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Flash Physics: CERN’s high-school interns, more female engineers manage, exoplanet twins are nearly identical

06 Jun 2017 Sarah Tesh

Flash Physics is our daily pick of the latest need-to-know developments from the global physics community selected by Physics World‘s team of editors and reporters

Reflecting on physics: Hungarian students at CERN

CERN launches high-school internship programme

CERN in Switzerland has hosted 22 high school students from Hungary in a pilot programme designed to show teenagers how science, technology, engineering and mathematics is used at the particle physics lab. The new High-School Students Internship Programme (HSSIP) is being developed by CERN’s Education, Communications & Outreach group and is aimed at students age 16–19. The first group of students was selected by a national committee in Hungary, who chose 22 participants from more than 50 applicants. The students were accompanied by Hungarian mentors and worked on their own projects in particle physics – as well as touring the CERN facilities. “It is wonderful to get out of the classroom where everything is in theory and to see how things are happening in the real world,” says student Balazs Mehes. Another participant, Daniel Nagy, says “I definitely want to come back here one day as an engineer.” Bulgaria and France will be the next countries to participate in HSSIP and will be sending students to CERN in September. France and Norway will also take part in 2017 and the programme will be rolled out to all 22 CERN member states over the next few years.

Is having more female engineers in management always a good thing?

While only about 15% of engineers working in the US are women, the number of female engineers in managerial roles is disproportionally larger than their overall representation in the workforce. This might seem like a victory for gender equality, but Teresa Cardador of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says that this overrepresentation could be creating a segregated workplace in which women tend to perform managerial roles and men technical roles. “There are typically two career paths in engineering organizations – technical or managerial,” explains Cardador. “So you can look at it in two ways: either women are more likely to move into managerial roles in engineering firms, or they’re less likely to stay in technical roles.” Cardador interviewed more than 60 engineers and the results suggest that gender segregation could be caused by engineering firms valuing technical prowess over management skills. “In engineering, technical ability is revered while management is what you do if you have good organizational and communication skills,” she explains. “Women are stereotyped as having less technical competence in engineering, which perhaps explains why men are much more likely to remain on the technical side and women are tracked into the management side,” she said. As well as losing touch with the highly valued technical aspects of their profession, Cardador found that female engineers in management roles also find it more difficult than technical staff to balance work with family responsibilities. “All of these things combined have the potential to increase a woman’s chances of leaving the profession, which may ultimately make the goal of retaining female engineers in engineering firms more tenuous.” The research is described in Organization Science.

Exoplanet “twins” are nearly identical

Two almost identical exoplanets have surprised astronomers by having one unexpected difference – one is cloudier than the other. The gas giants – WASP-67 b and HAT-P-38 b – are nearly the same in size and temperature. They are also both in tight orbits (roughly 4.5 Earth days) around very similar yellow dwarf stars and are both tidally locked – the same side always faces the parent star. Therefore, when studying the two “hot Jupiter” exoplanets with the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Giovanni Bruno from the Space Telescope Science Institute in the US and colleagues expected them to have nearly identical atmospheres. Instead, the chemical spectra of the planets indicated that WASP-67 b had more clouds at the altitudes measured by Hubble’s instruments. “We don’t see what we’re expecting,” says Bruno, “and we need to understand why we find this difference.” Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 looked at the spectral signature of water as a measure of the amount of clouds in the atmosphere – as WASP-67 b has more clouds, it had a lower water signal. “This tells us that there had to be something in their past that is changing the way these planets look,” Bruno explains. The team suggests that the planets formed differently and under different circumstances, and future observations with Hubble and the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope will help astronomers understand what makes a planet cloudy or clear. The findings were presented at the 230th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Austin, Texas.


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