Attending the APS March Meeting 2021

Guest post by Andrea Richaud, recipient of the Communications Physics 2020 Early Career Researcher grant which enabled him to attend a conference or scientific school of his choice.

In December 2020, I had the pleasure to receive the 2020 Training Grant for Early Career Researchers from the journal Communications Physics. After defending my doctoral thesis in February 2020, I joined SISSA (International School for Advanced Studies, Trieste, Italy), where I am now post-doctoral researcher in the Condensed Matter section.  The focus of my research is on SU(N) fermionic systems, their possible topological phases, and their possible use as quantum simulators of multiband solid-state models. This is an active research field, as ultracold-atom-based platforms illuminate the intimate physics of strongly-correlated systems, by getting rid of a number of spurious effects (like crystal defects) which are inevitably present in standard solid-state systems.

As an awardee of the ECR training grant, I decided to attend the APS March Meeting 2021, a very important conference which involved more than 11,000 different researchers from all over the world. Despite its virtual form (due to the persistent pandemic situation), attending this conference was a very positive and stimulating experience, as I had the possibility to watch tens of very interesting seminars encompassing several aspects of my current research activity. In particular, I found it useful to attend seminars focusing on experimental aspects of the topics which I investigate at the theoretical level. Even as a theoretician, I think that being up to date with experimental advances is really crucial, as one can get valuable ideas and correctly interpret the open problems.

Andrea attending the conference

In spite of the virtual form of the conference, I managed to have a good interaction with many speakers, asking them questions and sharing ideas about common research topics. This was possible thanks to the presence of “Zoom networking rooms”, which were made available at the end of each session. Of course, they could not fully replace a good traditional coffee break, but l think that they worked well enough for this pandemic situation.  Among the advantages of attending such a large meeting virtually, the online platform made switching between rooms pretty easy (compared to running down corridors in a conference centre) and every seminar was recorded and made available to the attendees to re-watch. I am very grateful to the journal Nature Communications Physics for awarding me the prize which allowed me to take part to the APS March Meeting 2021. I definitely think that this experience has been very beneficial for my career as a young researcher.

Diversity leads to impact: what we learned from running an inclusive and accessible physics webinar series

Contributed by the following authors (in alphabetical order): Dr Claudia Antolini, Dr Clara Barker, Dr Kathryn Boast, Dr Izzy Jayasinghe, Dr Caroline Müllenbroich, Dr Clara Nellist

Why we launched a webinar series

2020 has seen an explosion of physics webinars. Many of these came about out of necessity to adapt established seminar series and conferences to suit the restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic. Others were the realisation of an opportunity to bring together researchers and audiences that would typically be restricted by geographic separation or time commitments.

In this time, it soon became apparent to a number of us in the advocacy group TIGER in STEMM that women, people of colour, people who are LGBTQ+ and people who have disabilities were under-represented in online physics panels and webinars, and that speakers from marginalized demographics and identities were not always afforded the visibility and courtesy that is usually expected in the field. Moreover, considerations for adequate accessibility to the broadcast were often overlooked.

Banner for the TIGER in STEMM 2020 summer webinar series

Banner for the TIGER in STEMM 2020 summer webinar series

The six of us, women with a connection to the UK physics landscape from different areas of physics, diverse backgrounds, and identities, were determined to successfully demonstrate a different approach to online physics webinars. Recognising the need to place the same importance on diversity, inclusion and accessibility as on the physics that would be showcased, we set out to create a series of talks that break the mould and establish a precedent of providing an equitable platform for communicating science to academic peers and the general public alike. Within four weeks of initially coming together, we launched the inaugural TIGER in STEMM summer webinar series in physics on the 6th of August 2020. We wanted to celebrate intersectional and marginalised physicists (see Figure 1) and offer them centre stage to talk about their research. Our vision was to demonstrate that incorporating diversity, inclusion and accessibility compromised neither the impact nor the quality of the scientific discussion. More than that, we strived to prove that by placing these values and principles at the core of our enterprise, scientific discussion and dissemination would be enhanced and the impact of this style of communicating science would be amplified.

