Physics Today Daily Edition

Subscribe to Physics Today Daily Edition feed
Please follow the links to view the content.
Updated: 1 hour 15 min ago

Scholarly publishing and mobile phones

20 February 2015
The characteristics of mobile phones that make them so useful remain largely unexploited by academic publishers.

Do all possible Republican presidential candidates really deny evolution?

20 February 2015
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker kicks off a media discussion by telling a reporter “I’m going to punt” on that science question.

Young scientists more likely to create and adopt innovative ideas

19 February 2015

Nature: That young scientists are generally considered to be at the forefront of new ideas in their fields is a widely held belief throughout the sciences. Now, Mikko Packalen of the University of Waterloo in Canada and Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University and their colleagues have found proof to back that up. They wrote a computer program to look for the most commonly used 1-, 2-, and 3-word phrases in the titles and abstracts in the MEDLINE database of biomedical research. To determine which articles were the most innovative, they looked at when the terms first appeared. By calculating the ages of the contributing authors, the researchers found that scientists are  significantly more likely to cite innovative ideas in the first 10–15 years of their career than they are later in life. They also found that the most innovative papers had an early-career first author and a mid-career last author. The numbers might shift somewhat depending on the particular field of study, or if the full text of the articles were analyzed.

Alien star passed within a light-year of Sun just 70 000 years ago

19 February 2015
BBC: The closest known flyby of our solar system by another star occurred a mere 70 000 years ago when a dim red dwarf passed within 0.8 light-year of the Sun. Discovered in 2013, Scholz’s star attracted the attention of Eric Mamajek of the University of Rochester and colleagues because of its proximity to Earth and its relatively slow movement across the sky. In their paper published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, the researchers say that although the star probably passed through the outer Oort cloud, it does not appear to have perturbed the orbit of any of the trillions of comets found there. The researchers estimate that a star probably passes through the Oort cloud every 100 000 years or so, yet for one to come as close as Scholz’s star is much rarer; it occurs just once every 9 million years.

New model predicts altitude at which meteors will explode

19 February 2015

New Scientist: Meteors pass through Earth's sky every day, but determining which will hit the ground is not easy. Now, Manuel Moreno-Ibàñez of the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain and his colleagues have developed a model that predicts which meteors will explode and which will land. Their model relies on two parameters: the drag and the heating the meteor experiences because of friction in the atmosphere. To test the model, the researchers used trajectory and height data from the Meteorite Observation and Recovery Project. The model also predicts how much energy meteorites will have at impact and where they will strike. Although not useful as any sort of early warning system, it will help scientists locate meteorites after impact for further study.

Ernest Sternglass

19 February 2015

Modeling wind farms' influence on weather

19 February 2015
A refined approach better accounts for the effects on the atmosphere at coarse scales.

Questions and answers with Ernest Moniz

19 February 2015
The energy secretary wants the labs to play a greater role in the agency’s strategic planning; defends administration’s “all of the above” approach to energy policy.

Two stand-out models of physics education and outreach in South Africa

19 February 2015
One model aims to address socioeconomic disparities; the other brings students and distinguished regional and international lecturers together for an advanced, intense training program.

Buckyball variant resembles a volleyball

19 February 2015
MIT Technology Review: Since the 1985 discovery of the buckyball, a soccer-ball-shaped molecule composed of 60 carbon atoms, researchers have been seeking other interesting structures with unique chemical properties. One method has been to replace some of the carbon atoms with other elements. Now, through the use of computer simulations, Jing Wang at Hebei Normal University in China and colleagues have proposed the most exotic version yet: a fullerene consisting of 60 carbon and 20 scandium atoms. The molecule comprises six subunits “stitched together” to form a cage-like structure resembling a volleyball. The researchers say their volleyballene should be exceptionally stable, even at high temperatures.

Jim Mitroy

18 February 2015

Targets of ARPA–E investment also receive private funds

18 February 2015

Nature: The Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA–E) was established seven years ago to help promote investment in clean-energy technology. On 9 February, at the program's annual summit, the project managers announced that technologies supported by ARPA–E have also received $850 million in private investment. The ARPA–E program itself has invested $1.1 billion in more than 400 projects, but determining the actual impact of the investment is difficult because of the slow-moving nature of the energy industry. However, over the past two years, venture-capital investment in the US has dropped sharply, with almost none going to early-stage clean-energy research. To help reverse that trend, the US government announced on 10 February a new initiative to increase private investment, which has already garnered a pledge of $1 billion from the University of California Board of Regents for investment in climate-friendly technologies.

