Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Large Fluctuations in Non-Equilibrium Systems

While the exploration of many-body systems far from equilibrium has achieved important recent progress, many profound physical properties of non-equilibrium systems are still far from being understood. This seminar brings together three communities working on closely connected advanced topics relating to collective behaviour in many-body systems: large fluctuations far from equilibrium, slow relaxation in non-equilibrium processes and extreme events in stochastic many-body systems, especially in systems of higher complexity. The envisaged interaction between these fields of research is expected to lead to progress through cross-fertilisation and to open up new directions of research.

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Look ahead to 2011

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Dec 22, 2010

Astronomers have had, quite simply, a fabulous last 12 months. Not only did NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory take off in May to study the Sun – sending a wealth of images and data back to Earth – but the WISE sky surveyor successfully sent back its first data studying the universe in the infrared. Meanwhile, researchers in Japan had good reason to celebrate after the Japanese Space Agency's Hayabusa mission successfully brought small specks from an asteroid back to Earth for the first time. Two other existing missions also produced fabulous stuff: the Planck satellite, launched by the European Space Agency in May 2009, provided its first all-sky map, while ESA's Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer, which launched in March 2009, made its first gravity map of Earth.

This astronomy bonanza shows no sign of abating in 2011 with the launch of a whole host of new probes. Mars continues to be a popular destination with the Russian Space Agency launching its delightfully named Phobos Grunt mission in November, to bring back to Earth a piece of rock from Phobos – one of Mars's moons. In the same month, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory is also set to begin its journey to the red planet to perform the first-ever precision landing on Mars and study the planet's habitability.

Also due to launch next year is NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter, which is expected to take off in August in a quest to study the planet's composition as well as its gravitational and magnetic fields. NASA will also launch the Earth-observing Glory satellite in November to study the planet's atmosphere in the visible and infrared.

Elsewhere in our solar system, astronomers are eagerly anticipating the arrival in March of NASA's Messenger craft, which is set to start orbiting around Mercury after a six and a half year journey. The craft has already completed three fly-bys, each lasting a few hours, taking images of the planet's surface as it passes by. The craft will enter orbit around the planet to study the planet's composition, its geological history and magnetic field for a year in much closer detail. Messenger instrument scientist Louise Proctor will be writing about the mission in the February issue of Physics World magazine.

Looking beyond our own neighbourhood, the Kepler mission, launched by NASA in 2009 to discover Earth-like planets elsewhere in the cosmos, will also continue to deliver results – hunting down yet more exoplanets on top of the 350 or so the mission has already discovered. Many will be waiting for details of the 400 additional planets Kepler announced it had discovered this year but has yet to release details of. Could 2011 be the year when astronomers announce the discovery of a whole host of Earth-sized exoplanets?

Next year should also mark the final flight of the US Space Shuttle to the International Space Station. The final shuttle launch was previously intended for late 2010 but launch delays bumped the flight of Endeavour back to June. Endeavour will be no ordinary mission in another aspect too: it will be carrying the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer – a cosmic-ray detector that will be able to distinguish between a vast number of different types of cosmic-ray particle including high-energy positrons, which could be produced by collisions of dark-matter particles in the Milky Way. First results from the AMS are expected by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the US Congress will decide early in 2011 whether to fund a further shuttle launch in November, which will then mark the final shuttle flight.

Back down on Earth, the Dark Energy Survey telescope, led by the particle-physics centre Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, is expected to come online in October. It will be the world's largest camera for studying dark energy – the mysterious substance that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. The telescope has already been built and astronomers will begin moving it to Chile next year where it will use its 570 megapixel camera to survey 300 million galaxies in the southern sky to measure the speed of those galaxies.

Of course, astronomers will not be the only ones looking forward to 2011, with a whole host of anniversaries in various other disciplines on the horizon. In particular, 2011 has been designated the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) by the United Nations and endorsed by UNESCO – its body responsible for education, science and culture. The IYC marks the 100th anniversary of Marie Curie's Nobel Prize for Chemistry, which was awarded in 1911 for her "discovery of the elements radium and polonium".

Under the central theme of "chemistry – our life, our future", the IYC2011 will kick off on 27–28 January at UNESO headquarters in Paris with the opening ceremony including talks by 2009 Nobel-prize winner Ada Yonath as well as Rajendra Pachauri, director of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As it happens, 2011 also marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the International Association of Chemical Societies as well as the 100th anniversary of the Solvay Conferences, which were attended in their day by leading figures in science. Next year also marks 100 years since Ernest Rutherford proposed his model of the atom. Look out for the Rutherford Centennial Conference on Nuclear Physics, which will be held at the University of Manchester on in August 2011.