What we (and you) can learn

Diversity leads to impact. From an event which ran as a brief and self-contained series of webinars, the learnings were rich. With a total audience nearing 1000 people over the duration of the 5 event series, it was clear that prioritising diversity on an equal footing as achievements of the speakers enhanced the engagement with the event. There were no compromises made on the depth of the science presented on this platform, which is evidenced by the recordings of the lectures which are still publicly available for viewing.

A support network is key. A series such as this was only possible with the unwavering support of TIGER in STEMM, particularly through endorsement of the conviction that diversity can only enrich science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) fields. At a time when online physics conferences and workshops heavily feature speaker line-ups and panels dominated by white men, stepping up to demonstrate impact through a contrasting set of objectives required strength and every bit of support that the six of us could get. Also, the practical support of the group, for example taking advantage of the substantial follower count of the TIGER’s Twitter account and amplification of that advertisement by group members, was fundamental to the success of the physics webinar series.

Accessibility is more difficult but not impossible without a budget.The plan to organise a webinar series came together over a noticeably short period of time and we had no budget. This came with its own set of limitations. TIGER in STEMM do not hold funds so we had to rely on freely available resources. Firstly, we struggled to find free software support for captioning the presentations and Q&A sessions during the webinars. We found that the live subtitles of Microsoft PowerPoint worked best during the live broadcast, however this was subject to the version of software each presenter was using. Irregular captioning was in fact the single most frequent criticism that we received on our approach. Incorporating either live captioning via a scientific captioning service or sign language interpretation would have added a considerable amount of value and accessibility.

Timing and frequency require careful consideration. The decision to schedule the series for consecutive weeks in August and early September when most university academics, school teachers and students are on vacation may have amplified the webinar fatigue among our audience. While it could be due to the unique amount of stress that 2020 has generated, we acknowledge that this was particularly evident from the limited survey feedback that we received after the conclusion of the series. So, timing should be considered as a factor for accessibility and engagement.

Diversity attracts diversity. Webinars and platforms that promote and safeguard diversity and equity are a powerful medium to attract a diverse audience. As clearly shown from our feedback survey, this positive feedback effect yielded an even greater representation of minoritised people in our audience than is seen in the general UK population.

Read more

International Women’s Day

Women’s Day was originally conceived at the turn of the 20th century and used in many countries as a focal point for the women’s suffrage movement, and other equal rights for women. 8th of March became a national holiday in the Soviet Union in 1917 after women gained suffrage there. It was recognised by the United Nations in 1977 and continues to be celebrated around the world in different ways. Today we commemorate the lives of three inspiring women physicists.

Florence Martin (1867-1957)1,2

Florence Martin enrolled at the University of Sydney in 1891 and successfully completed a year of physics classes. During her second year, she began working as an unpaid research assistant to Richard Threlfall who was a family friend. In 1893 she wrote her first paper with Threlfall, verifying Maxwell’s equations in magnetic circuits (pictured). 

Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 

After this, Threlfall introduced Martin to his old friend, J J Thomson at the University of Cambridge and Martin sailed to England to spend three years working with Thomson at the Cavendish Laboratory. Here she took undergraduate practical classes and pursued her own research on the gas expansion caused by electric discharge. When Martin returned to Sydney she worked with Threlfall for another two years, until he left for England. This signalled the end of Martin’s career in physics. 

In 1905, Martin met a wealthy American couple and spent the next few years travelling the world with them. When the couple died in 1918, she inherited their estate in Denver, Colorado. She settled there, and spent the rest of her life as a patron of the arts.

