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September 2012 Archives

a gypsy moth caterpillar

A gypsy moth caterpillar. (CC-BY-SA-3.0 Materialscientist)


Humans have a long and fruitful history of looking towards nature for ideas to build new technologies or solve problems. From Leonardo Da Vinci studying the flight of birds to develop the earliest “flying machines”, to the Swiss engineer George de Mestral developing Velcro after studying the surface of burrs, nature has long been influencing technologies.

A recent review paper published in the journal Smart Materials and Structures takes an in-depth look at the different “hairy” sensors that a whole host of animals possess. This could help us to develop our own sensors to serve a multitude of purposes from gauging flow turbulence to more efficient liquid-dispensing methods to developing robots that can successfully navigate underwater or underground and other biomedical applications. Such sensors would require many capabilities such as short response times and low detection thresholds – capabilities that already exist in animals.

Many life-forms live in conditions that are constantly changing and so have adapted a wide range of sensory strategies to survive. In the paper, the authors point towards many examples. Mexican blind fish rely on a” lateral line system” to detect movement and vibration in the surrounding water. Crickets use their hairy “cerci” or feelers that provide them with flow information that let them know if another creature is approaching them. Caterpillars also use cerci to detect airborne disturbances that let them know when predators, like flying wasps, are overhead. Meanwhile, bats control their flight by monitoring air-flow conditions via hairs on their wings.

According to the paper, “Among the various flow sensors in nature, the instinctive flow sensors of aquatics and arthropods are the most intensively studied.” In the initial sections the researchers look at the “morphology, function and biomechanics of the lateral line neuromas of aquatics and the fusiform hairs of arthropods are examined to shed light on the development of their artificial counterparts”. In later sections they divide the types of sensors that can be developed into six categories: thermal, piezoresistive, capacitive, magnetic, piezoelectric and optical sensors. They look at various groups around the world that are currently developing some of the different types of sensors considered and the different methods they use. The final discussion looks at how to best optimize such sensors, process the information they would provide and how the field will progress in the future.

So for an insightful look into all sensors hairy, take a look at the paper here.

Facebook poll

By Hamish Johnston

Nine years after physicists in Japan caught the first glimpse of element 113, researchers working at the RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-based Science have obtained conclusive evidence that they have produced the elusive element.

They spotted six consecutive radioactive decays that begin with an isotope of 113 and end at mendelevium-254. According to a statement from RIKEN, the discovery can be claimed because all six of the decay products were identified unambiguously by the team – which was led by Kosuke Morita.

The statement also says that the discovery “promises to clinch [the Japanese physicists’] claim to naming rights for the 113th element”.

In this week’s Facebook poll we ask:

Physicists in Japan have discovered element 113. What should they call it?

Rikenium (honouring Japan’s national research labs)
Nishinium (honouring pioneering nuclear physicist Yoshio Nishina)
Japonium (honouring Japan)
Other – please suggest with a comment

Have your say by visiting our Facebook page, and please feel free to explain your response by posting a comment below the poll.

Last week we asked “Should the convention for awarding the Nobel Prize for Physics be changed so that it can be given to a large collaboration?” The majority of you (77%) said yes – including Peter Cuttell, who said “The way in which physics is done has changed since the Nobel Foundation was established. The scale, complexity and expense of experiments has required that large (and sometimes multinational) collaborations undertake them.”

Students at IISER, Pune, India

Post-dinner discussions.

By James Dacey, reporting from India

One of the most interesting visits I made during my time in Maharashtra was to the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Pune. This is one of five such institutes set up in the past few years by the Indian government in an attempt to generate more interest among students in pursuing careers in fundamental research.

I met the dean of research, L S Shashidhara, who told me that students can enrol on a five-year integrated Master’s programme designed to provide a broad scientific education including a wide exposure to research. In the first two years, students take modules and lab work in physics, biology and chemistry, before having the choice to specialize in their third and fourth years. Then students have the entire final year to carry out a research project of their choice. This could be at the university facilities or it could be in industry, and it could even be in science policy.

Shashidhara, a bioscientist who studied for his doctorate at Cambridge University in the UK, told me that the government is pouring a lot of resources into the institution because it recognizes the need for more innovation. “The current problem of the pharma-industry, automotive industry and IT industry is they do not have sufficient numbers of people trained to do R&D work,” he says. “So, for example, they are happy to manufacture any number of cars in this country but to design a new car they don’t have the people available with sufficient knowledge.”