The other huge anniversary in 2011 is the centenary of the discovery of superconductivity – the phenomenon where the electrical resistance of a materials drops to exactly zero – by experimental physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes. Whilst working at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, Onnes conducted an electrical analysis of pure metals such as mercury, tin and lead at very low temperatures and discovered the resistance of mercury went to zero at 4.2 K. Onnes won the Nobel Prize for Physics for this work in 1913.

Next year also sees the 25th anniversary of the discovery of high-temperature superconductivity in compounds containing barium, lanthanum, copper and oxygen, which has a superconducting temperature above 40 K. These materials, an explanation for which continues to confound condensed-matter physicists, were discovered in 1986 by IBM researchers Karl Müller and Johannes Bednorz, who were quickly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1987. Be sure to not miss the superconductivity special issue of Physics World in April.

As ever, physicists would not be physicists without a good moan about funding, and budgetary constraints in many countries are sure to disappoint physicists next year. In the UK there was alarm earlier in the year that research councils' budgets would be slashed in the efforts to reduce the country's deficit. When the details were released in December many physicists were relieved that cuts to the Science and Technology Facilities Council – the main funding council for UK physics – were much less than feared. However, the UK government has cut the large facilities capital fund by 40%, which provides cash for large projects such as particle accelerators and university lab space. It will not be known for some years to come how much these cuts will have affected UK physics.

Researchers in the US are also concerned that their science budget could be cut now that Republicans have secured a majority in the House of Representatives. Some Republicans have issued a pledge promising to return government spending to the levels of 2008 and if that is applied to science, cuts are sure to happen. More will be known soon regarding the 2011 budget and physicists will be keeping an eye out in February when Barack Obama is due to announce the administration's budget request for 2012.

One lab that will especially have a vested interest in that request is Fermilab, which will then know if the administration has opted to fund the Tevatron proton–antiprotron collider for another three years so that it can hunt down the Higgs boson. The Tevatron is due to stop operations by the end of 2011 and turn to constructing experiments in muon and neutrino science. However, many neutrino scientists will be furious if the Tevatron is granted extra funding of around $35m a year to continue running until 2014 because it would lead to a delay in the NOvA experiment.

Back in Europe, bosses at CERN will be tucking into their Christmas dinners chuffed that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN managed to successfully collide protons at 7 TeV as well as completing the first runs with lead ions. But first in their in-tray in the New Year will be to decide whether to continue running the LHC until the end of 2012. Currently the collider is due to close at the end of 2011 to start a year-long maintenance run, but the LHC has been pouring out new results, particularly with the recent run of colliding lead ions together. With the hunt for the Higgs boson hotting up and Fermilab possibly extending for another three years, physicists at CERN will be hoping that any extension will allow them to hone in on it next year.

Another mega facility crawling into life after years of planning is the huge National Ignition Facility in the US, which focuses the energy of 192 laser beams onto a tiny target filled with hydrogen fuel. After successfully completing tests this year, NIF will prepare to use deuterium-tritium fusion fuel by early spring next year. If this test is a success it will be a step closer to achieving "first ignition" – the moment at which the device will produce more energy from fusion than is required to start the reactions – possibly by the end of the year.

Roll on 2011!

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Metamaterials '2011: The Fifth International Congress on Advanced Electromagnetic Materials in Microwaves and Optics edit

Barcelona, Spain, 10-15 October 2011

Metamaterials 2011 will be hosted by the Centre CIMITEC of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

This congress series was initiated by the European Network of Excellence Metamorphose and is organized by the Virtual Institute for Artificial Electromagnetic Materials and Metamaterials (Metamorphose VI).

This series of events brings together and continues the traditions of the highly successful series of International Conferences on Complex Media and Metamaterials (Bianisotropics) and Rome International Workshops on Metamaterials and Special Materials for Electromagnetic Applications and Telecommunications. International Conferences on Complex Media and Metamaterials had eleven editions, with the names “Chiral”, “Bi-isotropics”, or “Bianisotropics”, reflecting the developments in the field of artificial electromagnetic materials.

