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Everyday science

Everyday science

3D neutrinos on your phone, Hamiltonian: an Irish Musical, is a March for Science a good idea?

03 Feb 2017 Hamish Johnston


By Hamish Johnston

How would you like to explore a giant neutrino detector in 3D from the comfort of your mobile phone? VENu is a new smartphone app that allows you explore the physics underlying the MicroBooNE neutrino detector at Fermilab. Developed by Alistair McLean of New Mexico State University and an international team of physicists, the app is used in conjunction with the Google Cardboard headset to provide users with a virtual-reality experience of MicroBooNE. VENu includes games that offer “brain teasing challenges” including working out how to spot a neutrino event in a busy background of cosmic-ray events. The app can be downloaded free of charge from the Apple Store and the Google Android Marketplace.

Hamilton is the hottest ticket in the West End these days so imagine my surprise when I discovered that it is about Alexander Hamilton the American revolutionary – not the Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton. This shocker came courtesy of Nicole Yunger Halpern, who has written an entertaining piece on the Quantum Frontiers blog about why there should be a musical about the father of the Hamiltonian operator. Mathematician Hamilton was born a year after the death of his American namesake and his work on mechanics still inspires the quantum physics of today. My only quibble is with Halpern’s suggested title for the Broadway show Hamiltonian: an American Musical. Hamilton was born in Dublin and spent most of his life in Ireland, so Hamiltonian: an Irish Musical seems much more appropriate.

Should scientists march on Washington to protest the science policies (or lack thereof) of the new US president? No, argues the geologist Robert Young in an opinion piece in the New York Times. In “A scientists’ march on Washington is a bad idea” Young writes that a demonstration “will serve only to reinforce the narrative from sceptical conservatives that scientists are an interest group and politicise their data, research and findings for their own ends”. Young speaks from bitter personal experience. In 2010 he was co-author of a report that used peer-reviewed research to conclude that the sea level along the North Carolina coastline could rise by nearly 1 m by 2100 due to climate change. Young and his colleagues were vilified in the press and North Carolina passed laws that “barred state and local agencies from developing regulations or planning documents anticipating a rise in sea level”.

Young sympathizes with members of the public who accepted the negative reaction because he believes that few people have an understanding of how science is done. So instead of marching, Young wants his scientist colleagues to engage with their neighbours. “Make contact with that part of America that doesn’t know any scientists. Put a face on the debate. Help them understand what we do, and how we do it.”

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