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Analysis and Comment (70)

Many different worlds but a finite number. Flickr/fdecomite

When parallel worlds collide … quantum mechanics is born

Parallel universes – worlds where the dinosaur-killing asteroid never hit, or where Australia was colonised by the Portuguese – are a staple of science fiction. But are they real? In a radical paper published…
Don’t fear losing that ball, the waves will bring them back.

Tractor beam generates waves that bring back floating objects

You would normally expect objects that float in water to move in the same direction as waves. But now we can force floating objects to move in the opposite direction. This unexpected effect nicknamed a…
Despite the slightly shallower (and slower) Tollcross pool, Australia’s Daniel Fox set a world record in the Men’s 200m Freestyle S14 heat. Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Why swimming records stand, even with a broken pool floor

You may have seen some controversy regarding water depth in the Tollcross International Swimming Centre being used for competition at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. The pool has a movable floor that allows…
Ethane in three forms: subcritical, critical and supercritical. Dr. Sven Horstmann

Explainer: what is a supercritical fluid?

When we boil a kettle, we observe what scientists call a phase transition: the water changes from being a liquid to a gas as water becomes less dense. One litre of water boils to give about 1,000 litres…
Cilcik on the image to learn how stars are made. Picture: NASA.

VIDEO: What are stars?

How are stars formed? What are they made of? And what happens to them when they die? In this week’s TCTV, astrophysicist Akila Jeeson-Daniel explains the physics behind the balls of gas that light up the…
How do they do it? David Davies/PA Archive

Lutz or flutz? The tricky physics of figure skating

Figure skating is always the highlight of the Winter Olympics. With the introduction of a team competition this year, there are five figure skating events. And we’ve already seen much drama with records…
Superheated plasma inside the tokamak reactor, a split second before a fusion reaction. Scott Silburn/James Harrison/Alex Meakins

For decades a distant dream, the countdown to nuclear fusion may have finally begun

The latest results from the National Ignition Facility in the US represent the passing of a nuclear fusion power milestone and come after a year of significant progress at projects in France and the UK…
Electricity – just one bright idea to stem from physics. Flickr/JonathanCohen

Physics: a fundamental force for future security

AUSTRALIA 2025: How will science address the challenges of the future? In collaboration with Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb, we’re asking how each science discipline will contribute to Australia…
How long can you stay there depends on practice and physics. elisfanclub

Moon’s gravity alone cannot create the world’s largest tides

“Tide goes in, tide goes out…you can’t explain that.” So claimed US talkshow anchor Bill O’Reilly, in a baffling attempt to discredit atheism which became something of a YouTube sensation. I have been…
Muons, a type of lepton, are studied at the Large Hadron Collider – but what are they? CERN

Explainer: what are leptons?

The giant Large Hadron Collider at CERN’s lab in Europe may be closed until 2015 but experiments will still be run there in the second half of this year on much smaller synchrotrons that examined the decay…
Only physics can burn a hole through the sky. European Southern Observatory (ESO)

Beyond the Higgs boson: five reasons physics is still interesting

Would physics be “far more interesting” if the Higgs boson had not been found? Stephen Hawking thinks so. He made this bold claim, possibly with his tongue slightly in his cheek, at the opening of a new…
Not just a source of food: this river could help doctors save lives. julien_harnies

Cutting pneumonia deaths with electricity-free oxygen devices

Pneumonia kills more children worldwide than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis combined. This is surprising given that treatment for pneumonia is relatively simple. In rich countries survival rates are very…
Dung beetles love the Milky Way because they use it for navigation. No, seriously they do. mattvisser

Ig Nobels 2013: from attaching penises to stargazing beetles

This year’s Ig Nobel prizes were awarded on September 12 at a meeting of nerds at Harvard University. The prizes are given for genuine scientific research that “first makes people laugh and then makes…
The science of spin bowling yields some interesting – and practical – results. Wallula Junction

Could the physics of spin bowling turn the Ashes around?