The Congress will address a wide area of research in artificial electromagnetic materials and surfaces and their applications from RF to optical frequencies. The conference topics encompassing theory, design, applications, fabrication and measurements include but are not limited to:

* Physics of complex electromagnetic materials
* Micro- and nano-fabrication of metamaterials
* Experimental techniques for characterization of metamaterials
* Analytical and numerical modelling of metamaterials
* Homogenization of metamaterials and effective medium models
* Three-dimensional metamaterials
* Planar metamaterial structures, meta-surfaces and meta-sheets
* Metamaterials for nanoelectronics and nanoantennas
* Carbon nanotubes and graphene in metamaterials
* Tunable, reconfigurable and nonlinear metamaterials
* Absorption-free metamaterials
* Chiral and bianisotropic composites
* Metamaterials with extreme parameters
* Quantum metamaterials
* Plasmonic metamaterials
* Extraordinary transmission
* EBG structures, photonic crystals, and their applications
* RF and microwave metamaterials: design, properties, and applications
* Millimeter wave/THz metamaterials and applications
* Optical metamaterials and applications
* Acoustic metamaterials and applications
* Antenna and absorber applications of metamaterials
* Metamaterials as sensors
* Medical applications of metamaterials
* Superlenses, hyperlenses, other near-field imaging devices
* Transformational electromagnetics and optics
* Advances in cloaking
* Educational aspects of metamaterials

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The New Generation in Strongly Correlated Electron Systems 2011

We are happy to announce that the abstract submission for the 2011 edition of the conference “The New Generation in Strongly Correlated Electron Systems” is open. You can check out the conference details in this website: http://ngsces2011.cesga.es. The conference is addressed to scientists in an early stage of their careers, from graduate students to postdocs and young assistant professors. The aim of the conference is to bring together emergent researchers in the field of strongly correlated electrons and promote collaborations between them in a friendly atmosphere. We have tried to assemble the conference around four main topics: high Tc superconductivity, including cuprates and pnictides; topological insulators and topological order; graphene, and oxide heterostructures. Despite of this, contributions in other topics in the field are more than welcome.

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Developments and Prospects in Quantum Impurity Physics

Systems that can be described in terms of a finite, strongly interacting quantum mechanical system coupled to a weakly interacting extended one, where the former has a discrete spectrum, while the latter is characterized by a continuum of energy levels occur in many different areas of physics. These systems are commonly called quantum impurity systems. Quite generally, the dichotomy between localized and extended states in these systems gives rise to a variety of possible behaviors and to highly non-trivial fixed points and rich universal physics.
This international workshop will bring together researchers from a broad range of areas to which quantum impurity physics is essential. It will cover the recent achievements and aims at generating a cross-fertilization among the various fields. The workshop is preceded by an Advanced School that will be open to PhD students and young postdocs. During the school week, leading experts will give introductory lectures to various theoretical and experimental aspects pertinent to quantum impurity physics. ICAM travel awards are available for eligible candidates. For further information, or to apply, please refer to http://www.pks.mpg.de/~qimp11

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Our favourite pictures of 2010

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Dec 22, 2010

These are 15 of our favourite images from 2010 presented in no particular order. Some are funny, some instructive and others are just plain beautiful. We hope you enjoy looking at them

No, that's not a Frisbee balancing on a stalagmite – it's an electron microscope image of the first all-optical transistor on a silicon chip. (Courtesy: EPFL.)

It could be a Hermes scarf, but it's a photograph of topological defects created when a particle is placed in a liquid crystal. (Courtesy: Oleg Lavrentovich, Israel Lazo and Oleg Pishnyak.)

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been sweeping around the Moon for over a year and has delivered many spectacular pictures – including this one of the far side of the Moon. (Courtesy: NASA.)

This one made us laugh. On the left is an artist's impression of a four-legged molecular motor, which walks much like a horse (right). (Courtesy: Ludwig Bartels.)

Why does Leonardo's famous portrait of Mona Lisa have such natural grace? The answer could come from this X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy study at the Louvre. (Courtesy: Walter Philippe.)

This is our best view yet of "the face of God", taken by ESA's Planck space mission. What will this all-sky survey of the cosmic microwave background reveal about the origin of the universe? (Courtesy: ESA.)

Making a model of the Matterhorn just 25 nm tall must rank among the oddest of follies. But that's just what Armin Knoll and colleagues at IBM in Switzerland and the US did using their new scanning probe lithography technique. (Courtesy: IBM Research, Zurich.)

Fantastic flares and eerie light from streams of electrons are just some of the stunning scenes of the Sun captured in high resolution by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which was launched in February. (Courtesy: NASA.)

Magnetohydrodynamics may be a mouthful, but it does create stunning computer visualizations. These were made by Akira Kageyama and colleagues at the Earth Simulator supercomputer in Japan and show how molten iron could flow deep within our planet's interior to generate the Earth's magnetic field.

