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Everyday science

Subatomic board game, the physics of fake news, physicist prepares to scale Everest

23 Mar 2018 Hamish Johnston
Subatomic the board game
Game theory: Subatomic the board game

When games designer John Coveyou began a crowd-funding page on Kickstarter for a new game that he and his colleagues had designed, he probably never imagined the amount of support it would get. Coveyou has a master’s degree in environmental and chemical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis and is the founder of Genius Games. He took to the site in early February to raise $9000 to turn a particle-physics deck-building game called Subatomic into reality.

The game involves players starting with a hand of cards consisting of up quarks, down quarks and photon cards, which they use to form protons, neutrons, and electrons. These cards can then be combined to build certain elements such as helium, lithium, beryllium and boron. Basically, the person with the most “mass” wins. The game is designed for two to four players, aged 10+, and apparently takes 40-60 minutes to complete. Yet within 30 days, the Kickstarter had raised over $250 000 from 4548 backers. Now that so much extra cash has been raised, the game will feature a thicker game board as well as glossy cards. But don’t worry if you missed out, as you can still pre-order the game for $33 when released in October.

The news this week has been filled with stories about the alleged use of personal data and clever algorithms to influence elections. But how do voters respond to social media campaigns? The mathematical physicists Alexandre Bovet of Belgium’s University of Namur and Hernan Makse of the City College of New York have looked at how Twitter users interacted with purveyors of fake news during the 2016 presidential election in the US. Much to their surprise, they found that right-wing voters tended to influence the output of people producing fake-news tweets, not the other way around. You can read more in “Influence of fake news in Twitter during the 2016 US presidential election”.

Have you ever noticed that physicists like to have their pictures taken in the mountains? If you don’t know what I am talking about, have a quick look at the university webpages of a dozen or so physicists, and I’ll bet you will see a few alpine images. But plasma physicist Melanie Windridge is taking the “physicist on a mountain” meme to a new extreme by scaling Mount Everest this year – as she explains in the above video.

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