This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

physicsworld.com's multimedia channel features exclusive video interviews with leading figures in the physics community.

Visit our multimedia channel to see the latest video.

July 2012 Archives

DIY build-a-particle kit

| | TrackBacks (0)
Self-assemblying polyhedra

By Tushna Commissariat

While the vibrant image above might, at first glance, look like a painter’s colour chart, it actually shows how different categories of polyhedral particles in a fluid would pack together as a solid. The method used to obtain the findings has been developed by Pablo Damasceno and colleagues at the University of Michigan, US, and is based on only two parameters: the shape of the particles and the number of neighbours they have in the fluid phase. What Damasceno and his team have done is run computer simulations to study how 145 different types of polyhedra pack into various structures, based on interactions driven solely by the particle shape, to come up with simple predictive criteria for the final shape that is formed. As a material’s physical properties are intrinsically dependent on its structure, understanding exactly how materials assemble and evolve is essential to designing them. The team’s calculations show that, depending on their initial shape, hard polyhedra will assemble in one of four ways: crystals, plastic crystals, liquid crystals or fully disordered structures. And these all depend only on a ratio based on the particle’s volume and surface area and on the number of neighbouring particles. In the image, the four colours depict the four assembly categories, while the shades indicate subcategories of formation. (Image courtesy of Michael Engel.) The researchers also found some abnormalities and unexpected results, with some polyhedra never assembling into any kind of structure. Take a look at the Science paper here .


By James Dacey

Earlier this week we learned the sad news that Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died of cancer at the age of 61. Ride made history as a crew member on the _Challenger _mission that blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 18 June 1983. She was also aboard the 13th shuttle flight, STS 41-G, which launched on 5 October 1984.

Before embarking on her space travel Ride had a strong and diverse academic background, holding degrees in physics and English from Stanford University. Then in 1989 she returned to academia by joining the University of California, San Diego as a professor of physics and director of the California Space Institute.

Alongside her academic activities, Ride of course underwent intense physical training in preparing for her space missions. And the biography on Ride’s website reveals that her passion for athletic activities began at an early age. She apparently competed in national junior tennis tournaments and was good enough to win a tennis scholarship to Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles.

Clearly, Ride is an extreme example of somebody with drive who achieved incredible things during her lifetime by devoting countless hours to both academic study and physical training. Both of these passions brought a focus to her life that helped her to achieve her goals. But I wonder whether we mere mortals could also benefit to a more modest extent from this combination of physical and mental exercise.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for hands smll.jpg

We all know of people who excel in academia and sport. And we’re forever being told that regular exercise can help contribute to a balanced lifestyle – improving our concentration, sense of wellbeing, yada yada yada. But then equally I’m sure you know plenty of clever, successful, happy people who despise physical activity, can’t think of anything worse in fact. We’re interested to know where you fall in this debate, so please take part in this week’s poll:

Do you find that regular exercise helps you to focus when studying?

Yes
No

Have your say by visiting our Facebook page, and please feel free to explain your response – or suggest something in-between – by posting a comment below the poll.

In last week’s poll we looked at the impact of science and technology on society. We asked you to select which physics-based technology to emerge from the Second World War has had the most significant impact on society. The most popular choice with 65% of the vote was modern computing, followed by nuclear power/weapons with 19%, then radar and microwave technology with 8%. In 5th and 6th place were the jet engine with 5% and rocket systems with just 3%.

Thank you to everyone who took part and we look forward to hearing from you again in this week’s poll.

The nomadic life of a particle physicist

| | TrackBacks (0)
Fermilab podcast

By Margaret Harris

When I heard that Fermilab’s Tevatron particle accelerator was going to be shut down, my first thought wasn’t about the race to discover the Higgs boson, or the shutdown’s implications for CERN and the rival Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Instead, it was “What will happen to the scientists?”.

One of the great things about being a science journalist is that, once in a while, you get the chance to find answers to questions like this. So when Physics World sent me to Fermilab last autumn to learn more about the lab’s scientific plans for a post-Tevatron future, I added a few personal questions to my interviews, such as “What are you going to do now?” and “What was the day of the shutdown like?”.

