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ILC Science Club, science fiction versus science fact and siblings in physics


By Hamish Johnston

At the end of next week millions of children in England and Wales will start their summer holidays and many parents will now be scrambling to find activities to keep their little dears occupied. Physics World can recommend a virtual trip to ILC Science Kids Club courtesy of the Tokyo Cable Network and Japan’s Advanced Accelerator Association. ILC stands for International Linear Collider, which is one of several proposed to take over when the Large Hadron Collider is eventually retired. In the first video of the series, a boy called Haru learns why scientists are keen on building accelerators from his Uncle Tomo. The video is in Japanese with English subtitles, so as well as learning about particle physics, your little tykes might even pick up a little Japanese.

Elsewhere in this week’s Red Folder, the folks at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics have put together a list of “13 things from sci-fi that became sci-fact”. Each entry has been nominated by a Perimeter staff member or alumnus and range from things that are already mundane – such as automatic doors, newscasts and touchscreens – to things that are still esoteric such as quantum computing and space habitation.

The pedant in me, however, takes exception to some things on the list. One entry points out that antimatter has featured in the science fiction of Isaac Asimov and Dan Brown and is now a reality at CERN. The existence of antimatter was first mooted in 1898 by the physicist Arthur Schuster. It was predicted mathematically in 1928 by Paul Dirac and then discovered by Carl Anderson in 1932 – when Asimov was 12 and Brown wouldn’t be born for another 32 years. So I think antimatter is an example of science fact that has become science fiction. However, I welcome any comments about antimatter in science fiction before 1898, or 1932 for that matter.

The other sticking point is teleportation. While it is true that physicists can teleport information, they cannot teleport matter (or people). So that particular aspect of science fiction has yet to become science fact.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like growing up in the shadow of an older sibling destined to become one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century? If you are Joan Feynman, you would be talking about the science of aurorae with your brother Richard when you are three years old – and then go on to have a long and distinguished career as a solar physicist. She is still writing scientific papers at 88 and you can read more about Feynman’s remarkable life in “The Sun is always shining on Joan Feynman”, which is by Laura Faye Tenenbaum and appears on the International Year of Light 2015 Blog.

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