Category Archives: physics

The Physics of innovation

To the question ‘Where does technology come from?’, The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics answers that “Virtually all of the technology we enjoy today is powered by the four key scientific concepts of quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, special relativity, and general relativity” (https://www.perimeterinstitute.ca/outreach/teachers/class-kits/physics-innovation). To give an example of the sheer breadth of innovations driven by physics, consider this: Physics is driving innovation in food manufacturing (http://www.iopblog.org/physics-is-driving-innovation-in-food-manufacturing/). The Institute of Physics has instituted ‘IOP Business Innovation Awards’, which will give students a good idea of physics’ connections with the world of business (http://www.iop.org/activity/business/innovation/page_53257.html). To extend this point, the American Physics Society says this: “The majority of physics graduates at all degree levels will become scientists and innovators working in the private sector, yet very little of the knowledge they gain while earning their degree intentionally prepares them for these roles. APS joins in on nationwide efforts to promote physics innovation and entrepreneurship (PIE) education”, (https://www.aps.org/programs/education/innovation/index.cfm). We are going to describe some specific areas of innovation, based on which you may further search through to discover more areas.

Physics and the nano

It is clear that the subject of nano technology draws from several disciplines. While it involves physics and chemistry, it also involves “biology, several disciplines of engineering, material science, and medicine. Anywhere molecules and atoms are concerned, nanotechnology can potentially play a role” (http://www.trynano.org/about/it-chemistry-it-physics).

The Royal Society explains that “The nanometre scale is about a billionth of a metre and things this small can behave quite weirdly. These unusual physical and chemical characteristics come about because there is an increase in surface area compared to volume as particles get smaller and also because they are subject to quantum effects. This means they can behave in different ways and do not follow the same laws of physics that larger objects do. For more information about quantum and particle physics see ‘The best things come in small packages’. The idea of nanotechnology first came from the physicist Richard Feynman (born in 1959) who imagined the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica could be written on the head of a pin. Carbon nanotubes – tiny tubes of carbon atoms, which are very strong yet very light – started to be created in the 1950s. It was improvements in microscopy in the 1980s that allowed researchers to see single atoms and then manipulate them on a surface. In 1985 chemists discovered how to create a football shaped molecule from 60 carbon atoms called buckminsterfullerene (also called fullerene, C60 or buckyballs – see ‘Create a buckyball’). (http://invigorate.royalsociety.org/ks5/what-could-nano-do-for-you/why-is-nanotechnology-important.aspx)

The Institute of Physics has this to say (http://www.iop.org/careers/future-with-physics/nanotechnology/page_58446.html).

This relatively new science has become one of the most exciting and important avenues of employment and research open to physicists. Those looking to work in this area should ideally have a practical approach to problem solving (often using mathematical techniques), be able to reason clearly and communicate complex ideas, and be able to work in a company structure and under budgetary constraints. Companies that may be interested in physics graduates include: International Rectifier, a leading semiconductor manufacturer; Oxonica, a leading company in the development and commercialisation of nanotechnology and is based in Oxford in the UK, Mountain View in California and in Singapore; Hitachi High Technologies, based in Maidenhead, UK, and makes scanning electron microscopes for use in semiconductor applications; and Nanoco, makers of quantum dots and semiconductors and is based at Manchester University”.

The Research School of Physics and Engineering at the Australian National University’s College of Science, conducts “extensive research into the design, growth and fabrication of semiconductor and optical devices on the nanometer scale using techniques ranging from MOCVD growth to ion beam processing. Such devices by virtue of their scale, exploit quantum effects to enhance their performance. A large part of this research program focuses on quantum well lasers and detectors of importance to the telecommunications industry. We also research the nanoscale modification of bulk materials such as nanocrystals within semiconductors induced by ion irradiation. Materials modified in this way can have unusual and technologically useful properties such as light emission at wavelengths incompatible with the bulk material band structure” (https://physics.anu.edu.au/areas/nanotech.php). The University of Sydney specifically focuses on research into quantum physics and nano technology (https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2017/07/25/quantum-physics-and-nanoscience.html).

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of nano will be aware of the impact of physics on medical sciences and applications. The Journal of Medical Physics and Applied Sciences has a detailed article on this topic “Impact of Physics on Medical Sciences and Applications: Lasers and Nanotechnology” (http://medicalphysics.imedpub.com/impact-of-physics-on-medical-sciences-andapplications-lasers-and-nanotechnology.php?aid=8883). The University of Birmigham has a 1994-established Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory which is engaged in a variety of research and builds links with Industry (http://www.nprl.bham.ac.uk/). At the EU-level, there is the Nanora, (http://www.nanora.eu/), which is an EU-wide association focusing on nano technology.

The University of Southampton offers a “four-year MPhys Physics with Nanotechnology degree will give you a more advanced understanding of nanotechnology and includes key study in quantum devices, nanoscience, light and matter, molecular materials, processing of devices and the molecular basis of life” https://www.phys.soton.ac.uk/programmes/f390-mphys-physics-nanotechnology.