This scanning tunnelling microscope image is the first ever fractal pattern spotted in a quantum system. It was taken by Ali Yazdani and team at Princeton University in the US, who say that the fractal emerges when the doped gallium arsenide sample makes the transition from metal to insulator. (Courtesy: Yazdani Group, Princeton University.)

This year's Nobel Prize for Physics went to Andre Geim (left) and Kostya Novoselov of the University of Manchester. We loved this serene shot of the two graphene gurus sitting outside on a lovely autumn day – the calm before the storm of fame struck. (Courtesy: University of Manchester.)

Oops! There goes the neighbourhood. This amazing 60 m "sinkhole" suddenly appeared this year in Guatemala City. Geophysicists say that such collapses can occur when liquids flow into an underground cavity causing it to corrode into a network of chambers that can no longer support the overlying rock and soil. (Courtesy: Guatemalan Government.)

Do these concentric circles offer a glimpse of before the Big Bang? Roger Penrose and Vahe Gurzadyn came to this conclusion after studying images of the cosmic microwave background radiation. However, other physicists are not convinced. (Courtesy: Penrose and Gurzadyn.)

The oceans are full of tiny organisms like this alga. Their constant swimming plays an important, yet poorly understood, role in the transport of heat and nutrients. The colours and contours show how water flows past the moving alga. (Courtesy: K Drescher and colleagues, University of Cambridge.)

Remember that scene in Star Wars when a hologram of Princess Leia pops out of R2D2? Now, Nasser Peyghambarian and colleagues at the University of Arizona and Nitto Denko Technical Corporation have taken an important step towards creating such an animation. This is their version of an F-4 Phantom Jet. (Courtesy: gargaszphotos.com/University of Arizona.)

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Upgrading, extending and connecting Europe's transmission systems is essential to meet Europe's security of power supply, emissions reduction and renewable energy targets. Infrastructure investments and pan-European network rules are also fundamental to achieve a seamless and efficient European electricity market with competitive end-user prices

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Funding the frontiers of materials science

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Dec 22, 2010

When it comes to funding dollars, the National Science Foundation's Division of Materials Research (DMR) is one of America's most important backers of materials science.

Next year, this government agency will allocate close to $320 million on a wide-ranging programme of advanced materials research and technology innovation.

In this exclusive physicsworld.com video interview, Ian Robertson, the DMR's incoming director, talks about growth areas – nanoelectronics, photovoltaics and data-enabled science among others – and what the agency is doing to encourage high-risk, high-payoff interdisciplinary research.

As for the "next big thing", Robertson doesn't have a crystal ball, but he does predict a pivotal role for computational materials science and simulation in areas like synthesis, processing and the modelling of next-generation materials.

"My feeling is that it is not going to impact one area of materials science, but the entire field," says Robertson, who is also a Donald B Willett professor of engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This interview forms part of a series filmed at the Materials Research Society (MRS) Fall Meeting in Boston. See also "Living in a material world".

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Hot topics in Modern Cosmology : Spontaneous Workshop V

Spontaneous Workshop (SW) brings together specialists on recent insights in Particle Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology. The aim is to stimulate debates on common topics in views of providing us with innovating ideas.

The workshop’s organization is based on an optimal number of concise presentations and enough space for discussions on emergent problems in order to favor interactions among participants.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

MEGA Industries, LLC to Attend PAC’11

Mega to Exhibit at High Energy Physics Event The event will take place in NYC from March 28 - April 1, 2011. Visit Mega at booth 303.

GORHAM, Maine (December 20, 2010) – Mega Industries, LLC, a world leader in high power RF equipment manufacturing, is continuing their support of high energy physics by exhibiting at the 2011 Particle Accelerator Conference (PAC’11). Mega is also sponsoring a coffee break and will be looking forward to meeting you there!

This conference series is of particular significance to Accelerator Scientists, Engineers, and Students interested in all aspects of particle accelerator technology and as such represents a core group supported by Mega’s product line.

Mega CEO, Peter Matthews, said “The organizations attending have been a key element in the past success of our company.” He continued, “Mega continues to support these programs and deliver the high quality devices that make their scientific endeavors possible.”

Mega plans to take part in many areas, including the release of information gathered over the previous year at their Industrial Forum display booth. Mega VP of Engineering, Henry Downs, said “We will continue our efforts to be a leader in this industry and intend to unveil a number of new and exciting products that will be of interest to the scientists and students in attendance.”

