A pilot programme designed to counter the factors that turn many schoolgirls away from physics is due to run over the next three years thanks to a generous £201,000 donation from the Drayson Foundation.
The funds will enable the Institute of Physics (IOP) to work with a cluster of six secondary and a selection of primary schools in the Thames Valley region to find ways of reducing the gender imbalance of students progressing to physics A-level.
In a pilot study with secondary and primary schools, the IOP will run a selection of activities to build girls’ confidence in the classroom, while also raising awareness of potential gender biases across the whole school.
Dr Frances Saunders, President of the Institute of Physics, said, “We want to inspire students and ensure that everyone who develops an interest in physics is encouraged to pursue the subject and reap the benefits of a physics education.
In this month’s issue of Physics World, Felicity Mellor, a senior lecturer in science communication at Imperial College London, questions whether the requirement of the modern physicist to collaborate and communicate is preventing the intellectual progress brought about by silence and solitude.
Drawing on the approaches of Newton, Einstein, Cavendish and Dirac, Mellor highlights the recurring role that silence has played throughout the history of physics and asks if the “enforced interaction” that is now placed on modern-day scientists is allowing them enough time to think.
Sir Isaac Newton, in particular, was a proponent of isolated working, shutting himself away in his rooms, publishing reluctantly and restricting his audience to only those he thought capable of appreciating his work. Indeed, it was only after much persuasion that he eventually agreed to his Principia being published in full.
Physicists do best by striking a balance between silence and communication, with Mellor citing the example of Werner Heisenberg, who retreated to the tiny island of Heligoland to escape hay fever and the constant chatter of his colleague and mentor Niels Bohr. It was here that Heisenberg was able to reflect on discussions with Bohr and lay down the basis of his formulation of quantum mechanics.
Astronomers at the University of Michigan have, for the first time, directly measured the spin of a distant supermassive black hole.
The high-energy lasers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) employ exquisite pulse-shaping control to achieve ramp compression pressures to 50 Mbar (15x center of earth pressure) and higher. Ramp compression, contrasted to shock compression, keeps sample temperatures low and allows the study of extreme-density compressed-matter.
Using these capabilities, researchers will gain experimental access to giant-planet interior states and the phase space relevant to exotic crystal structures predicted by modern theory. Early experiments are underway, and in Denver Jon Eggert of LLNL will present some of the first results of extreme-compression experiments, which show the ability to compress solid iron and tantalum to nearly 10 Mbar, carbon to 50 Mbar and the first x-ray diffraction done on NIF.
Unwanted, harmful bacterial cells can be found fouling surfaces everywhere from lifesaving medical devices to toe-jamming pond scum — often in the form of “biofilms,” where they clump together into a slimy, protective surface. In recent years, many researchers have been exploring the physics behind biofilm formation and trying to figure out better ways mitigate the problem or to prevent the fouling films from forming in the first place.
Howard Stone and his colleagues at Princeton are exploring the mechanics and molecular biology of one biofilm-related phenomenon known as streamer formation. When biofilms grow and develop in the presence of fluid flow, they form three-dimensional thread-like offshoots made of polymers and cells. These “streamers” can rapidly clog small channels and quickly foul sanitary surfaces.