Environmental Physics

As the University of Auckland defines “Environmental physics is a key area of research. It addresses vital questions about the world’s climate, sustainable energy, and geo‐hazards” (https://www.physics.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/our-research/environmental-physics.html). The Environmental Physics Group at The Institute of Physics defines the subject as “is the application of the principles of physics to problems in the natural environment”, with members drawn from areas as diverse as geomagnetism and agriculture (http://www.iop.org/activity/groups/subject/env/).

A relatively new area again, there is a growing interest in the link between physics and the environment. At ANU, the research is in the areas of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, Atmospheric Physics, with many related topics (https://physics.anu.edu.au/areas/environment.php). Uppsala University has this to say on the subject: “Some of the grand challenges facing humankind are connected to energy and environment. We aim to develop a fundamental understanding of key processes on the atomic level connected to energy conversion and storage, as well as their environmental consequences” (http://www.physics.uu.se/research/molcond/ongoingresearch/energy-and-environment/). Some of its areas of research are Heterogeneous catalysis towards energy storage: Atomic level understanding of chemical bond formation, Photon-to-electron energy conversion in next generation solar cells: Energy alignment and charge transfer dynamics, Li-ion batteries and beyond: Interface characterization for increased understanding and advancement and Atmospheric physics.

For the latest inventions and technology news, you may read (http://physicsinventions.com/), while another excellent resource on invention is (https://www.livescience.com/topics/invention).

  

  

Research areas in Physics

The 10 Hottest Fields of Science Research

Scientific research is a large and sprawling endeavor, with thousands of laboratories around the world studying their own ultra-specialized piece of a much more significant whole. It’s the logical intersection of reductionist scientific heritage and centuries of technological advances: in order to advance our understanding of the world around us, we must pursue increasingly specific sub-disciplines, from retina neural computation to space plasma physics.

Which is why Thomson Reuters’ scene-scoping study on “100 Key Scientific Research Fronts” is a welcome report for science enthusiasts eager to stay updated on cutting-edge research but lacking the time to read every issue of Science or Nature cover-to-cover.

The report ranks research areas with a special sauce formula that first divides the entirety of scientific research into 8,000 categories that form the “Thomson Reuters Essential Science Indicators” database. Within each subdivision, a set of core papers is designated by frequent and clustered citations, identifying foundational scientific literature that earned a lot of shout outs in reports of subsequent discoveries. To find today’s hottest research fields, only core papers published between 2007-2012 were considered; the number of citations of those papers and their average publication date were compiled. As the report notes, “a research front with many core papers of recent vintage often indicates a fast-moving or hot specialty.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean these fields are the most important or the most beneficial to society – it just means scientists (and, by extension, groups funding the research) are getting pretty excited about what they’re learning. Here, we take a quick look at the hottest research front in each of ten thematic categories – the sharpest of the cutting edge.

  • Impact of Climate Change on Food Crops
  • Tectonic Evolution of the Southern Central Asian Orogenic Belt
  • Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation
  • DNA Methylation Analysis and Missing Heritability
  • Ocean Acidification and Marine Ecosystems
  • Enhanced Visible Light Photocatalytic Hydrogen Production
  • Alkali Doped Iron Selenide Superconductors
  • Galileon Cosmology
  • High Energy Rechargeable Lithium Air Batteries
  • Urban Policy Mobilities and Global Governance Issues

(https://www.wired.com/2013/08/the-10-hottest-fields-of-science-research/)

What are the hot research areas that might spark the next big bang?

May 25, 2017

David Pendlebury, a citation expert, has looked at citations and arrived at areas that are considered exciting areas of research: Biology and Medicine, Energy and Light, Behind the headlines, Environment and ecology, Next generation electronics

(https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/what-are-the-hot-research-areas-that-might-spark-the-next-big-bang)

The School of Science, University of Tokyo is encouraging the study of physics to understand the origins of the universe. Explaining why we need to study physics, Professor Yasushi Suto, says “The Japanese word for physics literally means a science dedicated to the study of laws that govern things”, and goes on to describe the subject in a way that will naturally appeal to any student (https://www.s.u-tokyo.ac.jp/en/story/newsletter/attraction/06.html).

Nuclear Physics continues to be an area that attracts talent. In August, 2017, the UK invested £16million in frontier nuclear physics research to help find answers to such questions:

  • What is the nature of dark matter?
  • How do the laws of physics work when driven to extremes?
  • How did the Universe begin and how is it evolving?
  • What are the properties of quark-gluon plasma – the primordial state of nuclear matter?
  • Where do the heavy elements originate from?

(http://www.stfc.ac.uk/news/uk-invests-16million-in-frontier-nuclear-physics-research/)

Cosmology

The Stephen Hawking Centre for Theoretical Cosmology defines its current and future work based on the belief that “Fundamental theory suggests that when we survey our Universe we discern only a shadow of a much vaster topologically complex higher-dimensional world. Almost all theorists are agreed that Einstein’s four-dimensional spacetime is only part of an as yet only dimly envisaged, more fundamental structure, in which space, time and matter exist on the same footing”. Cosmology is changing in ways that practitioners themselves are struggling to fathom because whatever picture is currently getting formed isn’t sharp enough. (http://www.ctc.cam.ac.uk/research/).     Cornell University looks at Extreme Physics and Astrophysics of Compact Objects, within which it examines these themes: Gravitational Waves, Dense Matter, and Burst Sources in the Universe (http://astro.cornell.edu/extreme-physics-and-astrophysics-of-compact-objects.html).  

