Scientists have discovered new evidence to suggest that lightning on Earth is triggered not only by cosmic rays from space, but also by energetic particles from the Sun. Read more…
In light of recent results from the “world’s longest experiment”, spanning more than 90 years, at the University of Queensland, a group of researchers from Trinity College Dublin explain the background behind their own pitch-drop experiment in this month’s Physics World and offer an explanation as to why their research hit the headlines in 2013.
Capturing the release of a drop of pitch – a thick, black, sticky material – from a funnel on camera seems mundane, yet created a storm of media interest last week for the Australian experiment, as it did over a year ago for the Irish one. Researchers at Trinity were the first to capture their pitch dropping on camera and the subsequent footage was viewed more than two million times on YouTube.
In their article, the Trinity researchers say they believe the attention came from their story being short, quirky and something that both aroused curiosity and came with a high amount of tension and human interest. The latter was caused by a dramatic sequence of events and bad luck related to the similar experiment in Queensland. Read more…
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.