India’s focus on engineering education at the expense of the fundamental sciences is a topic that will be explored in the podcast I am producing on physics education in India, to appear on physicsworld.com in the next couple of months. In recording interviews for this podcast, I also met a number of the students at IISER, including the ones in the photograph above with whom I went for dinner. They seem to be thriving on the flexibility they have been allowed during their studies and have even found time to produce a college magazine. Though one of them did joke that when he tells his friends that he is studying science, a common reaction he gets is “Why didn’t you get engineering?” Unperturbed, he already knows he wants a career in physics research.

Ganesha galore!

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A Ganesha idol in Pune, India

A colourful Ganesha in Pune.

By James Dacey, reporting from India

Earlier this week was the first day of the Hindu festival Ganesh Chaturthi and the city of Pune was a spectacular sight as a multitude of colourful Ganesha idols cropped up in temples across town. This 11-day festival takes place each year in honour of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who is said to remove obstacles from the lives of those who worship him. I had been staying in Pune at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA). I think various people were concerned (quite rightly) that if I went to see the idols alone, then I would get horribly lost among the throngs of people. So Shruti, one of the astrophysics PhD students, kindly offered to join me on a rickshaw tour of some of the temples.

Shruti told me a version of the story of how Ganesha came to possess his unforgettable elephant head at the hands of his father Shiva, the god of gods. The story goes that Shiva’s wife Parvati had created the boy Ganesha out of earth and asked him to guard a room in her home, forbidding anyone to enter. When Shiva returned to find his path blocked by Ganesha, he was furious, so he chopped off the boy’s head. Parvati was distraught at sight of her headless son; so to appease his wife, Shiva went to fetch a new head, the first one he could find.

These days, Ganesha is celebrated by Hindus as a god of the people and Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most significant festivals in his honour. During Ganesh Chaturthi, families and communities create decorative Ganesh idols out of clay and erect them in permanent and pop-up temples, returning each day to pray to the idol and share offerings. The festival comes to a close with “Immersion”, when idols are released into large bodies of water, commonly the sea or lakes. In fact, I’ve noticed several articles in the local papers about efforts this year to keep the Ganesha decorations environmentally friendly by using things like non-toxic paints.

On my fly-by tour today, things were still warming up; but there were still throngs of people and some fantastic idols on show, including the one pictured above. I also learned from a local that Pune is of particular importance because it is the home of the modern form of the festival, which began in the late 19th century. The man told me that small local celebrations got the support of the nationalist politician Lokmanya Tilak, who promoted the festival as a means of bringing people together of different castes and Hindu faiths to create unity against the British rule. He assured me that there are no hard feelings today!

From my experiences talking with Indian physicists and engineers, it has been fascinating to hear them describe Hindu traditions in the same academic way that they describe their work. For instance, it was funny yesterday during my temple tour when Shruti was telling us about the “logic” of the Ganesha-losing-his-head story. “It shows that you should always listen to your parents,” she joked. I was also given a more serious lesson about the meaning of Ganesh Chaturthi by a group of astronomers a couple of days ago when I visited the Giant Metre Wave Telescope about 80 km north of Pune. Over lunch they were talking about how Hindu stories often involve the concepts of renewal and cycles, and that this could explain the idea behind the immersion at the end of the festival.

One problem with the Ganesh idols, however, is that they are often coated with toxic paints that dissolve in the water to create environmental hazards. There have been attempts by the authorities to persuade people to buy eco-friendly alternatives, as this article in the Times of India explains, but other reports suggest that sales of the traditional version – being cheaper – remain stubbornly high.

Yesterday I said farewell to Pune and headed back to Mumbai, where I’m sure plenty more Ganesha madness awaits!

By Hamish Johnston
Facebook poll

Four years ago Physics World’s Jon Cartwright asked “Who will get a Nobel if the Higgs is discovered?” – and pointed out that under the current convention, the Nobel Prize for Physics is awarded to a maximum of three people.

Back then, this was a purely hypothetical question. But now the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS) will have to decide what to do about recognizing the discovery of a particle that some say was predicted by more than three people – and discovered by thousands working on the LHC.

In his piece four years ago, Jon pointed out that the RSAS could, in principle, choose to award the prize to an institution or collaboration – it just hasn’t done so since the first prize was announced in 1900.

