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Everyday science

Everyday science

The December 2013 issue of Physics World is out now

29 Nov 2013 Matin Durrani

By Matin Durrani


For anyone living or travelling beyond the Arctic Circle, it’s going to be pretty cold and dark right now, which means it’s hard to imagine what impact climate change could have on the flora and fauna of this remote region.

But as our cover story explains, a hardy band of researchers has spent the past three summers travelling to the far north-west of Finland to find out the effects of warming conditions on the area. Joining them in August for us was Liz Kalaugher, editor of environmentalresearchweb – a website produced by IOP Publishing to complement its open-access journal Environmental Research Letters. Her first-hand account of the trip was supported by a science-journalism fellowship from the European Geosciences Union.

If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can  access the entire new issue free via the digital version of the magazine or by downloading the Physics World app onto your iPhone or iPad or Android device, available from the App Store and Google Play, respectively.

Elsewhere in the December issue, we have a feature by Martin Fischer from Duke University in the US on how the laser-based technique of pump-probe microscope has been used to map the distribution of lapis-lazuli pigment in Puccio Capanna’s 14th-century masterpiece  The Crucifixion.

And December wouldn’t be December without Physics World‘s fabulous Christmas books section, the annual quiz of the year and – as a special bonus – an extra puzzle to mark our 25th anniversary this year. (We know how much you liked the previous five puzzles, so we’ve squeezed another one out GCHQ for you.)

For the record, here’s a run-down of highlights in the issue.

US nuclear lab faces troubled timesPeter Gwynne reports on difficulties facing the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

So much more than invisibilityJohn Pendry from Imperial College London, who won this year’s Newton Medal from the Institute of Physics, talks to Louise Mayor about the applications of metamaterials – structures that can generate negative refractive indices.

Longing for Laputa – Recent loony events in Washington lead Robert P Crease to wonder whether scientists shouldn’t rule after all.

• Boosting women in Latin America – Latin America is slowly overcoming difficulties in getting more women in physics, but Lilia Meza-Montes says increased co-operation is needed between countries in the region to reduce the gender gap further.

• Shedding new light on old art – Pump–probe microscopy has recently been used to measure the 3D distribution of a pigment in Puccio Capanna’s 14th-century masterpiece The Crucifixion. As Martin Fischer explains, this laser-based technique can give art conservators and historians information that is impossible to get by other means.

Forecasting the fate of Arctic flora – With the effects of climate change on plant life a growing concern, researchers are examining threatened Arctic ecosystems to help predict the fate of the species in cold habitats. Liz Kalaugher travels to Finland to investigate.

• Wrong turns and dead endsLen Fisher reviews Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein, Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe by Mario Livio.

• A romantic scientist – Anja Skaar Jacobsen reviews Hans Christian Ørsted: Reading Nature’s Mind by Dan Charly Christensen.

In search of the real Stephen HawkingMargaret Harris reviews My Brief History: a Memoir by Stephen Hawking and Hawking Incorporated: Stephen Hawking and the Anthropology of the Knowing Subject by Hélène Mialet.

Making sense of OppenheimerRobert P Crease reviews Robert Oppenheimer: a Life Inside the Center by Ray Monk.

• From knowledge to applicationsJennifer King explains how group industrial projects can help physics students to build real-world skills within a university environment.

Once a physicist – This month we talk to Caroline Harper, who is chief executive of the Sightsavers charity.

Quiz of the year 2013 – Test your knowledge of the year in physics.

Enjoy the issue – and let me know what you think by e-mailing me at

Remember that if you’re not yet a member, you can join the Institute as an IOPimember for just £15, €20 or $25 a year. Being an IOPimember gives you a full year’s access to Physics World both online and through the apps.

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