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Snooker cues, negative mass, apps for waiting and CERN croissants

By Sarah Tesh

With the World Snooker Championship taking place at the moment, it’s that time of year when those of us who are usually snookered by the game are suddenly in its pockets. Right on cue, Phil Sutton from Loughborough University in the UK helps bridge the gap between science and snooker. In his video big break, he looks at why players use chalk on their cue tips. Interestingly, there is a right way to help you spin out a 147 and a wrong way that could leave you pocketing the white.

You may have noticed in the news this week that physicists created “negative mass”. Scientists from Washington State University in the US had supercooled and trapped 10,000 rubidium atoms, and used lasers to give the atoms certain properties. The Bose–Einstein condensate then behaved as if it had negative effective mass. While we didn’t cover the research ourselves (although interesting, we deemed other news more so), the story got picked up by news outlets such as the BBC, the Telegraph and the Guardian. This led us to ask just why it got so much exposure. It’s because the paper title and press release dropped the word “effective”. “Negative mass” and “negative effective mass” have very different meanings but one is much more headline worthy. Sabine Hossenfelder, a theoretical physicist, discusses the findings and misleading terminology in her BackReaction blog.

Ever tried counting up that time you spend waiting for websites to load, e-mails to send and messages to arrive? Well, researchers at MIT have developed a series of apps to make the most of those “micro-moments”. The so-called “WaitSuite” currently tests you on vocabulary while you wait, but the researchers hope it could be used to learn maths, medical terms or legal jargon. The suite runs in the background and its various apps can tell when you are waiting because they are embedded into the tasks rather than running separately. For example, “ElevatorLearner” knows when you are near an elevator by sensing Bluetooth iBeacons, “WifiLearner” detects when you are waiting for a WiFi connection and “WaitChatter” can tell when you pause while instant messages come and go.

On the theme of hyper-connectivity, CERN has developed its own emojis. For those less knowledgeable about the world of instant messaging, emojis are little images that portray emotions, activities or objects. The site of groundbreaking particle physics has created a collection of 35 images that can be used by anyone (with an Apple device) in text messages and e-mails. In among the emojis are illustrations of collision events, the Globe of Science (CERN’s science museum) and the Higgs event. Maybe less expected are images of CERN hardhats, a CERN coffee cup with a croissant and an ambulance. Not sure what that implies about a day in the life of CERN…

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