Wang Ming-Chen (1906-2010)3,4,5

Baidu Bai Jiahao

Wang Ming-Chen studied physics at Ginling College, Nanjing and at Yanjing University in Beijing. After receiving her Master’s degree from Yanjing University in 1932, she applied for a scholarship to study abroad. Despite gaining top marks in her class, she did not qualify and had to return to teach in Ginling College. She remained there until the Japanese invasion of 1937, when she fled to Wuhan. In 1938, Wang was able to move to the USA for doctoral work and earned her PhD in statistical mechanics from the University of Michigan in 1942. For the remainder of the second World War, Wang worked at the MIT Radiation Laboratory (where wartime radar research was taking place). During this time, she published “On the theory of Brownian motion II” with G.E. Uhlenbeck.

After the war, Wang returned to China and became a professor at Yunnan University in 1946. However, she only stayed for a few years and returned to the USA in 1949 to work at the University of Notre Dame. However, as political tensions between the US and China increased during the period of McCarthyism in the US, Wang was regularly harassed by the FBI. She applied to return home in 1953, but it took two years for this to be approved and she only came back to China in 1955. 

Wang became a professor of physics at Tsinghua University in Beijing. At this time there was a strong focus on teaching in China, and Wang stopped her research in order to teach courses on statistics and thermodynamics. During the Cultural Revolution of 1966, she was arrested and imprisoned for seven years, on account of her husband being a political target. Later, she told a friend that she focussed on exercising every day in prison to “remind myself that I can’t die, I must live, and I must restore my innocence.” Released in 1973, she continued working at Tsinghua University until her retirement in 1976. 

Carolyn Parker (1917-1966)6,7

Who’s Who in Colored America 1950

Carolyn Parker graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Fisk University, Tennessee, and went on to receive a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1941. This made her the first African-American woman to receive a postgraduate degree in physics. After her graduation she taught physics and mathematics in various public schools for a couple of years. 

In 1943, Parker started working in the Manhattan project, which was developing atomic weapons during the second World War. She was based in Ohio, at the Dayton project, conducting research on using polonium as an initiator for atomic explosions. Due to the secretive nature of the research, not much is known about her work in this period. After the war ended, Parker left the Dayton project and continued further study at the University of Ohio. 

Parker earned a second Masters in physics from MIT in 1951 . She continued research, partially fulfilling the requirements for a doctorate, however, she did not go on to defend her dissertation. Parker died at the age of 48, from leukemia, believed to be caused by her exposure to polonium during her time at the Dayton project.



  1. Florence Martin, Australian National Dictionary of Biography Accessed 08.03.21.
  2. Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, Biodiversity Heritage Library, Accessed 08.03.21.
  3. Ming-Chen Wang, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan Accessed 08.03.21
  4. Ming Chen Wang, Kai Zhang personal website, Accessed 08.03.21
  5. Wang Ming-Chen, Wikipedia Accessed 08.03.21
  6. A. Powers, The First African American Woman To Obtain A Graduate Degree In Physics Was Involved In A Top Secret US Mission, Forbes 2020 Accessed 08.03.21
  7. Carolyn Parker, Wikipedia Accessed 08.03.21

Light and matter in sync

Contributed by Saar Nehemia and Ido Kaminer – Technion, Israel Institute of Technology.

In 1934, Pavel Cherenkov discovered that when charged particles surpass the speed of light in matter, they generate an electromagnetic shockwave. A well-known analogue for this phenomenon is a sonic boom – shockwaves of sound generated when jet planes surpass the speed of sound in air. This new understanding of light–matter interactions led Cherenkov to share the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physics with Ilya Frank and Igor Tamm for his experiment and their theory. The Vavilov–Cherenkov effect has been studied extensively since then and besides being of fundamental science importance, it has led to applications in particle identification, medical imaging, quantum cascade lasers, optical frequency combs, laser-driven particle acceleration, and other areas of nonlinear optics and nanophotonics

In 2020, our paper in Nature Physics demonstrated an experimental signature of a quantum Cherenkov effect. In this post, we take you behind the scenes of our experiment.

