Archive by category | Physics

The deck stacked against women in science


The player on my left has the biochemist Maud Menten’s career well on track. Suddenly another player slaps a “stupid patriarchy” card on Menten’s head, and she has to earn her doctorate all over again. So goes a novel card game devoted to women in science and engineering, designed to highlight these unsung researchers and the barriers and boons that women in these fields experience.  Read more

Maths and murals: Leiden’s wall formulae

One of Einstein's field equations - part of the Leiden wall formulae project.

Albert Einstein’s field equations from his theory of general relativity combine wonderful scientific intuition with the honed concision of poetry. Yet relatively few of the culturally inclined marvel at the shape of a mathematical equation in the way they might at a line from Shakespeare. Now, however, the Dutch university town of Leiden is giving its citizens a chance to try, through iconic formulae by physicists and astronomers painted on walls throughout the city.  Read more

The impossibility of being known

A model relationship: Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham

Like Copenhagen Michael Frayn’s 1990s blockbuster, Heisenberg: the Uncertainty Principle is a play that takes as its muse a notion at the heart of quantum physics: that it is impossible to know both the exact position and momentum of a particle at once.  Where Frayn imagined physicists’ rarefied debates, playwright Simon Stephens uses the idea to probe the messy world of relationships.  Read more

When physics and family collide

Olivia Williams (seated) and Olivia Colman as Alice and Jenny.

Lucy Kirkwood’s new play Mosquitoes is such a sparkling showcase for physics that it might as well have been commissioned by CERN, Europe’s particle physics laboratory. But this tragicomedy is most successful in its portrayal of heartbreak, trust and the tug of family ties.  Read more

Revisiting Feynman on physical law

Revisiting Feynman on physical law

Physics, along with jurisprudence, is principally known for its laws. And physical laws are amazing: they can predict almost anything, from the effects of gravity to why the Sun shines. Explaining them is surprisingly hard, however. Anybody first encountering them in the classroom, typically as mathematical formulae applied to abstract problems, can attest to that. The result is countless hours spent by teachers, educators and popularisers of science devising ways to make physics (and its laws) ‘more interesting’.  Read more

The art of engineering: 9 Evenings revisited

The art of engineering: 9 Evenings revisited

I’m gazing at a stage draped in white when a giant zipper suddenly appears, projected onto one wall. As it works its way noisily around, more projections — live-streamed or pre-recorded moving images of buildings, blurred pedestrians, discarded clothing and simmering water — judder on crumpled backdrops. An apparently random urban soundtrack lulls and roars in the background. In the foreground, performers skip rope and cut hair; one solemnly rips up, boils and eats her shirt. It’s quite an evening.  Read more

Industrial optimist: Moholy-Nagy revisited

László Moholy-Nagy Dual Form with Chromium Rods, 1946 (Plexiglas and chrome-plated brass)

I’m standing in the spiraling rotunda of New York’s Guggenheim Museum, and over me dangles a chaotic mess held together by translucent Plexiglas. In the shadow the sculpture casts on the wall, the shapes converge in a pleasing negative blending intention and happenstance – impossible to predict, yet clearly part of a plan. On evidence, this is an artist thinking experimentally, and in multiple dimensions.  Read more

A scintillating shortlist for the Royal Society prize

A scintillating shortlist for the Royal Society prize

As the literati strive to predict the future of the book, one thing is clear in the here and now: the best of popular science writing is still all about clarity, rigour and brio. This year’s six-book shortlist for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books bristles with that mix.  Read more