Could a Higgs Nobel be the first awarded to a large group? Back in 2008 Jon spoke to the physicist Anders Bárány, who is senior curator at the Nobel Museum and was secretary of the Nobel Committee for Physics for 14 years, and he said he was willing to put money on it.

“If Ladbrokes was taking bets on whether the RSAS will give the prize to ‘an institution or a society’ such as the LHC, I would bet a considerable sum on it…Physics has changed so much since the RSAS discussed this issue in 1900 that it would really be a limitation on the prize if it continued to be given only to individuals.”

This week’s Facebook poll is inspired by Bárány’s wager:

Should the convention for awarding the Nobel Prize for Physics be changed so that it can be given to a large collaboration?

Yes
No

Have your say by visiting our Facebook page, and please feel free to explain your response by posting a comment below the poll.

Last week we asked “Which scientific issue should be of greatest importance to politicians?” The most popular response was “science education” with nearly 40% of the vote. The runner-up was “science’s role in economic growth” with about 23% and “climate change and energy security” at 16%. The least popular of the six options was “space exploration” with only 3% of the vote.

Philip Gibbs was one who didn’t vote for education and he explained why: “Scientists are very mobile so if you support education but not research you will just educate people who go abroad. On the other hand, if you support research you will have experts coming here to form good science departments.”

On the podcast trail in India

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James Dacey in Mumbai

A quiet Saturday afternoon in Mumbai.

By James Dacey in India

For the past week I have been roaming around the Indian state of Maharashtra meeting students, researchers and teachers to learn about their experiences of physics education. I have also been recording lots of audio interviews, which will form part of a podcast to appear on physicsworld.com within the next couple of months. I don’t want to give away too much just yet but let’s just say that India is a brilliant and noisy place, so you can also expect to hear the sounds of the subcontinent, from sitars to Mumbai’s unbelievable traffic.

This photograph was taken at Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College, which I visited on Saturday to give a talk about science journalism to some of the undergraduate students. I was a bit concerned when I heard that the talk would be held on a Saturday afternoon – surely no student would turn up on the weekend! Well, they certainly did, with about 70 arriving after attending a morning of mandatory lectures. I was also unsure whether everyone would understand my accent. They assured me they did and following the talk there were many great questions. Among my favourites were “How much do you earn?” and “How much do you suffer as a journalist?” I gave diplomatic answers to both.

I arrived in Mumbai last Wednesday along with the editor of Physics World, Matin Durrani. Matin and I have been visiting research institutions to learn about physics in India – its current state, its history and the interconnected social, political and economic issues. Naturally, in the space of a week you can only see a tiny area of this vast country, but we have managed to squeeze in a fair number of visits. We took a divide and conquer approach and my visits in Mumbai included the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and St Xavier’s College. On Saturday, Matin and I went our separate ways as I came south to the city of Pune and he veered south west to Bangalore.

When we return to the UK, we will be writing articles for a special report about physics in India, which will be available to read online.

By Hamish Johnston

As someone who spent a few years on the Canadian prairies, where the mercury regularly dips to –40 °C, I should be the last one to describe Britain’s winters as cold and dry. Indeed, just a few years ago I was mowing the lawn in January to ensure that the grass wasn’t a rotting mess come spring.

snowy britain  2010.jpg But then in 2009 something changed. The winters here in Bristol seemed to go from being warm and wet to being cold and dry. The NASA satellite image on the right shows the entire island of Great Britain blanketed in snow in January 2010 – something that very rarely happens.

The last few winters were so dry that a drought was declared in much of southern and central England this spring (and then it started raining and hasn’t stopped).

It would be nice to be able to predict what the next British winter will be like – but seasonal forecasts are notoriously difficult to make. The UK’s Met Office used to go public with its predictions, but stopped in 2009 when its promise of a “barbeque summer” turned into a washout.

Now, scientists at the Met Office are saying that their latest forecasting system should be able to forewarn of a cold winter. They say that such cold snaps can be caused by the disruption of the “polar vortex” – a large-scale cyclone that blows in the middle and upper troposphere and in the stratosphere above the polar regions during the winter. In the northern hemisphere, the vortex drives the westerly winds that bring warm, damp air to Britain in the winter.

Such vortex disruptions seem to occur when warm air piles into the stratosphere. In order to predict such events better, the Met Office has begun using a so-called high-top version of its GloSea4 seasonal-forecasting model. This version calculates physical quantities such as winds, humidity and temperature to higher levels in the atmosphere and also at more levels.

