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Everyday science

Penguin physics, talking about diversity issues, millionth passenger tours exoplanets

27 Apr 2018 Matin Durrani

In case you missed it, Wednesday was World Penguin Day and here at Physics World we love a good story about the antipodean birds. In “Penguin physics” the University of Bristol polymer physicist Peter Barham describes how he got involved in designing flipper bands that are used to study the behaviour of penguins. He gives a taste of his work in the above video.

Recently, we wrote about how a colony of nesting king penguins resembles a liquid that has been cooled suddenly to form a glass-like structure. Indeed, the physicists who did that research have an upcoming paper about phase transitions in emperor penguin colonies – so stay tuned for more.

LGBT+ survey

Our colleague Angela Townsend, who co-ordinates the diversity programme at the Institute of Physics, e-mailed us this week with details of a fascinating interview with David Smith from the University of York in Chemical and Engineering News. Smith’s a chemist who’s into supramolecular and nanoscale chemistry, which isn’t physics, but is close enough not to give anyone on this website a fright. Townsend and Smith have worked closely on the recently formed LGBT+ Physical Sciences Network, which is currently carrying out a survey into the “working, teaching and studying climate” for LGBT+ physicists, chemists and astronomers in the UK (closing date: 30 April).

In the interview, Smith describes his own story of how he came out as a gay chemist and how, when he began his research career in the early 1990s, he knew no other gay chemists at all. And despite Smith not finding it easy talking about diversity issues, he thinks it’s important to do so. “PhD students and postdocs in particular imagine you have to tread this cookie-cutter path to get to where you’re going,” he says. “And I think a lot of people hiring academics think the same. Anything you can do to break down that view is very powerful.”

Since it was published in September 2017, the above video from the UK’s University of Exeter and We the Curious in Bristol has attracted more than one million views. Described as a “Stunning virtual tour of exoplanets“, the virtual-reality video takes you to six different exoplanets and also contains a good dose of astrophysics.

We the Curious is a hands-on science exhibition centre. Its creative director Anna Starkey was featured in our “Once a physicist” careers column, which charts the careers of physicists working in far-flung fields.

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