The quantum Cherenkov effect

The Cherenkov interaction and analogous effects were mainly studied in the context of classical physics; however, some scientists were interested in their quantum description. The first to study the quantum nature of the Cherenkov effect were Ginzburg and Sokolov in 1940. The conclusion from their work was that quantum corrections to the Cherenkov effect are negligible and irrelevant. In a later paper from 1996, Ginzburg even states that “In 1940, L D Landau told about my work stated that it was of no interest. It follows from the above, that he was fully justified in drawing this conclusion, and his comment hit the mark as was usual with his criticism”. For many years, this statement and related beliefs created a conception that kept scientists away from studying the quantum Cherenkov effect.

A series of theoretical papers from the past 5 years revisited the quantum Cherenkov effect and ignited a new interest in its consequences, starting with our theoretical paper from 2016. These papers predicted interesting consequences for a quantum treatment of Cherenkov-type effects and envisioned that modern experimental capabilities and advances in electron microscopy and in quantum optics could lead to the demonstration of quantum Cherenkov-type phenomena.

Over the last couple of years, other scientists began to predict similar theoretical features in related effects, such as the Smith-Purcell effect (see work by Talebi, Gover, Arie, Polman, and Garcia de Abajo). All these effects can be considered as Cherenkov-type because they all share the same underlying principle: an enhanced interaction between a charged particle and light that occurs when the velocity of the particle matched the phase velocity of light – also termed phase-matched particle–light interaction. These theoretical findings increased the general interest in building an experiment to test these theoretical predictions.

Illustration of the electron-laser interaction, inspired by Pink Floyd’s cover art of Dark Side of the Moon. Each electron is coherently split into a wide energy spectrum (rainbow). The laser light (red) has to be coupled at a precise angle to achieve the strong interaction, in which the electron simultaneously absorbs and emits hundreds of photons from the laser.

Morgan H. Lynch and Saar Nehemia, Technion AdQuanta lab.

There exist three types of quantum effects that can occur in phase-matched particle–light interactions.

  1. Recoil corrections due to the quantization of the electromagnetic field. The emission occurs in quantized packets, creating a deviation from classical theories of radiation emission. This effect was first analyzed in 1940 by Ginzburg and Sokolov, in the context of the Cherenkov effect.
  2. Intrinsic changes to both the charge dynamics and the emission properties due to higher-order processes in QED. These effects include photon re-absorption that causes an electron mass correction (analogous to Lamb shift in renormalization theory), all being effects that cannot be explained classically.
  3. Phenomena due to the quantum wave nature of the charged particle, with features that cannot be explained by a classical point-charge description, such as the emergence of discrete energy peaks in the electron energy distribution. This is what we measured in 2020.

Our paper

In our recent work, we measured the third type of the quantum effects described above. To demonstrate the Cherenkov-type interaction, we launched a laser pulse through an optical medium (see prism, below) to synchronize its velocity with a highly-collimated electron beam passing nearby. Using a very accurate electron energy spectrometer (as used in the EELS technique), we measured the electron energy distribution and revealed the discrete energy peaks discussed above. The longitudinal profile of the electron wavefunction altered the interaction. Analogous quantum corrections also arise from transverse features in the electron wavefunction, as its orbital angular momentum (OAM) or its transverse spatial profile.

An optical microscope image of the prism used in the experiment. This 0.5 mm prism was attached to a 3 mm surface (darker background) with a square hole (center of image). The prism alignment was extremely precise to ensure that the electrons interact resonantly with the light in the prism. These electrons then pass through the square hole at the center of the surface.

The Technion AdQuanta lab.

Our experiment demonstrated a Cherenkov-type interaction between light waves and an electron wavefunction: the Cherenkov conditions are satisfied between an electron pulse and an incoming laser pulse that stimulates the interaction. This stimulated-Cherenkov effect is also known as the inverse-Cherenkov effect. The excitation laser pulse interacts with the electron at the Cherenkov angle (the same angle at which the radiation is emitted in the Cherenkov effect), resulting in a phase-matching between the electron and the laser light that leads to their strong interaction – causing both energy gain and energy loss – occurring simultaneously by each individual electron. In our experiment, this interaction is sustained over hundreds of wavelengths, causing the electron to become a coherent superposition of hundreds of energy levels.