You can hear a few of the answers in this podcast, which is drawn from more than nine hours of interviews with 25 different physicists. Most of the interviews were conducted at Fermilab, but I also did a few at CERN, because I wanted to hear from people who had followed the “energy frontier” as it moved from the Tevatron to the LHC. As one of these emigrants explained to me, being a particle physicist is sometimes a little like being a surf bum: “you go where the waves are good, where the beam is good”.

You can listen to the podcast here, or download it via this link.

By Matin Durrani

For every researcher, getting published is the name of the game.

 IOP Publishing author guide

You might be a brilliant blogger, a terrific Tweeter or a frenetic Facebook fan, but having a scientific paper published in a professional scientific journal is still your best bet for getting your results recorded, archived, peer-reviewed and disseminated.

If you’re new to the publishing game, however, IOP Publishing, which publishes physicsworld.com, has brought out a handy little online introductory guide.

Aimed at early-career researchers, the guide is designed to provide an overview of academic publishing and advice on how to make the most of the process for sharing your research.

There are sections on choosing where to submit your paper, how to go about writing it, how the peer-review process operates, and what to do when you receive your referee’s report.

Check out the guide to getting published.

PS Talking of Facebook, we’ve started posting “images of the day” on our Facebook page. They seem to be quite popular, so let us know if you have any suggestions.

Farewell Sally Ride

| | TrackBacks (0)
Sally Ride

Sally Ride talks to ground controllers during the six-day Challenger mission.
(Courtesy: NASA)

By James Dacey

Sally Ride, the physicist and astronaut who became the first US woman in space, has sadly passed away aged 61. Ride made history as a crew member on the Challenger mission that blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 18 June 1983. Ride was also aboard the 13th shuttle flight, STS 41-G, which launched on 5 October 1984.

In 1989 Ride joined the University of California, San Diego as a professor of physics and director of the California Space Institute. In addition to holding this faculty position, Ride was also engaged in a number of other educational activities to encourage students to pursue careers in science and technology.

A statement released on her company’s website reads “Sally Ride died peacefully on 23 July 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

“Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.”


By James Dacey

Thumbnail image for hands smll.jpg

There is a fascinating article in the current issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in which the historian Paul N Edwards tries to unravel the “entangled histories” of climate science and nuclear weapons. One of Edwards’ central arguments is that climate science is only in its relatively advanced current state because of the scientific work carried out in the field of nuclear-weapons research. He backs up this assertion by tracing the histories of the different aspects of climate science, from the atmospheric models that were initially developed to monitor nuclear fallout to the facilities that were founded for nuclear purposes but have since switched to climate interests as a result of shifts in political interests.

The article got me thinking about the huge role that politics plays in the development of new technologies, particularly when there is a focused political will, such as during times of war. This was clearly evident during the second half of the 20th century when societies across the developed world were dramatically transformed by technologies that had emerged from scientific and engineering advances of the Second World War. Work and leisure have been transformed by modern computing. The invention of the jet engine opened up the world to speedy travel. Von Braun’s rocket carved a path that led us to the Moon. Radar is used to scan the skies, tracking everything from planes to clouds. The harnessing of nuclear energy transformed power supplies, while the power wielded by nuclear weapons has been a dominant theme in global politics ever since the US developed The Bomb.

Clearly, all of these technologies have had vast impacts on the world. In this week’s Facebook poll we want you to answer the following question:

Which physics-based technology to emerge from the Second World War has had the most significant impact on society?

Nuclear power/weapons
Modern computing
The jet engine
Rocket systems
Radar and microwave technology

Have your say by visiting our Facebook page, and please feel free to explain your response – or suggest an alternative technology – by posting a comment below the poll.

In last week’s poll we asked you to exercise your brain in thinking about the role that physics can play in professional sport. We asked whether you think athletes could benefit from an understanding of the physics of their sports. The outcome was as conclusive as the outcome of a race involving the average university academic and the Jamaican sprinting phenomenon Usain Bolt. 93% of respondents had strong faith in the importance of physics as they selected the option “Yes, it could help them to perfect their techniques”, while the remaining 7% chose the option “No, any knowledge would be purely theoretical”.

We asked this question in connection with the July issue of Physics World, which looks at physics and sport, including features on the physical principles underpinning sport, and the roles technology plays in enabling and enhancing sporting performance. For a limited time this special issue is available as a free PDF download.

Thank you to everyone who took part and we look forward to hearing from you again in this week’s poll.

