In an interview with the BBC in 1981, Richard Feynman explained how science let him more fully appreciate the beauty of the natural world. Whereas one of his friends, who was an artist, complained that science could turn even a flower into something dull, Feynman argued that science “only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe” of such an object.
To him, a plant was more than just something pretty to look at; it had a scientific beauty in its structure and colour too. Feynman, though, never studied plants – unlike some of the physicists featured in the April 2018 special issue of Physics World on “plant physics”, which is out now in print and digital format.
There are five features for you to tuck into, including one Feynman would surely have loved, examining the ingenious disordered nanostructures that help flowers to become coloured and attract pollinators. You can also learn about the challenge of growing plants in space, a physics technique to image a plant’s roots, and a “pump-free” system for cooling hypersonic planes that mimics the “transpiration” that carries water from a tree’s roots to its leaves. We end by asking: could quantum physics explain photosynthesis?
The March 2018 issue of Physics World is now out
Remember that if you’re a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read the whole of Physics World magazine from the start of every month via our digital apps for iOS, Android and Web browsers. Let us know what you think about the issue on Twitter, Facebook or by e-mailing us at email@example.com .
For the record, here’s a run-down of what else is in the issue.
- Physicists mourn Stephen Hawking – The world-famous cosmologist not only carried out groundbreaking research but also brought physics to new audiences.
- Brexit: views from the top – Matin Durrani and Margaret Harris talk to five figureheads from European science about the threats to researchers and hi-tech companies from Britain leaving the European Union
- Europe’s new neutron lab forges ahead – Matin Durrani travels to Sweden to catch up on construction of what will be the world’s leading neutron-scattering facility when it opens in 2023
- Inspiring through games – Hannah Renshall argues that tabletop games can be a powerful tool to get more people interested in physics
- Achieving innovation – Innovation in physics is simple in principle, but much harder in practice. James McKenzie reckons a business start-up award could be just the thing to help
- A flowering success – Botany may be as valuable for physicists as physics is for botanists, finds Robert P Crease
- Rocket for rocketeers – To survive far away from Earth, astronauts need to have green fingers. But the science of growing plants in extraterrestrial environments has a way to go, as Jon Cartwright reports
- A flower’s nano-powers – When it comes to shapes and colours, flowers are one of nature’s most praised objects – but there is more to them than meets the eye. Tobias Wenzel and Silvia Vignolini reveal an ingenious strategy flowers use to become coloured and attract pollinators
- Top tips from tree tops – The ability of trees to cool by transporting water from their roots to the leaves has been known for centuries. But as Stephen Ornes discovers, the principles of transpiration are also inspiring innovative techniques to cool vehicles travelling at hypersonic speeds, where unwanted heat is a problem too
- Rooted in physics – Roots are fundamental to a plant’s survival, but some of their behaviour at a cellular level remains a mystery to scientists. Jess Wade talks to Giovanni Sena, who is particularly interested in how electric fields can affect root growth and regeneration
- Is photosynthesis quantum-ish? – Is there something inherently quantum about the highly efficient natural process that is photosynthesis, or are researchers barking up the wrong tree? Philip Ball investigates the debate
- Circle of influence – Andrew Robinson reviews Exact Thinking in Demented Times: the Vienna Circle and the Epic Quest for the Foundations of Science by Karl Sigmund
- Beyond maths to meaning – Brian Clegg reviews Beyond Weird: Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Quantum Physics is Different by Philip Ball
- In pursuit of the purest quartz – From a PhD in semiconductor physics to head of Quartz Products at Airbus Defence and Space, Richard Syme looks back at a long and enjoyable career
- Once a physicist – meet Tim Head, who runs Wild Tree Tech – a software consultancy that builds data analysis products and teaches courses on machine-learning.
- Field of schemes – Tushna Commissariat examines a mystery in Nebraska in this month’s Lateral Thoughts