Our setup is based on the ultrafast transmission electron microscope (UTEM), which utilizes femtosecond lasers for pump probe experiments. The microscope offers several degrees of freedom to measure the interactions between light and free electrons: controlling the delay between the light (“pump”) and the electron (“probe”), in addition to the light wavelength and polarization. The microscope allows us to control the electron wavefunction in space and time through its interaction with the laser.

Illustration of the UTEM set-up, showing the grazing-angle interaction with a prism.

Dahan et al. Nat. Phys. 16 1123–1131(2020)

Our Cherenkov experiment required a unique configuration that has never been achieved in a UTEM system, or in any transmission electron microscope: we needed to align the electron beam to graze the surface of our prism over 500 microns, while remaining at a distance of just 100 nanometers from the surface. To understand how complex this achievement is, consider that even samples that are 10,000 times thinner (nanometer scale, about the size of the corona virus or a couple of DNA strands) are considered quite thick in transmission electron microscopy.

To explain our results, we used the theory that was originally developed for a technique called photon-induced nearfield electron microscopy (PINEM), and extended it to describe our grazing-angle interaction. While all previous PINEM experiments dealt with localized interactions (in which the electron-light interaction spans over a single light wavelength or much below), our grazing angle experiment enabled the electron-light interaction to extend over hundreds of field cycles and hundreds of wavelengths. By satisfying energy–momentum matching over a long interaction distance and a prolonged interaction duration, the interactions become stronger by orders of magnitude compared to localized interactions – this opens the way to creating strong and ultrastrong coupling phenomena with free electrons.

Going back to the types of quantum effects that can arise in electron-light interactions, the PINEM interactions (see work by Carbone, Ropers and others) can be seen as an occurrence of the quantum effect of the third type – since it depends on the electron wavefunction. However, PINEM interactions before our work did not reach the Cherenkov-type interaction because they relied on localized fields (interestingly, even the acronym PINEM includes the word “nearfield”, although other types of fields can also create the effect).

The Cherenkov effect is only one example of phased-matched particle–light interactions. The energy–momentum phase-matching condition that is famously found in the Cherenkov effect also occurs in the Smith-Purcell effect, their inverse effects and a wide range of electron–light interactions that satisfy similar phase-matching conditions.

Looking Ahead

Simulation of the electron-laser interaction. The laser light (red-blue wave) interacts with the electron wavefunction (elongated sphere). This setup assures that the electron exchanges energy with the laser in a resonant manner – achieving the precise conditions of the Cherenkov effect.

Dahan et al. Nat. Phys. 16 1123–1131(2020)

In another recent study by our group in 2020, published in Nature, we measured the interaction of free electrons with light captured inside a photonic cavity (also measured at the same time here). Looking ahead, we envision combining the Cherenkov phase-matched interaction with an elongated photonic cavity as a route to achieving efficient electron-photon interactions. The cavity will channel emitted photons that can then be resonantly reabsorbed by the elongated electron, creating a strongly-coupled electron–photon hybrid. This hybrid will enable the exploration of extreme conditions such as single-electron–single-photon interactions, which can serve as a novel mechanism for number-resolved single photons detection.

Reaching this regime of physics would open previously unknown processes like free-electron Lamb shifts, controllable free-electron mass renormalizations, and potentially even cavity-mediated Cooper pairs of free electrons. These exciting prospects rely on the quantum interaction of free electrons with photons that are dressed by their optical environment – which enables the Cherenkov effect and many other future ideas.




A number of pictures

Posted on behalf of Nina Meinzer, senior editor at Nature Physics

The October issue of Nature Physics marks the journal’s 15th anniversary, complete with a cover on which four experimental images are arranged in such a way to form the number ‘15’. Here Nina Meinzer tells the story of how the images that make the cover were created.