After the first day of the third Ashes test cricket match between England and Australia it may be a good time to consider how spin bowling might affect the outcome of the series - and how science can be…
Albert Einstein was considered to be a ‘lone genius’ – but this was not the case, and it’s certainly not the norm. tsweden

Einstein to Weinstein: the lone genius is an exception to the rule

Developing a Theory of Everything is physics' Holy Grail. So could it have been completed in recent weeks? And by an outsider, working alone? American mathematical physicist-turned-hedge-fund-consultant…
The Large Hadron Collider has temporarily shut down, but will return stronger than ever. CERN

Goodbye, for a while, to the Large Hadron Collider

The lord of the particle accelerator, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), went out of particle collision business for almost two years as of late last week. For particle physicists, Valentine’s Day 2013…
Scientist Laurence Krauss has said the philosophy of science is hard to justify. World Economic Forum/Flickr

Philosophy under attack: Lawrence Krauss and the new denialism

I really shouldn’t let myself watch Q&A. Don’t get me wrong, the ABC’s flagship weekly panel show is usually compelling viewing. But after just a few minutes I end up with the systolic blood pressure…
The Large Hadron Collider has been used to find out what matter is fundamentally made of, and how the universe was created. EPA/Martial Triezzini

Explainer: quarks

One of humanity’s eternal questions surrounds what we are fundamentally made of. Many ancient philosophies believed in a set of classical elements: from water, air, fire and earth of ancient Greeks; to…
Some of the isotopes we find here on Earth were created in supernova explosions like this one. NASA

Explainer: what is an isotope?

If you’ve ever studied a periodic table of the elements (see below), you’re probably already aware that this table reveals a great deal about the chemical properties of the atoms that make up our world…
Sometimes the juiciest treats come in small packages. Dylan Parker

What my tomatoes taught me about quantum mechanics

Most people outside the esoteric worlds of little-science physics (aka quantum mechanics) and big-science physics (aka cosmology) will at some point realise both worlds fly in the face of intuition. Why…
The cobalt hues of the sky above are thanks to all manner of molecules in the air. djking

Explainer: why is the sky blue?

A young child looked up in the sky, And said, “It’s so blue, Mum, but why?” You see, blue scatters more, (There’s this power of 4), So it rarely comes straight to your eye. – Author unknown Most of what…
Everything we see around us could be little more than bits in a giant supercomputer. petertandlund

Alert: you may be living in a simulated universe

As a cosmologist, I often carry around a universe or two in my pocket. Not entire, infinitely large universes, but maybe a few billion light years or so across. Enough to be interesting. Of course, these…
There are many ways physical laws can be exploited to trick cameras, detectors and eyes. Niels Linneberg

Invisibility tech is advancing, but not seeing is believing

What do Casper the Friendly Ghost, Harry Potter and H.G Wells' Griffin all have in common? The answer, of course, is “the ability to become invisible”. And these three characters weren’t the first to have…
A combination of wax and coiling makes carbon nanotube muscles stronger than ever. Science/AAAS

Power to you: carbon nanotube muscles are going strong

Just on a year ago my colleagues and I announced our discovery that carbon nanotube yarns could be made to twist and rotate at great speeds when electrically stimulated. In this way we had created “artificial…
When you shine a torch into a dusty room, not all the photons reach their destination. Simon Greig (xrrr)

‘Louder’ light could power a brighter quantum future

All of the light we see around us comes in chunks of energy known as photons. As well as making up light, photons can be used to carry and process information and their quantum properties make possible…
You’d probably get a bit of a fright if ball lightning started moving through your house. Wikimedia Commons

Ball lightning exists … but what on Earth is it?

Ball lightning is one of the strangest phenomena on our planet. It’s usually seen during thunderstorms as a ball of light about the size of a grapefruit, with the intensity of roughly a 40W light bulb…
There’s an ongoing push to open the world of academic knowledge to the wider population … for free. Jackman Chiu

Open-access journals: a perspective from within

There’s an ongoing debate in the world of academic publishing about whether the public should be allowed open access to research publications we all pay for in the first place. “If we are paying for this…
“We’re accused of sitting in our ivory tower when we don’t engage with the public, and of sensationalism when we do.” photosteve101

‘Rewriting’ the Big Bang theory – a personal perspective

Melbourne Researchers Rewrite Big Bang Theory sang a recent headline in the Sydney Morning Herald. It was one of many suggesting the Big Bang theory had been somehow overthrown. As the principal investigator…
Imagine a magic prism for the entire range of electromagnetic waves. TORLEY

Explainer: what is the electromagnetic spectrum?

