Tag Archive: physics

Book Review: Runners by Sharon Sant

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Runners Publisher: Immanion Summary: An engrossing, and thought-provoking read. Set in the wreck of a future dystopian England, Runners begins with teenage Elijah and a band of other tearaways (or Runners) struggling to get by in the ruins of an old house. The group dynamic, with its varied mix of personalities and ages, is fascinating from the off and the snippets of information concerning how the novel’s world came to be such a mess are intriguing to say the least. Of course, the group’s situation quickly becomes about more than merely feeding themselves as Elijah and his friends find themselves stuck in a dismal situation engineered in no small part by the sinister Mr Braithwaite. On top of this, a chance discovery in a mysterious woodland catapults them right into the heart of an even bigger menace; a superb representation of a theorized quantum phenomenon, and, by the end of the book, the numerous plot threads really do intertwine beautifully. …

‘I don’t know’: why science and fiction get on so well

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I don’t know.’ This is the default position of science. If you ask any half-decent physicist how the universe came in to being, they will say ‘I don’t know but here are some theories.’ Likewise, if you ask any biologist what colour a baby archaeopteryx was, they will probably say ‘I don’t know, but I can speculate.’ The lack of absolutes is what makes science great and what makes the scientific process so encompassing and so (mostly) open-minded. By a happy coincidence, it also leaves a lot of mystery and a lot of room for guess work, and this is where our good friend fiction comes in … Because our scientific understanding is far from complete, authors can take a scientific concept, and flesh it out however they want. In 1963 a physicist named Hugh Everett published a new theorem, The Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. His radical new idea proposed that, thanks to some incredibly clever calculations and observations, …

Unseasonable weather?

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Across the world we’ve had plenty of “unseasonable weather” over the last few weeks and records are being broken globally. But what is the likelihood of these strange weather patterns becoming regular occurrences and no longer “unseasonable”? In the UK, it’s clear that the weather has changed. It’s nearly 7 years since we last had the stereotypical British summer filled with hot sunshine, and the winter months appear to be becoming colder and more unsettled. For example, gritting drivers across the UK had to deal with twice as many “marginal” nights than a normal winter from October 2012 to April 2013. Met Office officials met recently and believe there is a change occurring over the Atlantic and this is causing this strange weather in the UK. This change has been associated with climate change and the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but is that all it’s down to? In America, tornado season is currently in full swing as …

Book Review: Paradox Child

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Paradox Child Author: Jane Yates Published: 6th June 2013 Publisher: Amazon Summary: A debut which confirms Yates’ creative talent Lilly is the eponymous Paradox Child. Her life is to be changed completely by the dark secret her family holds – they are able to travel back in time. This novel for young adults marries exploration of the possibility of time travel, with elements of fantasy and historical fiction. Set in Oxford in the 1980s, a young woman knows she’s part of a slightly different family. They keep themselves to themselves. She has few friends at school and tries to keep her head down. She enjoys walking the family dogs, growing food in the garden and doing spells with her mother and grandmother. The spells she, her mother Rose and her grandmother Iris perform were passed down from older generations of women named after flowers. The disappearance of her mother means Lilly has to be told the family secret a little …

Try Again, Fail Again, Fail Better

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  A few months ago I wrote a piece on some of the most amazing scientific predictions to come out of classical literature. From IVF to space travel, it seems that an unexpected number of major technological innovations have been proceeded by the imaginations of great historical authors. But, if amazing scientific breakthroughs can be predicted before they happen, then surely the reverse must also be true. Indeed, history must be littered with examples of respected authorities confidently postulating the possibility of a discovery one minute, before shame-facedly back-pedalling in the next. So, with that in mind, here’s a run-down of science’s top-5 greatest hypothetical hick-ups.   5) Theory: Planet Vulcan, Proponent: Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier During the 1800s, astronomers were struggling to explain certain peculiarities in Mercury’s celestial orbit. Several scientists, led by Le Verrier, suggested that these disturbances arose due to the existence of another planet or  moon, which was named ‘Vulcan’, after the Roman god of fire. The theory drummed …

All spin and no substance – the story of the neutrino, the little neutral one.

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This is the story of the neutrino (Greek letter nu ; ν), a little piece of spinning nothing (i.e. a mass;less particle, but with angular momentum) whose existence was theoretically required by the need to balance certain equations in nuclear physics. How a mass;less thing could possibly have momentum of any sort however, was a paradox which was left unaddressed for the time being, and even today, though we mostly agree that it must have some mass, it is so miniscule (even in particle physics, where things are notoriously tiny) that we have no accurate idea of what that mass might be. It was Wolfgang Pauli who, in 1930, in order to explain how beta;decay could work while conserving mass, momentum, charge and angular momentum, postulated that there must be a new;to;nuclear;physics particle involved in the reaction. Pauli tentatively called this theoretically required particle a ‘neutron.’ However, James Chadwick discovered and named the ‘real’ neutron (i. e. the particle we now know as the neutron) in 1932. Chadwick’s neutron was a …

A new spin on computing

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Spin, as anyone who has ever heard Alistair Campbell speak, is a tricky thing to figure out. Quantum spin – a property many subatomic particles have – is equally confounding, but, if understood, could lead to a powerful new breed of computer technology called spintronics. Despite its name, quantum spin does not actually refer to a rotating ball such as the Earth. “The electron is not physically spinning around but it has a magnetic north pole and a magnetic south pole,” says Professor Philippe Jacquod, a researcher in spintronics at the University of Arizona. “Its spin depends on which pole is pointing up. It can point in either of two directions which we usually term up and down.” This property has aroused the attentions of computer engineers who recognise the similarity with traditional electronics, which use either the presence or absence of an electrical charge to represent binary data. Magnetic spin, with its similarly dual character could, if harnessed, allow …

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