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Jon Cartwright: November 2008 Archives

By Jon Cartwright

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De Regules: “Science is the stance that the scientist adopts vis-à-vis the natural world”. (Credit: Sergio de Regules)

One of the best features of the web is that it allows readers to give their opinion freely on the news, and at physicsworld.com we appreciate all your comments. In fact, it was while looking back at an article I wrote earlier this year that I came across an interesting comment by a reader called Sergio de Regules, who suggested we ought to have more “science commentators” to cover the history, philosophy, controversies and murkiness that make science so fascinating.

De Regules, 44, is a physicist, writer and musician living in Mexico City. As he tells me via e-mail, he has written a science column for the English-language newspaper The News (a selection of which are now archived on his blog), has edited at the Mexican science title Cómo Ves, has written several other books, and has appeared on radio shows and talks. Presently he is a science communicator at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

I decided it would be worthwhile to ask him for his thoughts on science writing, and what academia is like in Mexico.

JC: What do mean by “science commentator”?

SdR: I like to think of science communication as a way of sharing science with the public. But we all know that science is not so much in the results of research as in the spirit of research, or in the stance that the scientist adopts vis-à-vis the natural world. If the scientific results reported in the news can be viewed as newly conquered territories, science is the strategy by which they are conquered. Explaining the what in a scientific development is very good, but it is the how and the why which are memorable. The science commentator provides these.

By Jon Cartwright

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Joran Moen waits to fire his rocket to investigate radio-transmission loss in the Arctic (Credit: Yngve Vogt)

Flying over the Arctic can be like being on the far side of the moon: if the Northern Lights are particularly active, they will sometimes block all radio signals, thus severing communications with aircraft.

Joran Moen, a physicist at the University of Oslo, might have the key to explaining this phenomenon. Over the next few weeks he will be waiting for the right moment to launch his rocket ICI-2 so that it can fly 350 km into the sky to find the origin of the radio blocking, or “high-frequency backscattering”.

Scientists think the backscattering is caused by turbulent structures in the ionosphere’s electron plasma, which are related to the Northern Lights, so Moen is going to investigate. “The formation mechanisms of the structures are not yet determined, not even the altitude range,” he writes in an e-mail. “We want to study the instability mechanisms that drive the electron plasma turbulent.”

By Jon Cartwright

In his first week as US president-elect, Barack Obama has faced a barrage of recommendations into how he should run office come 20 January next year. One of those firing the rounds is the American Physical Society (APS), which on Friday scheduled meetings with his transition team to discuss ways to improve the nation’s energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency plays a key role in climate change, an issue that Obama put near the top of the list during his election campaign. He promises to reduce greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050 — an ambitious target that he aims to meet through investment in basic research, commercialization of hybrid cars and development of green technologies.