Earlier this year, the Nature Physics editors started to think about ways to mark the journal’s 15th anniversary. Little did we know then that, by October, we would not be able to come together and raise a glass to the occasion, and so the celebration had to be confined to the pages of the journal. We knew early on that we wanted to give our past and present editors a chance to reminisce about their time at the journal, and that turned into a collection of memories of their favourite papers.

But how do you turn those assorted papers into a visual concept to make a cool cover? Once we started thinking about it, it struck us that it’s not unusual to see experimental methods, especially imaging methods, demonstrated with the help of numbers or letters as simple test objects. So we asked some of our authors if they had any images of a 15 (or a 1 and a 5) on their hard drives that we might use for the cover. We were deeply moved by the response: although nobody had the sort of thing we were looking for on file, they offered to take some data especially for us — in August, in the middle of a pandemic.

Our art editor then took four of these images and arranged them into a collage to create one big number 15. Bringing together methods from different areas of physics reflects the aim of Nature Physics itself to be a platform for the entire physics community.

What are the methods used to create the images that eventually made up the anniversary cover?

Credit: Hugo Defienne, Daniele Faccio and Alex Wing

Quantum holography (Hugo Defienne & Daniele Faccio, University of Glasgow)   

“Holography is a widely used imaging technique that can be applied to the full electromagnetic spectrum, from X-rays to radio waves and relies on the coherence properties of these waves to extract information from interference patterns.

We have recently extended holography to the case of intrinsically incoherent waves, so that no phase information can be retrieved from a classical interference measurement. Instead, the phase information is now encoded and decoded using entanglement. Entangled photon pairs are used to probe complex objects of which amplitude and phase components are retrieved by imaging the spatial structure of entanglement. As an example, the image on the cover shows the quantum holographic image of the number 15 imprinted onto a spatial light modulator. See also the preprint for more details”

Self-assembly (Serim Ilday, Bilkent University – UNAM) 

Credit: Serim Ilday and Alex Wing

Credit: Serim Ilday and Alex Wing

 “These are microscopy images. Each dot forming the number ‘15’ is a laser beam. Laser pulses that get absorbed by the liquid heat it. The rest, untouched by the laser pulses, remains cold. The liquid starts flowing from the hot to the cold regions, just like in a steam engine. The flows carry polystyrene spheres (red image) and E. coli bacterial cells (green image) towards the beam spots. When they exceed a threshold number, particles and cells slow down the flow the same as the water slows down when you drain it over a sieve. Then, their numbers grow further and write ‘15’.

The recipe? Couple an ultrafast laser to a microscope through a series of optical elements, including a spatial light modulator, which divides a single beam into multiple beams. Cinema projectors have at least one of these for precisely the same reason. Sandwich a thin liquid layer containing the material of interest between two glass slides. Put it under the microscope and shine the laser. Record using a camera. Enjoy!”

Quantum gas microscope (Immanuel Bloch, Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics)

Credit: Immanuel Bloch and Alex Wing

“The ‘birthday candles’ forming the ’15’ are individual atoms fluorescing in ultra-high vacuum. Lithium-6 atoms are cooled down to around a billionth of a degree above absolute zero and trapped using laser beams. By interfering three pairs of beams, an optical lattice is created which forces the atoms onto a micrometre-spaced regular grid.

An additional custom-shaped laser-pattern coaxes them into the shape of the ’15’. Visible light is then scattered off the atoms and collected with a microscope objective and a single-photon sensitive camera. During illumination, the atoms need to be hindered in heating up via continuous laser cooling. The resulting black-and-white photo is finally coloured. When the atoms are not sending special birthday greetings, they simulate the quantum mechanical behaviour of complex many-body systems.”



Five inspiring women

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), was an English mathematician and is regarded as the first person to recognise the potential of computing power and programming. Since 2009, the second Tuesday of October has been commemorated as Ada Lovelace day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Here we celebrate the stories of five pioneering physicists.