Visible light forms part of the electromagnetic spectrum. So do emissions from TV and radio transmitters, mobile phones and the energy inside microwave ovens. The X-rays used in diagnostic imaging and…
“Most people just get used to the concept and get on with their lives.” Roger McLassus

Explainer: what is wave-particle duality

Our notion of reality is built on everyday experiences. But wave-particle duality is so strange that we are forced to re-examine our common conceptions. Wave-particle duality refers to the fundamental…
The Higgs boson is alive with the sound of music. rafeejewell

Higgs the musical: the sound of the ‘God particle’

The July 4 discovery of a particle that closely resembles the Higgs boson opens a new era in science: it should help us understand some fundamental mysteries, such as how microscopic particles attain their…
“Physics permeates the language we use to describe music, and the concepts we use to understand it.” Ravages

Music and physics – the connections aren’t trivial

My ANU colleague John Rayner’s excellent recent article on the physics of music seemed to touch a nerve with the readership of The Conversation. Although beautifully framed by the personal and anecdotal…
Music is the language of love – and it exemplifies some principles of science. Roxanne Milward

This is a love song: the physics of music and the music of physics

My wife Theresa represents many things for me – in addition to being my partner, I see her as a 17cm-long quarter-wavelength resonator (which I hope you’ll understand and agree with by the end of this…
Results pertaining to the Higgs boson are “consistent with its existence”. jef safi

Higgs boson announcement – expert reaction

This expert reaction comes via the Australian Science Media Centre: CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) has this evening announced that the long-sought Higgs boson probably exists, after…
Ripples in a pond help to illustrate wave motion and the Doppler effect. *˜Dawn˜*

Explainer: the Doppler effect

When an ambulance passes with its siren blaring, you hear the pitch of the siren change: as it approaches, the siren’s pitch sounds higher than when it is moving away from you. This change is a common…
Life would be pretty boring if we could predict what was coming next. ModernDope

Explainer: Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle

The term “uncertainty principle” suggests some grand philosophical idea, like “you can never be sure of anything”, or “there are some things you can never be sure of” and sometimes people use it as if…
Chief Scientist Ian Chubb’s report, released today, presents some serious concerns for the future of Australian science. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

A prescription for healthy science? Chief Scientist’s report points the way

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb’s Health of Australian Science report, launched today at the National Press Club, starts on an optimistic note. Australian science is generally in good health: school students…
The global push to detect gravitational waves could provide an enormous return for science. Wikimedia Commons

Rippling space-time: how to catch Einstein’s gravitational waves

Albert Einstein made an executive decision to revolutionise our understanding of gravity in a paper published in 1916. Nearly 100 years on, a key prediction of Einstein’s theory has eluded direct detection…
The ghost-like image of Tupac captured the imagination of concert-goers … imagine if they’d seen a real hologram.

Beyond Tupac – the future of hologram technology

Last week the world watched on as a supposed hologram of the late rapper Tupac Shakur performed at the Coachella music festival in California. But was it a hologram? The term “hologram”, (“holos” meaning…
Pepper’s Ghost is an amazing technique, but holograms, done right, are so much cooler. kisokiso

Tupac’s rise from the dead was, sadly, not holography

Last week rapper Tupac Shakur performed at the Coachella music festival in California – a notable feat given he was shot dead in 1996. Tupac’s glowing image appeared on stage, rapping, dancing and interacting…
The multi-million dollar facility provides cutting-edge tools for scientists. Nancy Mills, Australian Synchrotron.

The Australian Synchrotron is great … but what does it do?

Science is like high-performance racing: today’s Formula One machine is all too soon the jalopy of tomorrow. The Australian Synchrotron, opened in 2007 and located in Melbourne, is currently at the F1…
Photosynthesis converts low-energy photons into usable energy; it may teach us how to do the same. papalars

New chlorophyll could hold the key to more efficient solar panels

As the great spectre of climate change continues to loom large over the future, the search for viable, renewable energy sources is becoming ever more important. Solar power has long been seen as a vital…
If the signs are right, fundamental equations of cosmology may need altering. waljoris

Is life on Earth due to a quirk in the laws of physics?

