The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is the most powerful particle accelerator in the world. During its ten years of operations it has led to remarkable discoveries, including the long sought-after Higgs boson. On January 15, an international team of physicists unveiled the concept design for a new particle accelerator that would dwarf the LHC.
When you hear the term “radioactive” you likely think “bad news,” maybe along the lines of fallout from an atomic bomb. But radioactive materials are actually used in a wide range of beneficial applications. In medicine, they routinely help diagnose and treat disease. Irradiation helps keep a number of foods free from insects and invasive pests. Archaeologists use them to figure out how old an artifact might be. And the list goes on.
Physicists have developed an atomic clock so accurate that it would be off by less than a single second in 14 billion years. That kind of accuracy and precision makes it more than just a timepiece. It’s a powerful scientific instrument that could measure gravitational waves, take the measure of the Earth’s gravitational shape, and maybe even detect dark matter. How did they do it?
Fusion power has been the fevered dream of scientists, environmentalists and futurists for almost a century. For the past few decades, scientists have been attempting to find a way to create sustainable fusion reactions that would provide human beings with clean, abundant energy, which would finally break our dependence on fossil fuels and other unclean methods.
One might think that the optical tweezer – a focused laser beam that can trap small particles – is old hat by now. After all, the tweezer was invented by Arthur Ashkin in 1970. And he received the Nobel Prize for it this year - presumably after its main implications had been realized during the last half-century.
Inexpensive clean energy sounds like a pipe dream. Scientists have long thought that nuclear fusion, the type of reaction that powers stars like the Sun, could be one way to make it happen, but the reaction has been too difficult to maintain. Now, we’re closer than ever before to making it happen — physicists from the University of Tokyo (UTokyo) say they’ve produced the strongest-ever controllable magnetic field.
Watching helium gas lift balloons into the air is a lot of fun – or perhaps a tragedy if that balloon belonged to a small child who let it go. And, who hasn’t sipped the helium gas from a balloon and then quacked like Donald Duck? Although, that’s not the smartest thing to do since helium can displace the air in our lungs, or cause other problems with respiration.
Despite decades of ongoing research, scientists are trying to understand how the four fundamental forces of the Universe fit together. Whereas quantum mechanics can explain how three of these forces things work together on the smallest of scales (electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces), General Relativity explains how things behaves on the largest of scales (i.e. gravity). In this respect, gravity remains the holdout.
When I was at elementary school, my teacher told me that matter exists in three possible states: solid, liquid and gas. She neglected to mention plasma, a special kind of electrified gas that’s a state unto itself. We rarely encounter natural plasma, unless we’re lucky enough to see the Northern lights, or if we look at the Sun through a special filter, or if we poke our head out the window during a lightning storm, as I liked to do when I was a kid. Yet plasma, for all its scarcity in our daily lives, makes up more than 99 per cent of the observable matter in the Universe (that is, if we discount dark matter).