By Matin Durrani

PWJul12cover-200px.jpg

Ernest Rutherford used to enjoy “noisy and appalling” golf at Cambridge with his Trinity College colleagues. Niels Bohr was a keen footballer who played in goal for the top Danish side Akademisk Boldklub in the early 1900s. Arthur Eddington was a passionate cyclist who coined the “Eddington number”, E, which is the number of days on which you have cycled at least E miles. (He reached an incredible 84.) And, of course, CERN physicists are handily placed for a spot of Alpine hiking, climbing and skiing.

But for some physicists, sport is more than just something they take part in – it is what they study too. This month’s issue of Physics World looks at some of the challenges in the “physics of sport”, including:
• the effects of technology and rule change on sporting performance;
• the physics of the prosthetic devices that are leading disabled athletes like Oscar Pistorius to success;
• and how gymnasts, divers and long-jumpers are all unconscious masters of manipulating the law of conservation of angular momentum.

Members of the Institute of Physics (IOP) can enjoy the entire new issue online through the digital version of the magazine by following this link or by downloading the Physics World app onto your iPhone or iPad or Android device, available from the App Store and Google Play, respectively.

But for those of you who are not yet members of the IOP, to show you what you’re missing out on, we’re offering for a limited period only the opportunity to download a free PDF of the July issue via this link. The PDF version doesn’t contain all the features of the digital issue, which include reading articles in plain-text or page-view formats, the ability to share articles and have them read out loud, as well in-built multimedia content.

Remember that if you’re not yet a member, you can join the IOP as an imember for just £15, €20 or $25 a year via this link. Being an imember gives you a full year’s access to Physics World both online and through the apps.

Click here to download a free PDF of the July issue of Physics World.

Dancing at the quantum disco

| | TrackBacks (0)
Hiddens Fields art-physics collaboration

Dancers move together to create interesting patterns. (Courtesy: Paul Blakemore)

By James Dacey

Hidden Fields is a new art–physics collaboration that will be premièring at the Arnolfini art centre this Saturday as part of the Bristol Harbour Festival. Dancers interact with virtual quantum particles and fields to create colourful abstract images that are projected onto screens. The show is also accompanied by live music as a performer uses software to map the particle dynamics into musical scales.

The project’s mastermind is David Glowacki, who developed the idea using knowledge acquired through his day job as a theoretical chemist, as he explains in this video.

aerographite

(Courtesy: TUHH)

By Tushna Commissariat

Two teams of researchers in Germany have fabricated a material that they say is the lightest in the world. Aerographite – as the researchers have dubbed it – is a 3D network of porous carbon nanotubes and weighs only 0.2 mg per cubic centimetre, making it 75 times lighter than Styrofoam. Nevertheless, the researchers say that it is very strong and can withstand large amounts of compression (up to 95%) and tension loads. This is one of its many unique features, as most lightweight materials can easily be compressed but become weak when exposed to large amounts of stress. Aerographite, on the other hand, becomes more solid (up to a certain point) when compressed, making it stronger.

The researchers at Kiel University and Hamburg University of Technology, both in Germany, say that aerographite is jet-black, stable, electrically conductive, ductile and non-transparent, and has a very low density thanks to the fact that it is composed of hollow carbon nanotubes. Aerographite weights four times less than the hitherto lightest material in the world – a nickel material that was revealed only six months ago. The scanning-electron-microscope image above shows the hollow carbon tubes that form a fine mesh.

The researchers say that aerographite could have innumerable applications – it could be used to make lightweight lithium-ion batteries, to build satellites and even in water-purification systems.

Pluto and its five moons

A Hubble Space Telescope image showing the five moons that orbit Pluto.
(Courtesy: NASA, ESA and M Showalter at the SETI Institute)

By Tushna Commissariat

The dwarf-planet Pluto is back in the news this week, as astronomers have discovered that it has a fifth icy moon orbiting it. The newly discovered moon, which was seen as a speck of light in nine separate sets of images taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, apparently has a rather irregular shape, and is about 10–25 km across. With its 95,000 km diameter circular orbit around Pluto, the moon should lie within the same plane as Pluto’s other four moons.

“The moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls,” says Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in the US, who was also the leader of the scientific team that discovered the new moon. The team was intrigued that a dwarf planet such as Pluto can have such a complex collection of satellites and says that the new moon could provide further clues towards understanding how Pluto’s system has formed and evolved.

Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, was discovered in 1978. Further observations in 2006, again made by Hubble, uncovered two additional small moons, Nix and Hydra, and the fourth moon, known only as P4, was found last year. The new moon has provisionally been called P5.

NASA’s New Horizons space probe, which is currently en route to Pluto, has a high-speed fly-by scheduled for 2015. It will return the first ever detailed images of the Pluto system, which is so small and distant that even Hubble can barely see the largest features on its surface.


By James Dacey

In the July issue of Physics World there is a thought-provoking article by the philosopher Robert P Crease in which he argues that athletes know the laws of “physics”, rather than “know” the laws of physics.

The distinction may sound a bit pedantic, but the point Crease is making is that professional athletes do possess physical knowledge of their sporting activities, deep within their flesh and bones. But this, Crease argues, is distinctly different from understanding sport on a theoretical level – understanding the laws of levers and vectors does not necessarily make you a successful gymnast, for example.

Please let us know what you think about this by answering this week’s poll question:

Could athletes benefit from an understanding of the physics of their sports?

Yes, it could help them to perfect their techniques
No, any knowledge would be purely theoretical

Thumbnail image for hands smll.jpg

Have your say by visiting our Facebook page, and please feel free to explain your response by posting a comment below the poll. And you can read Crease’s article in the July issue of Physics World, which is available for a limited time as a free PDF download. This special issue of the magazine looks at physics and sport, including features on the physical principles underpinning sport, and the roles technology plays in enabling and enhancing sporting performance.

So what happened in last week’s poll? Well, last Thursday we were still caught up in the frenzy that surrounded the big announcement from CERN that its scientists had discovered a new particle, which is almost certainly the Higgs boson. We asked you to try to step out of the excitement momentarily to consider the question: What is the most significant experimental discovery in particle physics?

Faced with a choice of seven responses, it turns out that our Facebook followers rank the Higgs boson discovery as the second most significant discovery, as it picked up 26% of the vote. In first place was Rutherford’s discovery of the atomic nucleus with 36% of the vote, and in third place was the electron with 17% of votes.

Thank you for all your responses and we look forward to hearing from you in this week’s poll.

By Hamish Johnston

A week ago today, physicists at CERN announced that they have discovered a “Higgs-like” boson. But is it the Higgs boson as described by the Standard Model of particle physics?

The answer to that question is “we don’t know yet”, and the race is on to interpret the results presented last week by the CMS and ATLAS experiments on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Famous for being quick off the mark when new data are available, Dan Hooper of Fermilab has teamed up with colleague Mathew Buckley to look for hints of supersymmetry (SUSY). In a preprint uploaded to arXiv just one day after the announcement, Buckley and Hooper focus on the decay of the Higgs via two gamma rays (the diphoton channel) and via two gluons (the gg channel).

While the diphoton channel is relatively straightforward to study at the LHC, the gg channel cannot be seen because the colliding protons produce so many background particles that the decay cannot be isolated. However, Higgs bosons are produced in the LHC by the reverse process – the fusion of two gluons. The rate at which this fusion occurs is related to the rate at which the Higgs decays to gg.

Unlike other Higgs-producing processes, gg fusion does not produce additional particles such as a W or Z boson. As a result, physicists are able to get a handle on the gg fusion rate by looking at Higgs decays that aren’t associated with these other particles.

Putting all of this together, Buckley and Hooper figure that the diphoton decay rate is about three times higher than predicted by the Standard Model, whereas the gg decay rate is about half of that expected.

What could this mean? The Fermilab pair thinks that it could be emerging evidence for SUSY. Specifically, it could point to the existence of a scalar top supersymmetric quark (stop squark), which is the supersymmetric partner of the top quark. Unlike the top quark, which is by far the heaviest quark, the stop is expected to be a lightweight squark – which Buckley and Hooper say fits their analysis.

You can read the paper here.

Hooper is fast, but not as quick as his Midwestern colleagues Ian Low, Joseph Lykken and Gabe Shaughnessey – who uploaded a paper on 4 July, the day the announcement was made. The paper was uploaded shortly before 20:00 GMT, so assuming the trio had no prior knowledge of the announcement, it must have been written in less than 11 hours!

In their paper on arXiv, the researchers point out that the observed Higgs decay rates are consistent with the existence of a “Higgs imposter” – a particle that looks like a Higgs but isn’t a Higgs.