You can read a news article about the new system on our sister website environmentalresearchweb and a paper is available in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

By Hamish Johnston
Facebook poll

Every four years the organization Science Debate sends a list of questions to the two main presidential candidates in the US. In addition to general questions about science education and public policy, this year’s 12 questions also cover issues such as biosecurity, preserving food and freshwater supplies, and how to manage the Internet.

This week’s Facebook poll is inspired by those questions, which I have edited down to the six issues that I think are of most interest to physicists.

Which scientific issue should be of greatest importance to politicians?

Science’s role in economic growth
Research funding
Science education
Climate change and energy security
Space exploration
Science-based public policy

Have your say by visiting our Facebook page, and please feel free to explain your response by posting a comment below the poll.

You can read the candidates’ responses here and, if you are a US citizen, cast your vote accordingly.

Last week we asked “Do you think the Large Hadron Collider will discover new physics beyond the Standard Model?”. A whopping 84% of you said yes, so let’s hope that there are at least some nascent signs of supersymmetry when the next big round of results are presented at CERN in December.

Hot and heavy at the LHC

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Protons collide with lead nucleiat the LHC's detectors

Protons collide with lead nuclei, sending a shower of particles through the LHC’s detectors. (Courtesy: ALICE/CERN)

By Tushna Commissariat

In the early hours of this morning the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) successfully collided protons and lead ions for the first time, with the collisions being recorded by all of the detectors: ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb.

Late last year the LHC trialled a similar run, during which it accelerated separate beams of lead ions and protons. However, at that time the beams were not successfully collided, and the run was postponed. To learn more about the 2011 run, take a look at this news story.

The whole business of colliding different particles is a difficult one, as it presents physicists with a number of technical challenges. “Firstly, the collisions are asymmetric in energy, which is a challenge for the experiments,” explains accelerator physicist and lead-ion team leader John Jowett. “At the accelerator level we don’t really see the difference in particle size, but the difference in the beam size and the fact that the beam sizes change at different rates may affect how the particles behave in collisions.”

Also, the LHC normally accelerates two opposing proton beams from 0.45 to 4 TeV, before they collide at a total energy of 8 TeV. Radio-frequency (RF) cavities are used to give the beams the necessary energy boost, as well as to keep them in strict synchrony. But here is where another problem arises: the system ties the momentum of one beam to the momentum of the other, while it needs to account for the differences between the protons and the much heavier lead ions. A lead nucleus, containing 82 protons, is accelerated from 36.9 to 328 TeV, or from 0.18 to 1.58 TeV per proton or neutron, which means that the RF cavities need to be tuned to different frequencies for each beam. This allows both beams to achieve stable orbits within their own ring during injection and acceleration. In the past, other projects have experienced difficulties in getting this just right, as have researchers at the LHC.

“The RF systems of the two rings can be locked together only at top energy before collisions, when the small speed difference that still remains can be absorbed by shifts of the orbits that are acceptably small,” says Jowett. He further explains that the beams then have to be adjusted again by the RF system so that the collisions take place inside detectors, where experiments take physics data, so a lot of preparation has been needed to allow the LHC systems to carry out this new operational cycle.

Researchers are hopeful that this latest short run will deliver the first data for proton–nucleus collisions before a scheduled main run takes place from January to February 2013, just before the accelerator is shut down for maintenance.

Fixing the LHC

Looking under the hood at the LHC (Courtesy: CERN)

By Hamish Johnston

By all accounts the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and its experiments are working much better than expected and are gathering data like gangbusters. So it might seem strange that many physicists at CERN are keen to shut the whole thing down for a 20-month overhaul. But that’s going to happen at the end of February 2013, when the facility in Geneva will go dark.

One key change that must be made to the accelerator is the replacement of all the connectors between superconducting magnets to ensure that the LHC can run at a collision energy of 14 TeV – compared with the current energy of 8 TeV. This overhaul is seen as crucial because it was the failure of one of these connectors that led to the disastrous explosion of 2008.

Given that no evidence for physics beyond the Standard Model has emerged from the LHC so far, many physicists must be very keen to boost the collision energy in the hope that strange things will happen.

As the connectors are replaced, all four LHC experiments will be upgraded.

You can read all about the revamp here.