Martian plumes remain a mystery

18 February 2015

New Scientist: Other than Earth, Mars is the most studied planet in the solar system. Nevertheless, mysterious phenomena continue to be observed there. On 12 March 2012 amateur astronomers saw what appeared to be a plume of gas and dust rising up to 250 km above Mars's surface. Over the next 11 days the plume grew to cover an area 1000 km across. By 2 April it had faded away. Just 4 days later a second plume appeared that lasted another 10 days. To date, no one has provided a satisfactory explanation of the plumes' origin. Agustin Sánchez-Lavega of the University of the Basque Country, Spain, and his colleagues have collected images of those events and searched archival images of Mars. Among the images, the researchers found a similar event from 1997. Because of the plumes' altitude and duration, they are unlike any other known clouds in the solar system. And as there are no known active volcanoes on Mars, they probably aren't volcanic plumes. Observing another such event may be the best option for figuring out what is going on, but they occur so rarely that it could be some time before that's possible.

Powerful x-ray source can image chemical reactions in real time

18 February 2015
BBC: Able to produce x-ray pulses a billion times as bright as any other existing source, the Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC in California is capable of capturing images of the chemical reactions of atoms and molecules. The machine produces 100 pulses per second, and each is as powerful as “the national grid of a large country,” writes Pallab Ghosh for the BBC. The bright flashes of light allow scientists to take stop-motion pictures and perform stroboscopic experiments on materials at the nanoscale. That capability could prove revolutionary to the fields of biology and chemistry—for example, in studying neurological disease progression, such as in Parkinson’s, or in making chemical production faster and more efficient.

Limpet teeth surpass spider silk as strongest natural material, says study

18 February 2015
Telegraph: The tiny teeth that cover the tongues of limpets, a type of aquatic snail with a conical shell, are made of microfibers of goethite, an iron-based mineral. Used to scrape algae from rock surfaces, the teeth are superstrong and resilient. To test just how strong, researchers used focused ion beam microscopy to isolate a sample of the material and atomic force microscopy to test its tensile strength. According to their paper, published in the Royal Society journal Interface, they found that the material’s strength ranged from 3.0 gigapascals to 6.5 gigapascals—much stronger even than spider silk—and was independent of the sample’s size. The researchers say the material’s extreme thinness precludes the presence of holes or other flaws that could weaken the structure. The fibers are also tightly packed together. Such a strong, fibrous structure could have many uses, such as in cars, boats, and aircraft.

Questions and answers with Marcelo Gleiser

18 February 2015
A theoretical physicist argues that “science is a permanent work in progress” and that it is impossible to arrive at a final theory.

Metal nanoparticles give sticky tape new abilities

13 February 2015
New Scientist: A common roll of adhesive tape can acquire remarkable properties simply by having metal nanoparticles deposited on the film’s surface. The tape, which retains its stickiness after the deposition, exhibits new properties depending on the metal nanoparticles applied to its surface. Silver particles render it antibacterial, copper makes it antifungal, and gold increases its electrical conductivity. As described in a study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a strip of tape is first peeled off the roll, which breaks the chemical bonds in the adhesive and readies it to react with the metal. Then it is soaked in a solution of metal salts. The technique could be used to create products such as antibacterial bandages or electrically conducting tape.

Controversy arises over recipient of Chinese science prize

13 February 2015

Nature: China's National Natural Science Award is so highly prized by Chinese government officials that they don't award it in years when they don't think a suitable recipient is available. Now, the computer scientist that received the award in January has been accused of copying open-source software and claiming it as original work. Zhang Yaoxue of Tsinghua University was awarded the prize for a computer program that allows access to multiple operating systems on a remote computer. But Chinese social media users soon pointed out that Zhang's work appeared to be heavily based on an open-source program available on the software sharing site GitHub. The author of that program, Iordan Iordanov, a Bulgarian-born Canadian, had posted his software under a license allowing anyone to use the program as long as they did not claim copyright. The Chinese government has acknowledged the allegations, but has not said whether they will have any effect on Zhang's award.

US likely to experience 20-year or longer droughts

13 February 2015

BBC: A new analysis of climate models by Ben Cook of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and his colleagues suggests that the US is likely to experience droughts on a scale unseen in nearly 1000 years. Cook's team combined reconstructions of past climate conditions and compared the data with 17 future climate models. According to their analysis, after 2050 the central and southwestern parts of the US will probably shift to conditions that will make them susceptible to decade-long droughts. The researchers also found that if current climate change rates are unchanged, there's an 85% chance that a 35-year-long drought will occur in those regions.

Computer program can authenticate Jackson Pollock paintings

13 February 2015
Ars Technica: American painter Jackson Pollock is well known for his revolutionary “drip” painting technique. Although to the untrained eye his works may look like random explosions of paint on canvas, a computer algorithm shows that his paintings have a distinctive and identifiable style. Lior Shamir of Lawrence Technological University has scanned various Pollock paintings and extracted from each 4024 “numerical image content descriptors,” including fractals, Zernike polynomials, Haralick textures, and Chebyshev statistics. A computer algorithm uses those descriptors to detect details and patterns unique to the artist in question. According to Shamir, whose study has been published in the International Journal of Arts and Technology, the computer program was able to differentiate between an original Pollock and a fake 93% of the time. Shamir’s source code is publicly available, and he says the software can be used to identify works of other artists.

Pages