While both papers are interesting, I should point out that the CMS and ATLAS data are also consistent with a boring old Standard Model Higgs boson, and more data are needed before we know the exact nature of what was discovered last week at CERN.

By Michael Banks

The Fukushima nuclear accident last year “could and should have been foreseen and prevented” according to a report released yesterday by the 10-member Fukushima nuclear accident independent investigation commission. Chaired by Kiyoshi Kurokawa, former president of the Science Council of Japan, the report says the accident was a profoundly “man-made disaster” that was “made in Japan” and could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.

The 88-page English version of the report says the accident was the result of “collusion” between the government, regulators and the plant’s operators. “They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents,” the authors write.

In its introduction, Kurokawa writes that the commission’s report “catalogues a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared”. Kurokawa adds that the “fundamental” failures of the plant were because of the “ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflective obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity”.

The Fukushima nuclear accident was caused by an earthquake and tsunami of a scale not seen in more than 1000 years, which struck north-eastern Japan at 2.46 p.m. local time on 11 March 2011.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, located some 225 km north-east of Tokyo, seemed to withstand the 9.0 Richter-scale earthquake, with the three operating reactors turning off automatically as it struck. However, the tsunami that followed a few minutes later poured over a seawall designed to protect the nuclear plant from waves up to about 6 m high (the tsunami produced waves more than 14 m high).

The plant was then flooded, causing the back-up diesel generators to fail, and – with nothing to cool the reactors – their cores started to melt.

The report offers seven recommendations, including establishing a new regulator for nuclear power as well as a committee that would monitor this new body.

See also “In the wake of Fukushima” and “Lessons from Fukushima”.



By James Dacey

So the excited researchers at CERN have finally found the Higgs boson, or at least a particle that resembles the Higgs. With these scientists now preparing for a blitzkrieg of further analysis, it may turn out that their Higgs possesses properties that cannot be explained by the Standard Model of particle physics alone. But, as the CERN director-general said during a press conference yesterday, “I think we have it.”

Yesterday was a truly great day for science. But just how significant is this discovery in the history of particle physics? Let us know your thoughts by answering this week’s Facebook poll question.

What is the most significant experimental discovery in particle physics?

hands smll.jpg

The electron
The atomic nucleus
The neutron
Antimatter
Neutrinos
Quarks
The Higgs boson

Let us know by taking part in the poll. And of course, as this list does not cover all the discoveries in particle physics, feel free to make a case for a something else.

In last week’s poll we encouraged you to join us in speculating whether CERN was about to announce the discovery of the Higgs boson. The signs were there that the LHC data had thrown up something large – journalists were invited from around the world to attend a special seminar in Geneva on the eve of this year’s major particle-physics conference in Australia.

59% of respondents had put two and two together and predicted that CERN officials would be revealing the discovery of the Higgs boson. The remaining 41% thought that they would not be making this announcement, perhaps assuming that we would have to wait longer or that the scientists would declaring that the particle does not exist after all.

Thanks to everyone for taking part and we look forward to hearing from you in this week’s poll.

Tired but happy

| | TrackBacks (0)

By Hamish Johnston in Geneva

 André David
All gone well: André David

By far the best part of being at CERN for yesterday’s Higgs announcement was talking to the physicists who did all the hard work. Needless to say, it was smiles all around. Indeed, it seemed as if it was the euphoria itself – brought on by more than two weeks of intense effort – that allowed the results to be presented yesterday.

For André David (right), who works at CERN on the CMS experiment, family life has been put very much on hold for the last fortnight. “I’ve only seen my two young daughters for a total of 15 minutes over the past 48 hours,” he claims. But David, who is with the Laboratory of Instrumentation and Experimental Particle Physics in Portugal, was not alone – he emphasized that about 400 other people on CMS had been working just as hard to get the results ready. Indeed, many of them were doing exactly the same analysis – only coming together at the end to compare their results.

While this might sound like a wasteful use of human resources, David says that it allows the team to be supremely confident of its results. “That’s why it has gone so well,” he explains.

 Josh Bendavid
Still smiling: Josh Bendavid

Josh Bendavid (right) is another CMS physicist who had been burning the midnight oil. “I haven’t slept much,” he admits. “I’m very tired but very happy.” Bendavid is just finishing his PhD thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and quipped that he was going to have to change its title, replacing “search for” with “evidence for”. With the exception of a quick dash back to the US to defend his thesis, he is looking forward to analysing lots more CMS data over the summer.

