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Everyday science

Everyday science

Immersive art, physics pumpkins, personalizing Thor's hammer and more

23 Oct 2015 Matin Durrani


By Matin Durrani

If you’ve ever been to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, you’ll know that blackboards are everywhere. You can find them in handy little alcoves, in the cafe and even in the institute’s lifts – the idea being that brain-box theorists who have a great idea in their heads can crack off the underlying maths before their thought fizzles into the aether. (Not that there is an aether, of course, but you know what I mean.) Anyway, the institute’s new California-based artist-in-residence Alexa Meade, has taken the idea to a new level, creating a huge 3D living chalkboard to create the “perception-bending art for which she is internationally renowned”.  As you can see from the video above, it brings a whole new dimension to the idea of getting “immersed” into science. You can see more images of Meade’s living installation at Perimeter on Flickr.

This week, China’s president, Xi Jinping, is on a state visit to the UK, and today he toured the new National Graphene Institute (NGI) at the University of Manchester. We reported on the planned tour yesterday, with our story including a special behind-the-scenes video that Physics World recorded on our own recent visit to the NGI in the company of its architect and desinger Tony Ling. But an interesting nugget about the Chinese visit has since emerged: it appears that Kostya Novoselov, the Nobel-prize-winning Manchester physicist who helped to isolate graphene for the first time, has presented President Xi “with a gift of traditional Chinese-style artwork, which Kostya himself had painted using graphene paint”. We’ve yet to see what this objet d’art looks like, but I’m sure it’s lovely.

And now from something superlight – graphene – to something superheavy. A hammer to be precise. Not any ordinary hammer, mind you, but one apparently so powerful that no-one apart from its maker can pick up. Built by Allen Pan – a Los Angeles-based “freelance engineer, electrical mercenary [and] imagination man – it’s a replica of Mjölnir the hammer used by Nordic god of thunder Thor. In the recent superhero film The Avengers: Age of Ultron, a running joke is that no-one can lift the hammer, apart from Thor himself. Thanks to some hidden electromagnets, a fingerprint sensor, touch sensor and batteries, Pan is now a hammer-wielding god himself. Watch the video below to find out how he does it.


Finally, with Halloween coming up a week on Saturday, I thought I’d mention some pumpkin-carving ideas from our friends over at Symmetry magazine. They’ve got five different designs based on famous physicists and – pun alert – the names are truly terrible. So you can pick from Albert Frank-Einstein, Mummy Noether, Paul Dirac-ula, Scary Curie and Werewolfgang Pauli. But I reckon Symmetry have missed a few obvious pumpkin monsters. How about Erwin Shroud-inger, Murray Ghoul-Mann and William Shockley? If you’ve got any better ideas, do let us know.

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