Mega Industries, LLC (www.megaind.com) is a privately held Maine company that has celebrated its 21st year in business in 2010. Mega manufactures Coax, Waveguide, Flexible waveguide and their associated components. These allow Scientists and Engineers to create high power RF Systems for research, manufacturing and FM Broadcast systems. Mega operates from a 30,000 square foot facility that was specifically designed to accommodate the manufacturing requirements for these specialized devices.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Semiconductor memory stores spins

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Dec 19, 2010

Physicists in the US and the UK have found a way to store and read data in nuclear spins using electronic pulses. The breakthrough could help in the development of spintronic systems that process information using spins – and could also find applications in quantum computation.

Spintronics is an emerging area of solid-state physics that attempts to use the spin as well as the charge of electrons to process data more efficiently. But a problem with electron spins is that they have a fairly short lifetime, which in practice would lead to corrupt data. For this reason scientists have been looking for new and better ways to store and retrieve information from spin systems.

One place to store spin-based information is in nitrogen-vacancy defects of a diamond crystal, and in recent years this has shown some promise. But the trouble with using diamond is that it is not compatible with conventional silicon-based electronics – a must if spintronic devices are ever to be integrated into computers.

Now, Dane McCamey of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and colleagues from Florida State University, Tallahassee, and University College London have found a way to store, and read, spins in a widely used semiconductor: phosphorous doped silicon (SiP). Their work marks the first time anyone has taken an electrical readout of data held in atomic nuclei.

Researchers have previously tried to map spin information (whether a spin is pointing up or down) onto nuclei and then read it, but had little success. The answer from McCamey's group is to polarize all the conduction electrons in the SiP so that they are all in the same spin state. The do this by cooling the material to a few degrees above absolute zero and applying a strong magnetic field of some 8.5 T. They can then send in electromagnetic pulses near terahertz frequencies (1012 Hz) to write an up or down spin onto electrons orbiting the phosphorus atoms, before sending in radio waves to transfer those spins to the nuclei.

The team found the nuclei could store the spins for about 300,000 times longer than the typical electron spin lifetime. To read the spin information, the researchers simply did the reverse process: send in radio waves to transfer the spins from the nuclei back to the electrons, and then send in a final, near-terahertz pulse, which exhibited a greater current for an up-spin than a down-spin.

"Whether the scheme develops into further applications in spin quantum computation or spin electronics would depend a lot on whether this technique is flexible and relatively easy to use by the community," said Sankar Das Sarma, a condensed-matter theorist at the University of Maryland. "It's too soon to tell. What I can say is that I am quite impressed by the clever electrical read out technique used by the authors here, and I hope that this has a future in spintronics."

According to John Morton, a materials scientist at Oxford University, the difficulty of developing the researchers' scheme into applications might depend on what the application is. The low temperatures and high magnetic fields wouldn't fare well with conventional computers, for which spintronics is destined. However, low temperatures might be less of a problem for quantum computers – that is, computers that exploit quantum physics to perform certain calculations much faster than computers in use today.

"Because a quantum computer is able to solve problems that a classical computer cannot in any reasonable amount of time, it doesn’t matter that you need to work at five Kelvin," Morton said. "It doesn't matter if you have a short lifetime and you need to keep running error-correcting algorithms – because you will be able to solve something that can't be done elsewhere."

McCamey told physicsworld.com that his group is now planning to scale down the number of nuclei used, so that they can isolate just a single nucleus to function as a memory element.

The research is published in Science 330 1652.

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Top 10 books for 2010

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Dec 20, 2010

Physics World reviewed more than 60 popular-physics books in 2010. That's more than most people will read in a lifetime, and, without wanting to sound immodest, we think it's also enough to lend weight to our opinion of the year's best. Reviews editor Margaret Harris picks her top 10 for 2010

10. The Tunguska Mystery by Vladimir Rubtsov (Springer)
Some obscure, little-publicized books deserve to remain so. This isn't one of them. True, the book's subject matter – a massive explosion that flattened 2100 km2 of Siberian forest over a century ago – is admittedly a little arcane, but in weaving together history, science and personal narrative, Vladimir Rubtsov makes a compelling case for why the Tunguska event deserves more attention beyond the borders of the old Soviet Union.

9. Coming Climate Crisis? Consider the Past, Beware the Big Fix by Claire L Parkinson (Rowman & Littlefield)
I seldom disagree with Physics World's reviewers, but in this case, I did. Reviewer Alan Robock objected to the fact that, although Claire Parkinson is not a climate sceptic herself, and her book discusses many flaws in sceptics' arguments, she nevertheless treats those arguments seriously. Having read my share of ranting discussion-board posts, I admit that Robock had a point when he wrote that "when 'sceptical' scientists misrepresent the science on purpose...they should be condemned – not have their specious arguments accepted uncritically". However, I also think that insults are unlikely to change minds, and that too many books about climate change (on both sides) are "preaching to the choir". If we want a better-quality debate, Parkinson's approach seems closer to the mark.