Everyone I spoke to saw this week’s announcement as just the start of our understanding of the particle they have discovered. And with a bit more hard work, we could have a far better understanding by early next year.

“We’re just on the edge,” says CMS member Yves Sirois of Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. “I won’t be taking a summer holiday.”

Nobel laureates react to Higgs news

| | TrackBacks (0)
62nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Chewing the fat: (left to right) David Gross, Martinus Veltman, Carlo Rubbia and George Smoot


By Matthew Chalmers in Lindau, Germany

The organizers of this year’s 62nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting couldn’t believe their luck. Having invited 27 Nobel-prize winners (average age 73.5) plus 600 young physicists to an island in Lake Constance, what should happen right in the middle of their shindig but the announcement of the biggest physics discovery in a generation. CERN’s new boson created quite a stir on the island, and it would seem that a certain Peter Higgs could soon be among the annual event’s invitees.

David Gross, who shared the 2004 prize for his work on the strong interaction, hasn’t stopped smiling, and is sure that CERN has discovered a Higgs – if not the Higgs boson as predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics. “This is a great day for me, for physics and for all of humanity,” he enthused on Wednesday after the news emerged.

Gross is particularly happy because the mass of the new particle (125 GeV) suggests that his favourite candidate for a deeper theory of physics – supersymmetry – is on the money. However, he also admitted that this particular mass value, should the particle indeed turn out to be the Higgs, would imply that the universe is in a metastable state that could decay at any moment and cause everything we know to simply disappear. The prospect prompted hearty laughter from the crowd.

Particle-physicist heavyweight Carlo Rubbia – who was responsible for the discovery of the W and Z particles at CERN in 1983, for which he picked up a Nobel prize the following year – was not getting too caught up in the elation. He wants to know why CERN’s new boson appears to be produced at a rate twice as large as would be expected. “The Standard Model should give us an exact value for this, and here there is a direct disagreement: what’s going on?” he asked. No stranger to getting major particle-physics experiments off the ground, he demanded a dedicated new collider to pin down its properties.

The third Nobel-prize-winning particle physicist at this year’s meeting was Martinus Veltman, who shared the 1999 gong for his work on the electroweak sector of the Standard Model (for which the Higgs is crucial). Veltman had not yet organized his thoughts on the discovery – indeed, he seemed somewhat subdued about the affair. “The Standard Model has now got a degree of validity that has extended way beyond what we had before the Higgs,” he said. “However, the one aspect that dominates here is that a Higgs could close the last door of the Standard Model that could lead us to a deeper theory.”

But not all Nobel laureates at the meeting were so elated. Condensed-matter physicist Robert Laughlin, who shared the 1998 prize for the discovery of a new form of quantum fluid, thinks that particle physics is in trouble, no matter what is discovered at the Large Hadron Collider. His view is that governments justified “big physics” research for defence reasons because particle physics followed nuclear physics, which had given countries the bomb. “Those motivations are less obvious today, which is good for the world but bad for the field in the long term,” he told physicsworld.com.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Harry Kroto, who shared the 1996 chemistry prize for the discovery of fullerenes, is worried about the cash and publicity consumed by big physics. “I do see that the [Higgs] discovery is wonderful, but I also see the huge amounts of money going into this field, and I wonder whether we are getting the balance right when it comes to science funding,” he told physicsworld.com. “I’m concerned, given the current funding situation, that large numbers of chemists doing fundamental work will lose out.”

Snapshots of sporting success

| | TrackBacks (0)
long jump

(iStockphoto/technotr)

By James Dacey

Sport can produce some stunning photos, capturing the drama and the triumph that come with the pursuit of sporting success. In today’s world, sport lovers are increasingly looking to science and technology for ways to enable and enhance performances.

The theme for our latest photo challenge is “the physics and technology of sport”. As always with these challenges we want you to be creative with the theme. But if you are looking for a steer then you might consider trying to get some interesting shots of sports equipment in action. For example, you might aim for images that juxtapose the exertions of athletes with the stress and strains exerted on sporting equipment – rowers cutting through water with their oars, or golfers looking for that perfect swing.