Alan Turing Monopoly board

By Tushna Commissariat

With Christmas coming up, for those of you looking for geeky and fun gifts for friends and family, here is one to add to your shopping list – Bletchley Park has officially launched a special edition Alan Turing Monopoly board. The new game-board is based on a unique board housed in the Bletchley Park Museum and hand-drawn by William Newman, son of Turing’s mentor, scientist Max Newman, in 1950 and has been created by Winning Moves, which creates new editions of Monopoly.

Above is an image of the new board, and below is a copy of Newman’s hand-drawn version. (Images courtesy Bletchley Park/ Winning Moves.)

In Turing’s Monopoly, all the banknotes have Turing’s face on them and instead of the usual London haunts occupying the squares, the board maps places of significant importance in Turing’s life – for example, Bletchley Park and Kings College, Cambridge replace Mayfair and Park Lane, respectively – along with key elements of the original hand-drawn board, which the great mathematician played on with a young William in the early 1950s – and lost, according to Bletchley Park. The special edition also includes a copy of the hand-drawn board, complete with Newman’s own rules, unseen pictures of Turing donated by his family as well as historical references for all the places mentioned.

“Bringing this board to life has been one of the most exciting and unique projects we’ve been involved with here, and we’re thrilled to see it finally available for others to enjoy,” says Iain Standen, head of the Bletchley Park Trust. “This edition really completes the fantastic story of the board, from it being played on by Turing (and his losing on it!), to it going missing and then being rediscovered and donated to the museum here. Of course, we’re also very proud that Bletchley Park adorns the ‘Mayfair’ square!” Google bought the first 1000 special-edition boards as a donation to the Bletchley Park Trust.

So if you are hankering after some science Monopoly fun, you can pre-order your very own game from the Bletchley Park website here for £29.99, and take a look at the dedicated Facebook page here. Or make sure to put it on your Christmas wish-list – I know it’s definitely on mine!

Alan Turing Monopoly original board

Introducing 100 Second Science

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100 Second Science


By James Dacey


The Higgs boson…dark matter…nanotechnology…exoplanets…quantum computing…black holes. Physics is an incredibly exciting and diverse field. But with such vast quantities of information available these days (thanks to the Internet) you can sometimes feel like you’re drowning in an ever-increasing flow of ideas, facts and figures. Sometimes, all you really want is a concise overview of a topic by someone who really does know what they are talking about. Our new series of videos on physicsworld.com could be the answer to your prayers.

100 Second Science is a series of short films where, as the name suggests, scientists have up to 100 seconds to answer some of the biggest and most intriguing questions in physics. Presenters are armed with nothing more than a whiteboard and a set of marker pens, and we really are strict about the timing. In fact, when recording the films, presenters were faced with a countdown clock that sounded an alarm once their 100 seconds were up, making the experience that bit more exhilarating/nerve-racking.

Topics covered in our first batch of films cover a wide spectrum of physics and its related disciplines. Among the questions answered by specialists are “What is supersymmetry?”, “How does quantum teleportation work?” and “How do you recognize a penguin in a crowd?”. In filming and producing the videos we certainly learned a lot and we hope that you will too. And the scientists also appeared to take a lot from the experience. Several of them commented about what a vast departure it was from their usual experiences of presenting: standing in front of students and lecturing for an hour or so.

In the future, we hope to record more of these films. So if there are any questions or topics that you would really like to be addressed, then please send your ideas to pwld@iop.org.

By James Dacey

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for hands smll.jpg

You can be taken on a fascinating journey through space–time if you read this month’s issue of Physics World. It contains a feature by the theoretical physicists Henrik Melbéus and Tommy Ohlsson that describes how particle-physics experiments such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) are being used in the hunt for extra dimensions. Melbéus and Ohlsson trace the history of theories of extra dimensions, which are known collectively as KK theories after the physicists Theodor Kaluza and Oskar Klein who first proposed the idea in the early 20th century.

KK theories represent science that goes beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. The Standard Model has been incredibly useful, but as Melbéus and Ohlsson point out, it does have a few shortcomings. For instance it cannot be used to explain dark-matter particles, which have been predicted to exist in order to explain the observations of how galaxies move under the influence of gravity. Some of the KK theories predict the existence of particles that could prove to be these elusive dark-matter particles. In their feature, Melbéus and Ohlsson describe how particle collisions at high-energy accelerators could lead to the creation of KK particles.