8. How It Ends by Chris Impey (W W Norton)
Rather than looking back to the Big Bang and trying to describe how life, the universe and everything began, Chris Impey chose to tackle the just-as-intriguing question of what happens when it ends. Impey defines "it" as everything from life on Earth (human and otherwise) to the solar system, the galaxy and the universe itself. According to our reviewer, Cormac O'Raifeartaigh, the result is a varied and surprisingly cheerful proof that "every good story needs an ending".

7. Lake Views: This World and the Universe by Steven Weinberg (Harvard University Press)
A new book of essays from Steven Weinberg is always welcome, and our reviewer, John Ellis, was fulsome in his praise of this one. The subject matter in these essays ranges from science and philosophy to defence policy and religion. According to Ellis, each essay "dissects one of these subjects with the same logic, clarity and single-mindedness that his colleagues appreciate in Weinberg's research papers". If more of us could view such subjects with Weinberg's cool rationality, Ellis adds, "our world and our public discourse would be the better for it".

6. The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It by Scott Patterson (Crown Business)
After observing that he has "always been surprised that scientists in academia are not more curious about the lives of their former peers working in the 'real world'", Physics World reviewer Steve Hsu went on to recommend that anyone willing to buck the trend should read this pacy description of the "increasingly mathematical and technological world of high finance, and the many physicists, mathematicians and engineers who inhabit it". Just don't get too jealous of their high-flying lifestyles.

5. Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson (Faber and Faber)
We at Physics World have always argued that people with a physics background can turn their hands to a wide variety of careers. As it turns out, the financial physicists who feature in our number 6 book can claim an illustrious predecessor: at the age of 53, no less a physicist than Isaac Newton traded academic life at Cambridge for the chance to "wade hip deep into London's underworld" as warden of the Royal Mint. Thomas Levenson's account of this part of Isaac Newton's career makes for compelling reading, and offers fresh insights into one of physics' best-known figures.

4. Packing for Mars by Mary Roach (One World Publications/ W W Norton)
Ever wanted to become an astronaut? Ever considered that boldly going where few have gone before will require sacrificing a lot of privacy, accepting a lot of hazards, and spending months in a space capsule that reeks of your fellow astronauts' farts? Roach's eye-opening account of the smelly, uncomfortable and just plain weird side of space exploration is equal parts fascinating and hilarious. Yet even when she's asking a Russian cosmonaut about space-borne sex substitutes, her respect for the human beings willing to take the gross with the glorious is evident. As she writes in the introduction, "Space doesn't just encompass the sublime and the ridiculous. It erases the line between."

3, 2, 1...
In 2009 picking the year's top book was easy: Graham Farmelo's biography of Paul Dirac, The Strangest Man, stood head-and-shoulders above the rest, and won a Costa "Best Biography" gong to prove it. The competition for 2010 was tighter, with a cluster of books vying for the honour, and it was hard to decide between them. So with that caveat, here come the top three...

3. Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle by Ian Sample (Virgin Books/Basic Books)
A lot of ink has been spilled about the Higgs boson in the past few years, and the fact that we haven't discovered the damn thing yet doesn't seem to stem the tide one bit. But if you read just one popular-science book about the ubiquitous/elusive particle this year, let it be this one. (If you read two, pick up Gian Francesco Giudice's The Zeptospace Odyssey as well – it fell just outside this list.) According to our reviewer Andy Parker, Ian Sample's account "could be the screenplay" for a Hollywood film about Higgs-hunting. Yet Sample is also careful with the science, giving credit to physicists other than Peter Higgs and avoiding the lazy assumption that particle physics begins and ends with the boson that bears his name. So if you want to explain to a non-scientist what all the fuss is about, says Parker, "buy them this book, and get a copy for yourself".

2. How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel (One World Publications/Scribner)
Richard Feynman once said that if you cannot explain something to a first-year undergraduate, you haven't really understood it. The author of our number two book, Chad Orzel, pushes Feynman's principle to its logical conclusion – and beyond – by attempting to explain quantum physics to Emmy, his dog. It's a cute idea, and it works for several reasons. One is that Orzel's explanations are unusually clear and concrete, and they incorporate graphs, diagrams and simple equations in a way that aids understanding, rather than hindering it. Another reason is that he draws many of his examples not from quantum mechanics' 1920s "golden age", but from modern experiments performed by living scientists. This is astonishingly (and sadly) uncommon for a quantum-physics book aimed at a popular audience. And finally, there's Emmy. A talking dog will not be every reader's cup of tea, but Emmy's naïve-yet-revealing questions do allow Orzel to correct misconceptions and try out different explanations without appearing to talk down to the reader. Give the dog (and her owner) a biscuit, and give this book a try.