Or you might try to explore ways of visualizing the human body as a type of machine that athletes try to optimize for sport. For example, the long lean physique of distance runners, or the more muscular, powerful bodies of sprinters. To take part please submit photos to our Flickr group by Monday 6 August, after which we will choose a selection of our favourite images to be showcased on physicsworld.com.

running with prosthesis
(iStockphoto/MichaelSvoboda)

You may take inspiration from the July issue of Physics World, which looks at some of the challenges in the “physics of sport”, including the physics of the prosthetic devices that are leading disabled athletes to success, and how gymnasts, divers and long jumpers are all unconscious masters of manipulating the law of conservation of angular momentum. Members of the Institute of Physics can access the entire new issue free online through the digital version of the magazine by following this link or by downloading the Physics World app onto your iPhone or iPad or Android device, available from the App Store and Google Play, respectively.

In our previous photo challenge, we asked readers to share their astrophotography and we had some stunning submissions. You can see a selection of these photos in this showcase.

The smiles say it all at CERN

| | TrackBacks (0)
Higgs excitement

By Hamish Johnston in Geneva

To me, this photo of CMS physicists Yves Sirois of École Polytechnique in Paris and Daniela Bortoletto of Purdue University in the US sums up the day nicely. Both spent every waking hour of the last two weeks analysing data – yet were so full of energy and excitement that it even rubbed off on a curmudgeon like me!

Picture of a new particle

| | TrackBacks (0)
event data

By Michael Banks

This is what a new boson looks like.

Presenting the latest results in the search for the Higgs boson at CERN this morning, Joe Incandela of the CMS experiment displayed a plot showing a clear bump in the data centred at around 125 GeV.

Incandela reported that CMS has indeed seen a new particle – that looks at the moment to be the Higgs boson – with a mass of 125 GeV. The result was given with a statistical significance of 5σ – a level that physicists call a “discovery”.

Shortly after Incandela’s talk, ATLAS spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti also reported that its detector has seen something at 126 GeV with a statistical significance of 5σ.

So we have a new particle, but more effort will be needed to work out the details.

Look out for more news and analysis on the latest results on physicsworld.com in the coming days.

Brace yourself for the Higgs endgame

| | TrackBacks (0)

By James Dacey

Hamish Johnston, editor of physicsworld.com, has just left the building and is winging his way to Geneva. Hamish will be on the ground at CERN tomorrow reporting on developments as the two primary experiment teams at the LHC searching for the Higgs boson – ATLAS and CMS – will be presenting new results. Strong speculation suggests that an official discovery of this long-sought particle is now tantalizingly close, though whether or not the particle complies with the Standard Model of particle physics remains to be seen.

To whet your appetite ahead of the big day tomorrow, take a look at this video, which gives you an insight into how scientists at ATLAS and CMS are trying to find the Higgs. I produced this video report at CERN last year and it’s interesting to hear scientists from both experiments saying they were confident that by the end of 2012 they would know whether or not the Higgs exists. I was given a tour of the CMS control room by the experiment’s then-spokesperson, Guido Tonelli, who talked me through the collision images on a big screen and the particle trails they expect to see for a Higgs boson.

Since this film was made we have undoubtedly entered the endgame in this hunt. But will tomorrow bring a decisive capture? Stay tuned to physicsworld.com and our Twitter feed for updates.

By Hamish Johnston

On Wednesday I will be at CERN in Geneva to hear about the latest in the quest for the Higgs boson – and if the rumours are to be believed, I won’t be disappointed.

As the big day approaches, physicists have moved away from gossiping about whether a discovery will be announced (no, if you consider individual experiments, which are both expected to report evidence at the 4-sigma level…yes if you “unofficially” combine these results to get a statistical significance greater than the magical 5-sigma) and on to the nitty-gritty of what has been seen in the various detection channels.

Once the Higgs is created in the LHC, it can be detected in a number of different ways – or “channels” to use the jargon – several of which are being scrutinized by the LHC’s experiments. Two important channels involve the Higgs decaying to a pair of W bosons (WW) or a pair of Z bosons (ZZ). Conventional theories say that the physics behind these decays is similar, so the assumption is that evidence of both should be seen in the LHC data. However, rumours coming out of CERN suggest that this is not the case – the WW signal doesn’t appear to be there.