So far, however, the LHC has not revealed any signs of these particles, but this “no show” has helped theoretical physicists to constrain the scale of these extra dimensions – if they do indeed exist. Over the next few years, physicists will continue to analyse the abundance of data from LHC collisions in the search for KK particles. They will also be looking for other signs of physics beyond the Standard Model such as the “sparticles” predicted by supersymmetry theories.

In this week’s Facebook poll we want to know what you think will come of this hunt. Please let us know by answering the following question.

Do you think that the Large Hadron Collider will discover new physics beyond the Standard Model?

Yes
No

Have your say by visiting our Facebook page, and please feel free to explain your response by posting a comment below the poll.

Last week’s poll was the concluding part of a three-week series dedicated to careers in physics. We asked you to select the action that you think would be most helpful to benefit the career prospects of physics postdocs. Out of a choice of five options the most popular by a large margin was “Longer-term contracts (e.g. three years rather than one)”, which attracted 73% of responses.

The second most-popular option with 11% of votes was “More training in transferable skills”. In joint third place, with 6% each, were “Better advice on career options outside academia” and “Creating more mid-level ‘permanent postdoc’ jobs”. In last place was “Improved support for postdocs with spouses and families”, collecting just 4% of responses.

Thank you for all your responses and we hope to hear from you again in this week’s poll.

By Matin Durrani

PWSep12cover-200.jpg

Ask a non-scientist what a theoretical physicist does and you’re likely get a shrug of the shoulders along with a guess such as “Scribbles equations all day?” Even most physics students probably don’t know what theorists really do.

In an attempt to shed light on how theoretical physicists work, the September 2012 issue of Physics World, which is now out, contains the first of an occasional series exploring the emotional challenges behind some of the most elegant, ingenious or important calculations in physics

Our plan is to look at calculations that theorists consider their own favourite or that represented a personal triumph – a reward for years of study or a moment of clarity into what science is all about. This month we examine the work of Peter van Nieuwenhuizen, Daniel Freedman and Sergio Ferrara in 1976 on the theory of “supergravity”, which combines supersymmetry with gravity.

Although there is not yet any experimental proof that supergravity is a valid description of the real world, the tale of how the theory was created – as told by science writer David Appell – is fascinating and gripping. You can read Appell’s feature “When supergravity was born” by clicking here.

Elsewhere in the issue, Magdolna Hargittai from Budapest University of Technology and Economics examines the long-standing question of whether the physicist Chien-Shiung Wu should have received a share in the 1957 Nobel Prize for Physics – or whether she missed out to theorists Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang as a result of gender discrimination. Meanwhile, Henrik Melbéus and Tommy Ohlsson from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden look into whether CERN’s Large Hadron Collider could find evidence for “extra dimensions”. Plus reviews, careers, lateral thoughts, feedback and much more.

Members of the Institute of Physics (IOP) can access the entire new issue online through the free 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.

For the record, here’s a rundown of highlights of the issue:

Support mounts for ‘honeytrap’ physicistMichael Banks looks at the physics community’s attempts to support 68-year-old particle theorist Paul Frampton, who is languishing in an Argentine jail on drug-smuggling charges

Delivering on a promiseShiraz Minwalla says India’s education needs to be reformed before the country can realize its full scientific potential

Critical point: One amazing momentRobert P Crease wonders why physicists are not doing more to celebrate the centenary of one of the most important events in science – the discovery that crystals diffract X-rays

Credit where credit’s due?Magdolna Hargittai asks if physicist Chien-Shiung Wu should have received a share in the 1957 Nobel Prize for Physics – or whether she missed out to theorists Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang as a result of gender discrimination

Delving into extra dimensionsHenrik Melbéus and Tommy Ohlsson describe three different theories of extra dimensions – universal, large and warped – and how these unseen dimensions could be observed, if they exist at all

Crackpots and consequencesMargaret Harris reviews Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything by Margaret Wertheim

Science in a dictatorshipGordon Fraser reviews The German Physical Society in the Third Reich: Physicists between Autonomy and Accommodation edited by Dieter Hoffmann and Mark Walker

Speak up – The role of spokespeople on international physics collaborations is important, complex and, as David Wark explains, requires skills that nobody ever taught you during your PhD

Once a physicist: Ralph Palmer – Meet the 12th Baron Lucas – a Conservative member of the House of Lords

Fiddling around with physics – In this month’s Lateral Thoughts column, Nicole Yunger Halpern muses on what would happen if great physics-loving musicians were to meet

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 IOPimember gives you a full year’s access to Physics World both online and through the apps.