 Caroline (Lili) Bleeker1,2 (1897-1985) 

University Museum Utrecht / Public domain

Caroline Bleeker was a Dutch physicist and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in 1928 from the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands. Her thesis was on spectral measurements of alkali metals. After her PhD, she started a consultancy to advise companies on scientific instruments. This project then evolved into opening her own factory to produce equipment, particularly focussing on optical components.

During the German occupation of the Netherlands in the second world war, Bleeker hid Jewish people in her factory. In 1944, the factory was raided by German troops, but Bleeker, who spoke fluent German, was able to distract the soldiers while those who were hiding escaped through the garden. After this, the factory was closed down by the Germans and Bleeker herself had to go into hiding for the remainder of the war.

After the war, the factory reopened and Bleeker worked with her long-term friend Fritz Zernike to produce the world’s first complete phase contrast microscopes. They filed the patent on this together, and in 1953, Zernike won the Nobel prize for this invention.

Elizaveta Karamihailova3  (1897-1968)

Physmuseum / Public domain

Elizaveta Karamihailova was a nuclear physicist and the first woman to become a professor in Bulgaria. She earned her PhD in 1922 from the University of Vienna in Austria. After this, she worked at the Institute of Radium Studies in Vienna with Marietta Blau. Together, they observed a previously unknown radiation from polonium in 1931. Later, this was confirmed by James Chadwick as neutron radiation, which led to him winning the Nobel prize in 1935.

After further postdoctoral work at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, UK, Karamihailova returned to Bulgaria in 1939, where she set up the first atomic physics course at the University of Sofia. She no longer had the equipment to continue her previous work on ionisation, and so she turned to studying cosmic rays using photographic plates. In 1944, a left-wing uprising took place in Bulgaria and the authorities labelled Karamihailova “unreliable” due to her anti-communist views. She could no longer travel abroad and spent the rest of her career in Bulgaria.

湯浅年子, Toshiko Yuasa4 (1909 –1980) 

朝日新聞社 / Public domain

Toshiko Yuasa earned a degree from Tokyo Bunrika University in 1934 to become the first female physics graduate in Japan. She started teaching there and began her research career in molecular spectroscopy. In 1940, Yuasa moved to France to continue her research, despite the beginning of the second world war. She worked with Frederic Joliot-Curie (son-in-law of Marie Curie) on radioactivity, earning her PhD in 1943.

After the Allied liberation of France in 1944, Yuasa had to leave for Berlin, where she built a double-focussing beta spectrometer. In 1945, Soviet troops ordered Yuasa to return to Japan. She made her way back through Siberia, carrying the spectrometer on her back, arriving in Japan just before it surrendered. However, the US occupying forces in Japan would not allow her to continue her research in nuclear physics, so she could only teach. In 1949, she returned to France as a researcher for the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), where she remained for the rest of her career.

سميرة موسى‎, Sameera Moussa5,6,7 (1917–1952) 

Al Ahram Daily news Paper / Public domain

Sameera Moussa was an Egyptian nuclear physicist who worked on atomic energy and was the first women to be a lecturer at the University of Cairo. In the 1940s, Moussa discovered a way to split up atoms of cheap metals, such as copper, which would make the medical applications of nuclear technology much more affordable. However, against the backdrop of the second world war and the detonation of the first nuclear bombs, Moussa was keen to advocate for the regulation of nuclear technology. In 1952, she organised a conference on “Atomic Energy for Peace” which inspired the US program “Atoms for Peace”.

Moussa received a Fulbright scholarship and travelled to the University of California for further research. She was the first non-US citizen to be given access to the top-secret US atomic facilities, which caused some controversy. In 1952, she died when her car was driven off a cliff. Moussa is believed to have been assassinated as the driver was not found, and it is thought that he jumped out of the car. Raqia Ibrahim, an Egyptian-Israeli actress, was accused of murdering Moussa on behalf of the Israeli Mossad who were concerned at the idea of Egypt acquiring a cheap atomic bomb.