Condensed matter physics

The department of Physics and Astronomy says that “Today, condensed matter physics is one of the most active and exciting research area in both basic sciences and technological applications. At the fundamental level, condensed matter physics is intellectually stimulating due to the continuing discoveries of many new phenomena and the development of new concepts and tools that are necessary to understand them. It is the field in which advances in theory can most directly be confronted with experiments. It has repeatedly served as a source or testing ground for new ideas (e.g., Josephson effect, integer and fractional quantum Hall effects, Aharanov-Bohm effect, mechanism of high-Tc superconductors, dissipative quantum physics, critical phenomena, mesoscopic physics, nonlinear dynamics, etc.).  As a result, over the past 50 years, 22 Nobel Prizes in Physics were awarded to condensed matter physics and related areas, and 5 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry were awarded for subjects in condensed matter physics. In addition to its scientific value, condensed matter physics is intimately connected with industry. Condensed matter physics is one of the foundations of most modern technologies, like energy, information, defense, and manufacturing” (https://physics.ku.edu/research/condensed-matter-physics).

High Energy, Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics

The International Centre for Theoretical Physics “is studying some of the most exciting areas in physics today, from string theory to physics at large energy colliders, from neutrino phenomenology to alternative cosmologies”

(https://www.ictp.it/research/hecap.aspx).

The University of Calgary makes a case for the study of physics and astronomy: “Some of the most exciting areas in physics are at the extremes that we don’t usually experience, such as the high temperatures at the center of planets and stars or ultracold temperatures at which all matter becomes quantum mechanical waves. Physics and astronomy is always probing the world where we haven’t gone before, so it tends to push technology. For example, basic research in physics led to the development of lasers, cell phones, and the internet, among many other things. You may be surprised to know that a degree in physics or astrophysics will make you highly sought-after in the workplace. To find out what kinds of jobs are out there, check out our Career Opportunities page” (https://phas.ucalgary.ca/undergraduate/prospective_students/why_physics_or_astronomy).

Imperial College in the UK announces that, “With more than £24 Million in research income, the Physics Department at Imperial is one of the world’s largest and most successful”. It identifies these four areas as its core research themes: Fundamental Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, Photon Science, Space Plasma and Climate (http://www.imperial.ac.uk/physics/research/).

There are some unusual areas of research (some blending more than one discipline). For example, The Institute for the Science of Origins (ISO) at Case Western Reserve University “is a collaborative team of faculty members and researchers from diverse scientific disciplines seeking to understand how complex systems emerge and evolve, from the universe to the mind, from microbes to humanity” (http://physics.case.edu/research/). According to the University, Cosmology and Astrophysics are among the most exciting areas of research.

Materials and Condensed matter physics offer a range of themes such as found in the University of Glasgow: Linear and nonlinear spinwaves in confined geometries, Interface physics of polarisable materials, Frustration and ordering in complex materials, Domain wall dynamics and conduction spin transport, Scattering theory for magnetic structures, Atomic structure simulation in amorphous materials (https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/physics/research/groups/mcmp/researchareas/theory/). At another place, The University of British Columbia, the Condensed Matter Theory Group is engaged in research in these areas: high-temperature superconductivity, quantum dots, polaron physics, spintronics, topological insulators, transition metal oxides, large scale quantum phenomena, quantum magnetism, superfluidity and cold atomic gases, geometrical phases of strongly correlated particles, quantum information, nonequilibrium statistical physics of disordered solids, and protein folding (http://www.phas.ubc.ca/theoretical-physics).

An excellent place to study what is happening in the world of physics is https://physics.aps.org/.

 

Physics

A great subject, physics doesn’t seem to figure in the list of preferred subjects amongst the students that we come across. This is a pity as the subject has transformed our understanding of the world we live and the universe we inhabit. Most students don’t seem to realise that Quantum Physics per se contributes directly and indirectly to the GDP of any economy. Students, especially those that think they want something ‘practical’ should dig deeper into this to grasp what they can do with Physics. Whether you choose theoretical or experimental physics or applied physics or any other sub-streams (some of which have gone on to become major disciplines in themselves), you will be exposed to some of the most exciting phenomena. In fact, the sheer diversity of the subject is astonishing and should appeal to a wide variety of student interests.In what follows, we offer a peek, just a peek, through many links, into this exciting world and what you could do within it. Naturally, this is just a start for you to explore further on your own.

One magazine / website you can read is Physics today (http://physicstoday.scitation.org/journal/pto). Another is Science daily (https://www.sciencedaily.com/news/matter_energy/physics/) and Physics world (http://physicsworld.com/).

A good place to read blogs is https://blog.feedspot.com/physics_blogs/. Those who embrace a feminist outlook might like to read https://www.quantamagazine.org/19-women-leaders-in-math-and-physics-20170308/.

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