However, the Higgs can also decay creating two photons (what’s known as the diphoton channel) and the word on the street is that many more events than expected have been seen in this channel. This also contradicts the absence of WW events because conventional theory predicts that a large diphoton signal should also be accompanied by a large WW signal.

Meanwhile, researchers at Fermilab in the US have been rifling through their data from the now switched-off Tevatron collider and have announced further analysis of their own Higgs search today. The Tevatron results seem to suggest that the LHC should be seeing WW events.

So why isn’t the LHC seeing WW decays? One possibility is that there’s something wrong with how the LHC is looking for these events – a rather boring situation that can be fixed. More tantalizing is that the LHC is right about the WW deficit – which could mean that the particle glimpsed so far is not the “real Higgs”, but rather an “imposter”!

The unexpectedly high diphoton signal is also interesting in itself. It could point to the existence of a new charged particle not described by the Standard Model of particle physics, or it could mean that there are a multitude of Higgs particles – or something completely different.

Indeed, the only certainty is that much more work will be needed before physicists get a handle on the Higgs. So Wednesday will likely be remembered as the beginning of a new era in particle physics – as well as the end of a long search for the Higgs boson.

The July 2012 issue of Physics World is out now

| | TrackBacks (0)


By Matin Durrani

Ernest Rutherford used to enjoy “noisy and appalling” golf at Cambridge with his Trinity College colleagues. Niels Bohr was a keen footballer who played in goal for the top Danish side Akademisk Boldklub in the early 1900s. Arthur Eddington was a passionate cyclist who coined the “Eddington number”, E, which is the number of days on which you have cycled at least E miles. (He reached an incredible 84.) And, of course, CERN physicists are handily placed for a spot of Alpine hiking, climbing and skiing when their hunt for the Higgs has worn them down.

PWJul12cover-200px.jpg

But for some physicists, sport is more than just something they take part in – it is what they study too. This month’s issue of Physics World looks at some of the challenges in the “physics of sport”, including the effects of technology and rule change on sporting performance, the physics of the prosthetic devices that are leading disabled athletes to success, and how gymnasts, divers and long jumpers are all unconscious masters of manipulating the law of conservation of angular momentum.

Members of the Institute of Physics (IOP) can access the entire new issue free online through the digital version of the magazine by following this link or by downloading the Physics World app onto your iPhone or iPad or Android device, available from the App Store and Google Play, respectively.

The digital issue also contains a trio of unmissable videos on the physics of running, cycling and swimming filmed with Steve Haake, director of the Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University.

Here’s a rundown of other highlights of the issue:

SKA’s double site splits opinion – The decision to build the world’s biggest radio telescope – the Square Kilometre Array – on two separate sites in Africa and Australasia has been praised by many. Jon Cartwright examines if the split site will hamper its science prospects

Supercharging Japan’s atom smasher – The KEKB collider in Japan is halfway through a major revamp that may help to explain why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe, as Michael Banks reports

Critical point: Sporting knowledge – When we say that athletes “know” the laws of physics, what we really mean, argues Robert P Crease, is that they know the laws of “physics”

An impaired cosmic vision – The European Space Agency recently picked a probe to Jupiter as its next large-class mission. Paul Nandra, a director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, says the decision could devastate astronomy

The fastest man on no legs – Prostheses remained unchanged for thousands of years, but that all changed once amputee athletes got involved in the design process. James Poskett explores the stories behind the elite sports prostheses we see today

Material advantage – Sprinters are running faster than ever before, but why are javelin throwers not throwing further and swimmers not swimming faster? Steve Haake, director of the Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, explains the effects of technology and rule change on sporting performance

Balance, angular momentum and sportRoland Ennos from the University of Manchester explains how athletes and the rest of us use simple physics principles to perform amazing balancing acts

Technology for life – The fight against cancer offers rewarding career opportunities for medical physicists as well as healthcare professionals, as Giulia Thompson, who leads the R&D team at Elekta, describes

Once a physicist: Crispin Duenas – the University of Toronto physicist who will be representing Canada in archery at this summer’s Olympic Games

The Great Physics Games – In this month’s Lateral Thoughts column, Kate Oliver takes a wry look at how physicists compete to succeed

If you’re not yet a member, you can join the IOP as an imember for just £15, €20 or $25 a year via this link. Being an imember gives you a full year’s access to Physics World both online and through the apps.