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Physics on film

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Matin Durrani: April 2011 Archives

By Matin Durrani

If you want to get your research results noticed by us here at Physics World headquarters, you can always try e-mailing us a copy of your paper, preferably well before it’s about to be published.

But Burak Eral from the physics of complex fluids group at the University of Twente in the Netherlands has taken a novel approach in flagging his research to us — he’s sent us a three-minute Youtube video consisting of a series of Powerpoint slides put to music.

As you can see, his tactic has worked. The video describes how Eral and his pals have studied the morphology of a drop clinging to a cylindrical fibre — a problem first studied by Joseph Fourier in the late 19th century.

If you can bear Eral’s rather soporiphic choice of music, you’ll find that the drops can either surround the fibre symmetrically, like a barrel, or attach themselves to one side of the fibre, rather like a clam-shell. By using the technique of “electrowetting”, Eral’s team was then able to reversibly change which form the drops adopt — with what they claim is “previously unachieved precision”.

The work has its practical side too as it could potentially lead to a way to clean oil spills in the world’s oceans. Eral envisages creating special fibres that could be dropped into the affected, oil-damaged region. Although the oil would naturally tend to form barrell-shaped drops around the fibre, the drops could be forced into adopting the clam-shell shape, which are much easier to wash off from the fibre. The result: cleaner oceans with the oil drained safely away.

Eral is not, of course, the first physicist to find the lure of creating an educational video about their work. In fact, you can find plenty of these “video abstracts” at the New Journal of Physics — an open-access journal published by the Institute of Physics, which also publishes physicsworld.com.

Eral’s full paper about his work appears in the journal Soft Matter

By Matin Durrani

After all the bad news coming out of Japan following last month’s devastating earthquake and tsunami — finally some good news, at least for the country’s scientific community.sacla.jpg

Researchers at RIKEN and the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (JASRI) have officially launched a new X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) facility at the SPring-8 lab west of Kyoto.

Dubbed SACLA (the SPring-8 Anstrom Compact Free Electron Laser), the facility is pronounced “sa-cu-ra” and means “cherry blossom” in Japanese. It will come fully on line by the end of this year and will be used for a wide range experiments in condensed-matter physics and in atomic and molecular science.

SACLA is only the second free-electron laser in the world, the other being at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Stanford, California. (Watch our exclsuive video report from last year for more details about free-electron lasers.)

Elsewhere in Japan, however, physicists are still coming to terms with the impact of the earthquake on the country’s scientific facilities. New pictures have been released of damage to the massive new J-PARC facility at Tokai, which lies about 120 km south-west of Tokyo and consists of two proton synchrotrons, a neutron source, a neutrino experiment and a hadron facility all rolled into one. The images show the synchrotron flooded with about 4cm of water, as well as cracks in local service roads, damaged pipes, and buildings bent and distorted (see below). Thankfully, the problems are not too severe but they are certainly a setback for the facility.

J-PARCdamage1.jpg

J-PARC2.jpg

Finally, without wanting to be too flippant following the damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant, which officials today have put at a maximum, level-seven alert on the International Nuclear Event Scale, we couldn’t help raising a smile at an amusing new cartoon film on YouTube that likens the emissions from the facility to those from a toddler in nappies. The film has already had 1.6 million views and rising (see below).

Oh yes, and to put the radiation release from Fukushima into context, don’t forget the great graphic from comic-strip website xkcd by physics graduate Randall Munroe that we commented on a couple of weeks ago. It’s by far the best thing we’ve seen to put radiation fears into perspective.