1. The Edge of Physics: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Cosmology by Anil Ananthaswamy (Duckworth/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
With big unanswered questions about dark matter and dark energy dominating current research, these are exciting times for cosmology. Yet writers who want to communicate that excitement have a problem: once they've stated the mind-blowing fact that 96% of the universe's mass is a near-complete mystery to us, what do they do for an encore? Ananthaswamy's ingenious solution was to focus on cosmology's practical side, by taking a continent-hopping tour of experiments that aim to detect cosmological mysteries like neutrinos and dark matter. The result is a book that hovers between popular physics and travelogue, as Ananthaswamy, a consultant editor of New Scientist, writes with equal eloquence about the ethereal science of neutrinos and the (literally) cold practicalities of studying them in places like Antarctica and Siberia. He's got a good eye for detail, too, speckling his account with the sort of anecdotes – like finding 18th-century lead for dark-matter detector shields or retrieving a string of photomultiplier tubes from the bottom of the world's deepest lake – that bring research to life. It's a fine story, told in an innovative and exciting way – and it's our book of the year for 2010.

Happy holiday reading!

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<i>Physics World</i> reveals its top 10 breakthroughs for 2010

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Dec 20, 2010

It was a tough decision, given all the fantastic physics done in 2010. But we have decided to award the Physics World 2010 Breakthrough of the Year to two international teams of physicists at CERN, who have created new ways of controlling antiatoms of hydrogen.

The ALPHA collaboration announced its findings in late November, which involved trapping 38 antihydrogen atoms (an antielectron orbiting an antiproton) for about 170 ms. This is long enough to measure their spectroscopic properties in detail, which the team hopes to do in 2011.

Just weeks later, the ASACUSA group at CERN announced that it had made a major breakthrough towards creating a beam of antihydrogen that is suitable for spectroscopic studies. Our congratulations to both teams.

We have also awarded nine runners-up mentions (see below) – with second place going to the first direct detection of the spectrum of an exoplanet and third place to the observation of quantum behaviour in an object big enough to be seen with the naked eye.

The antihydrogen breakthroughs scooped our first prize because it ought now be possible to carry out the first detailed studies of the energy levels in antihydrogen. Any slight differences in the levels compared to ordinary hydrogen could shed light on one of the biggest mysteries in physics – why there is so much more matter than antimatter in the universe.

The ALPHA group is represented by Jeffrey Hangst of Aarhus University in Denmark, who told physicsworld.com that the holy grail of antihydrogen studies is measuring the energy of the 1 s to 2 s atomic transitions. This transition in the far-ultraviolet has been measured in hydrogen to an accuracy of two parts in 1014, and making similar measurements on antihydrogen could reveal a violation of charge-parity-time reversal (CPT) symmetry. The discovery of such a violation could also help physicists understand why there is much more matter than antimatter in the universe.

One challenge facing the ALPHA team is accumulating enough antihydrogen to make accurate measurements – however, Hangst said that the team has already trapped "a lot" more than the 38 reported in November. Hangst says that the most difficult part of the five-year ALPHA project has been "learning how to make antihydrogen cold enough to trap", because it is extremely difficult to make spectroscopic studies on beams.

In December, however, the ASACUSA team announced its ability to create a focused beam of antihydrogen that the researchers believe is suitable for making spectroscopic measurements at microwave energies. This should allow them to look at the hyperfine structure of antihydrogen energy levels and compare them to hydrogen – which could provide evidence of CPT violation.

ASACUSA team leader Yasunori Yamazaki of the RIKEN laboratory in Japan told physicsworld.com that its next step is to make their "antihydrogen beam from a strong non-uniform magnetic field region where it is produced and into a microwave cavity for analyses in a magnetic-field-free region to realize high-precision spectroscopy". He adds that the physicists are "an inch away" from extracting the beam and "several inches away" from making spectroscopic measurements. "I hope we can start to work on the spectroscopy next year after the confirmation of an antihydrogen beam," he says.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of both projects is that there is no definitive theoretical prediction of how (or indeed if) CPT-violation will occur in the hydrogen-antihydrogen system. The antihydrogen experiments will begin again at CERN in May, so look forward to exciting results – and perhaps a few surprises from both groups.

