157 in total) were accepted for publication.

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Leidenfrost drops race through a maze

By Hamish Johnston

In this fantastic video, physics students at the University of Bath in the UK have had some fun with the Leidenfrost effect. This occurs when a liquid drop comes in contact with a hot surface that produces an insulating layer of vapour that keeps the drop from evaporating rapidly. This layer also allows the drop to glide effortlessly over the surface – and that’s where the fun begins.

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People, not information, want to be free

Cory Doctorow speaking

Cory Doctorow speaking at the Sense About Science Annual Lecture. (Courtesy: Sense About Science)

By Margaret Harris

I’ve never been a fan of the slogan “Information wants to be free”.  As a journalist and former scientist, I know that the process of creating and disseminating information is definitely not free, and I’m sceptical about the economic alchemy that would supposedly make it that way.  So when I saw that this year’s Sense About Science lecture was entitled “We Get to Choose: How to Demand an Internet That Sets Us Free”, I nearly stayed away.

As it turns out, a more accurate title for the London-based charity’s annual bash would have been “Why Digital Rights Management is Bad and Why You Should Care”, and by the end, the speaker – science-fiction author and blogger Cory Doctorow – had pretty much won me over.

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