It’s fair to say, 2017 has been another colourful year online, where visual memes continue to stir strong emotions against increasingly divisive political backdrops. Science is not some remote activity completely detached from society, so our videos and podcasts this year reflect the increasingly politicized nature of science. But don’t worry, it’s not all a complete misery-fest. We also celebrate science’s unwaning ability to evoke awe and wonder, as well as profiling some of the next generation of scientists in the US.
How politicians misuse and mangle science
At the start of 2017 we relaunched our monthly podcast by bringing in a new regular host. Andrew Glester is a science communicator and produces his own popular-science podcast The Cosmic Shed. In the June episode of the Physics World podcast, Glester spoke with Dave Levitan, author of the book Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science. Levitan grapples with the populist politics that rejects the claims of specialists and pitches itself against what it perceives as the intellectual and political elite. The podcast features scientists and commentators from both sides of the Atlantic.
Marching for science
On Saturday 22 April thousands of people took to the streets of Washington, DC to voice their support for science. Endorsed by more than 200 scientific organizations including the American Physical Society, the “March for Science” sought to promote the value of science – and scientists – to society. Physicists were among those marching and they explain their reasons in this video report from the day, which also features some of the most memorable outfits and signs. On the same day, there were there were almost 600 sister events across the globe, including a rally in Bristol where Physics World is produced.
How science gets women wrong
Those who have already listened to the December episode of the Physics World podcast will know that our book of the year 2017 award has gone to Angela Saini for Inferior. The much-discussed thesis re-examines some of the science underpinning long-standing gender stereotypes. Saini, a UK-based science journalist, also shines a light on some of the contemporary research revealing that gender differences are not as straightforward as we might think. In our September podcast, Glester discussed the issues with Saini and travels to Birmingham for the International Conference on Women in Physics 2017.
Human organs on a chip
This year also saw the last films from our “Faces of Physics” series. This collection of short films profiles the lives of people working in physics, exploring their motivations and the impacts of their work. The concluding film in the 5-part series features Samira Musah, a researcher with an intriguing goal – to recreate a human kidney on a chip. A bioscientist by training, Musah is now part of an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering in Boston. Human Organs on Chips takes you inside the lab to find out more about this futuristic technology, which could lead to personalized drug development. You can find out more about the Wyss Institute’s philosophy and spirit of enterprise in this Q&A with its founding director Don Inger, taken from our 2017 special report on physics in the US.
Exploring the cosmos with gravitational waves
Having pretty much broken the internet last year with the announcement of the first ever detection of gravitational waves, LIGO researchers refused to lay low 2017. On 3 October, LIGO pioneers Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics. Less than two weeks later, astronomers gathered at the Royal Society for the announcement of arguably the most significant breakthrough of all. A so-called “kilonova” – the merger of two neutron stars – had been detected by the LIGO–Virgo collaboration as well as being observed by dozens of other telescopes, across the electromagnetic spectrum. These combined observations represent the first example of “multimessenger astronomy” involving gravitational waves, opening up a new way of looking at the heavens. In the November podcast, Glester reported from the Royal Society meeting met a range of researchers who provide a broad background to this burgeoning field. For a more in-depth look at the significance of these latest discoveries, take a look at Multimessenger Astronomy by Imre Bartos and Marek Kowalski, a free-to-read ebook from the Physics World Discovery series.
Cassini’s Grand Finale
Since entering orbit around Saturn in 2004, NASA’s Cassini mission has transformed our understanding of the famous ringed planet and its moons. But on 15 September this year the mission came to an abrupt ending when the spacecraft plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere, burning up on entry. This death dive marked the end of Cassini’s so-called “Grand Finale” tour, which saw it take 22 plunges into the space between Saturn and its rings between April and September. This video provided a guide to the Cassini’s dramatic swansong while reflecting on the mission’s key achievements. To learn more about Cassini’s Grand Finale tour, check out this article from the September 2017 issue of Physics World, written by mission scientist Joshua Colwell. Colwell has also written an illustrated ebook, which documents the key discoveries of Cassini’s 13-year mission.
Rising stars of US science communication
Finally, in November we published interviews with 10 early-career scientists based in the US, who discuss their career ambitions and the challenges they face in achieving those dreams. These scientists were invited delegates at ComSciCon 2017, a national workshop for promising science communicators. This interview is with Chani Nava, an astrophysics PhD student who has just finished her first year at Harvard University. Having originally started an undergraduate degree in medicine, Chani switched to a physics programme after coming to understand all the career opportunities that would be open to her. You can see all the other interviews on our multimedia pages.
So the curtain draws on another lively year of audiovisual journalism. Make sure you return in 2018 when we will be pressing the green button on our new look website, which will be packed with thought-provoking podcasts and videos. Look out early in the year for a new video series exploring global environmental challenges and innovative solutions. For now though, that’s a wrap.