Second place in our list of top breakthroughs for 2010 goes to a team of astronomers in Canada and Germany who have made the first direct measurement of the atmospheric spectrum of a planet outside our solar system. Markus Janson of the University of Toronto and colleagues used the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) to study the atmosphere of the exoplanet HR 8799, which is 130 light-years from Earth. Although this particular exoplanet shows no signs of life, the ability to make such measurements is an important step forward in the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

In what is an important step towards testing Schrödinger's cat paradox, physicists at the University of California, Santa Barbara have bagged third place in our top 10 by observing true quantum behaviour in a macroscopic object big enough to be seen with the naked eye. Andrew Cleland and crew reduced the amplitude of the vibrations in a resonator by cooling it down to below 0.1 K. They were then able to create a superposition state of the resonator where they simultaneously had an excitation in the resonator and no excitation in the resonator. "This is analogous to Schrödinger's cat being dead and alive at the same time," says Cleland. This is the first time this feat has been achieved and it could shed light on the mysterious boundaries between the classical and quantum worlds.

Fourth place on our list is a last-minute entry and goes to two independent teams of physicists who have just published preprints claiming to have built the first invisibility cloaks that can hide large objects from visible light. Now George Barbastathis and colleagues at the Massachussets Institute of Technology and the University of Singapore report the cloaking of 2D millimeter-sized objects. Meanwhile Shuang Zhang and team at the University of Birmingham, Imperial College and the Technical University of Denmark have managed to cloak millimeter-sized 3D objects from prying eyes. Unlike most other cloaks that use artificial metamaterials, both cloaks use natural calcite crystals.

Two independent groups of physicists have been jointly awarded fifth place after they unveiled the first phonon "lasers". These emit coherent sound waves in much the same way as lasers emit coherent light waves. One team was led by Tony Kent at the University of Nottingham in the UK and the other by Ivan Grudinin at Caltech. One of the devices emits sound at about 400 GHz while the other operates in the megahertz range. As sound penetrates most materials, the lasers could be used to obtain 3D images of tiny nanostructures.

Many physicists believed it could not be done, but now a team in Germany has created a Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC) from photons, earning them the sixth slot. BECs are formed when identical bosons – particles with integer spin – are cooled until all particles are in the same quantum state. Although photons are the most common boson of them all, they are easily created or destroyed when they interact with other matter – making it very difficult to cool photons to form a condensate. But that did not deter Martin Weitz and colleagues at the University of Bonn, who got round this problem by continuously pumping the BEC with a laser to make up for lost photons. Beyond the pure chutzpah of making the BEC, the breakthrough could actually help boost the performance of solar cells.

Seventh place in our league table goes to physicists in the US who have shown us the human face of relativity. James Chin-Wen Chou and colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) used two of the world's most accurate optical clocks to show that time speeds up in a clock that is hoisted a mere 33 cm above the other. They also saw time slow down in a clock moving less than about 35 km/h relative to its twin. While there's nothing groundbreaking about the physics – Einstein's theories of relatively are on very solid ground – it's reassuring that its effects can be seen at human distances and speeds.

Anyone who uses physics to realize a scene from Star Wars deserves a place in our top 10, which is why Nasser Peyghambarian and collegues at the University of Arizona and Nitto Denko Technical Corporation come in at number eight. In 1977 audiences were wowed by the special effects in that cinematic classic, which included a hologram of Princess Leia making a distress call to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Now, Peyghambarian and team have taken a big step towards making such real-time, dynamic holograms a reality by inventing a photorefractive polymer screen that reacts very quickly to laser light.

Physicists have been making measurements of protons for more than 90 years so you would have thought its size would be settled. But this year an international team led by Randolf Pohl at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics discovered that the proton is about 4% smaller than previously thought – bagging ninth place in our list. The surprising result was obtained by studying "muonic" hydrogen in which the electron is replaced by a much heavier muon. The finding could mean that physicists need to rethink how they apply the theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED) – or even that the theory itself needs a major overhaul.

We couldn't have a top 10 list that does not include the significant breakthroughs in accelerator technology at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC). In March, LHC physicists achieved the first 7 TeV proton–proton collisions ever achieved in a particle accelerator. And what's more, in November the LHC moved seamlessly into the business of colliding lead ions in a successful bid to recreate the conditions of just after the Big Bang. Both runs generated copious amounts of data that will keep physicists busy until the accelerator starts up again next year.

View the original article here

Sunday, December 19, 2010

EU fusion funding proposal fails

EU fusion funding proposal fails
16 (UPI) -- The European Parliament has rejected a last-ditch plan to rescue financing for a nuclear fusion reactor project, officials say. ...
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