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Art and science

Doing physics – readers’ pictures

10 May 2012 James Dacey

When physics imagery is shared in academic literature or via the media, the pictures tend to be of the scientific results – be it the latest snapshot from a telescope or the particle tracks from an accelerator. But, as all physicists know, the real excitement often comes during the pursuit of new science, during the trials and tribulations of a tricky experiment or the struggle to solve a tricky equation

Probing nuclei with lasers

In the latest Physics World photo challenge, we asked readers to submit photos to our Flickr group on the theme of “doing physics”. Thank you to everybody who took part, and here is a selection of the images we received.

This photo, submitted by Flickr member P^2-Paul, manages to look both retro and futuristic at the same time. It is a digitized slide dating back to 1986, showing the set-up of a laser experiment designed to look at the extremely fine spectroscopic features in heavy metal oxides to probe their nuclear structures. “There were 26 degrees of freedom in that set-up. It took a whole morning to tune it up,” Paul recalls

Constructing physical models can help scientists to visualize structures and processes occurring at small scales. It can also help scientists to communicate their research to others, as is the case in this photo submitted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the US. It shows graduate student Haihui Pu (left) and professor Michael Weiner (right), holding aloft a model of a molecule while standing in front of a scientific poster explaining their work.

The precision and beauty of scientific instruments is on display in this image taken by Anjan Reijnders at the University of Toronto. It is described as a “homebuilt” device for recording spectroscopic data in the infrared. Reijnders, who works at the University of Toronto, told Physics World that his group currently uses the instrument to study the properties of novel materials such as topological insulators, high temperature superconductors and quantum dot solar cells.

The thrill of physics experiments can be enjoyed by people of all ages at all stages in their careers. This photo, submitted by Flickr member SuperDewa, shows budding physicists in a homeschool group testing the forces required to smash a banana with a toy car.

Physicists can sometimes be accused spending long hours in their offices as they ponder some hideous equation or other. This photo submitted by RubyT shows one young physicist attempting to dispel this image by doing his sums while busy cooking in the kitchen. “On this side of the kitchen, physics homework. On the other side, the dinner he was cooking for the family,” writes RubyT.

Physics can help us to address some of the big philosophical questions of our time, but it can also be extremely useful for some more mundane but equally important tasks – such as finding new water supplies. This picture, simply titled “trabajando” (working), shows four scientists on Mexico’s Sierra Negra mountain searching for an aquifer. The photo’s author, Manolo Arrubarrena, said that his team was using a resistivimeter to take electrical measurements at the surface and build an image of the subsurface.

Physicists can be highly creative at times, creating complex experiments from the most basic equipment. This image, submitted by Humboldt State University in the US, shows physics student Brandon Merrill standing behind a plasma generator created out of an old beer keg. The experiment is designed to electrostatically accelerate electrodes to help demonstrate the feasibility of plasma-based fusion.

A good demonstration can capture the imagination and it can be a great tool in science communication. This picture, submitted by Flickr user binnysharma, shows how a compressed air gun and coloured balls were used to creative effect to demonstrate how a gamma-ray camera operates.

Thank you to everyone who submitted images and you can see all the images in our Flickr group, the Physics World photo challenge.

The theme for our next photo challenge is astrophotography. To tie in with next month’s transit of Venus, in which our sister planet passes across the face of the Sun, we want you to submit your astronomy photos to our Flickr group. The images might be of star trails, the Moon, meteor showers, the night skies – or, even better, of the transit of Venus itself, which will occur on 5/6 June.

To take part please submit photos to our Flickr group by Saturday 16 June, after which we will choose a selection of our favourite images to be showcased on

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