A radical discovery by my colleagues and I – reported this week in Physical Review Letters – could help explain why it was possible for life (at least as we know it) to develop on Earth, but not in other…
A universe composed differently could still support complex life. Susan NYC

Peer Review: The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning

Welcome to Peer Review, a series in which we ask leading academics to review books written by people working in the same field. Here Geraint Lewis, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney…
Graphene may have humble beginnings, but it’s becoming a major draw. qwertyuiop

From pencil to high-speed internet: graphene is a modern wonder

It inspired the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics. It’s the best thermal conductor we know of. It’s a crystal stiffer than diamond, but able to stretch by 20% of its length, and can carry a current density one…
How long’s a piece of string? You may want to sit down for a minute. Gnu2000

Explainer: String theory

String theory entered the public arena in 1988 when a BBC radio series Desperately Seeking Superstrings was broadcast. Thanks to good marketing and its inherently curious name and features, it’s now part…
Theoretical physics strives towards a (beautiful) description of everything. Jinx!

Explainer: Standard Model of Particle Physics

The “traditional” beauty of theoretical physics is its equations. If we want to describe something, or the way something behaves, we can write down a relation between some properties we think that thing…
You wouldn’t believe what modern telescopes can do. Professor Fumolatro/Flickr

Will we ever see the Big Bang?

Last week, scientists set a new distance record, seeing a burst of gamma-rays from a star that exploded when the universe was only 520 million years old. The light from this distant source has been travelling…
Would you behave differently if you knew when the crash was coming? Dave Hunt/AAP

Pop science: predicting the end of Australia’s property bubble

Economists and physicists may seem like unlikely bedfellows, but then opposites often attract. Their union has recently produced a peculiar baby, a field of research known as “econophysics”. Physicists…
As yet we can only guess what the Higgs boson might look like. DESY Zeuthen

Explainer: the Higgs boson particle

Theoretical physics is full of mysteries and unknowns. In the case of some particles, we can predict their existence even if we can’t find them. Such is the status of the Higgs boson. And yet detecting…
Nanoparticles, as used in sunscreen, are readily absorbed by the body. Tony Bartlett/AAP

Explainer: Nanotechnology and you

For the public, the jury is still out on nanotechnology – the media simultaneously extols its promise and warns of the potential calamity facing humanity. But what is it? How does it work? Is it dangerous…
Is the “Z-prime” lurking within a “jungle” of particles at the LHC? Argonne National Laboratory

Explainer: the Z' (hypothetical) particle

There’s nothing like an unexpected result to get physicists excited. So in 2008, when some strange behaviour was detected from a rarely-produced particle known as the “top quark”, there was much interest…
Time travel has long been a staple of science fiction but the LHC might make it a reality. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Is the Large Hadron Collider a time machine?

Switzerland’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) can be called a time machine in one sense: it enables us to examine conditions as they were during the universe’s early stages. But is the 27km-long particle accelerator…
Could neutrinos be responsible for the shape of the universe? The Super-Kamiokande Neutrino Detector, Japan

Explainer: the elusive neutrino

Of all the known particles in our universe, neutrinos are perhaps the most elusive; their origins are mysterious, their purpose unknown and they are notoriously difficult to detect. You’ll already know…

Research and News (6)

Research Briefs (16)

The physics of a soccer strike

The success of soccer player Christiano Ronaldo’s powerful “knuckleball” strike is due to fluctuating aerodynamic lift forces…

When nanoparticles (almost) touch

When two gold nanoparticle spheres are pushed sufficiently close together, the gap between them acquires a red colour, as…

Heat flows at an atomic level

A single layer of atoms can be used to enhance or restrict heat flow between materials. The finding comes as researchers…

Does antimatter weigh more than matter?

Researchers have developed, for the first time, a method to efficiently produce long-lived “positronium” – a bound state…

Lithium the key to quicker fusion

Experimental fusion can be made more efficient by coating reactor walls with lithium, scientist have found. The lithium coating…

Rounding up electrons

A decade-long experiment has discovered electrons are “rounder” than expected. The experiment looked at electrons inside…