পূর্ণিমা সিনহা, Purnima Sinha8,9 (1927–2015) / CC BY-SA

Purnima Sinha studied physics at the University of Calcutta in the late 1940s. During her time as an undergraduate, she was taught by Satyendra Nath Bose, who encouraged her to join his research group and undertake a PhD in X-ray spectroscopy. Sinha became the first Bengali women to receive a doctorate in physics in 1956. The PhD students worked together to collect scrap army surplus equipment which was readily available after the second world war to build equipment for their research. Sinha studied the structure of clay; later, she joined a biophysics department at Stanford University and found structural similarities between the geometries of clay and of DNA.

In addition, to her scientific pursuits, Sinha was an accomplished musician, painter and translated many science books into Bengali. In 1970, she published an anthropology book on Indian folk music. Sinha was actively involved in Bengali Science Association, which had been set up by Bose. After retirement, she also created an informal school for children of ethnic minorities.



  1. Dr. Caroline Emilie Bleeker, physicist and businesswoman. Accessed 12.10.2020
  2. Lili Bleeker, Wikipedia Accessed 12.10.2020
  3. Elizaveta Karamihailova, Wikipedia Accessed 12.10.2020
  4. Toshiko Yuasa, Wikipedia Accessed 12.10.2020
  5. Sameera Moussa, Wikipedia Accessed 12.10.2020
  6. Abdulaal, M. The Story of Sameera: World-Renowned Egyptian Nuclear Scientist, Egyptian Streets (2018) Accessed 12.10.2020
  7. Al-Youm, A. Raqia Ibrahim: Egyptian Jewish actress recruited by Israel to prevent Egypt owning nuclear bomb. Egypt Independent (2014) Accessed 12.10.2020
  8. Purnima Sinha, Wikipedia  Accessed 12.10.2020
  9. Katti, M. Dr Purnima Sinha: Pioneering Physicist. Live History India (2014) Accessed 12.10.2020

Achieving a Bose–Einstein Condensate from my living room during lockdown

During the COVID-19 lockdown which led to the closure of many labs around the world, Dr. Amruta Gadge, a postdoctoral researcher in the Quantum Systems and Devices group at the University of Sussex*, made headlines for remotely setting up a Bose–Einstein condensate from her living room. Here, she tells us her story.

When the UK government announced the national lockdown on 23rd March due to the pandemic, my lab at the University of Sussex was forced to temporarily close its doors.  We of course had a strong inkling this was coming, and rushed to get ourselves in order before it happened. In my laboratory, we were determined to keep our experiments going as best we could although we had never run them remotely before. Without being able to set foot in the labs, bar a few essential maintenance visits, the only way to continue working on our experiments was to use dedicated remote control and monitoring technology.

Dr Amruta Gadge adjusting a laser pre lockdown

Rebecca Bond

Pre-lockdown, I was part of a team building an apparatus to produce Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs).  A BEC consists of a cloud of hundreds of thousands of rubidium atoms, which have been cooled down to nanokelvin temperatures using lasers and magnetic fields.  At such temperatures the cloud suddenly takes on different characteristics, with all atoms behaving together as a single quantum object. This object has such low energy that it can be used to sense very low magnetic fields, a property we are making use of to probe   novel materials such as silver nanowires , silicon nitride nano membranes or to probe ion channels in biological cells.

We had started assembling this system just a few months before, and were looking forward to reaching a big milestone in the lab – producing our first BEC.  Time was short!  To run such an experiment from home was no easy feat, with large and complex laser and optics set-ups in state-of-the-art labs – which couldn’t just be transported.  In the days leading up to lockdown, equipment, chairs, and computers were being ferried to various homes, deliveries of equipment were diverted and protocols for remote access and online control were put in place.

Ultra-cold atom experiments are very complex. Obtaining a BEC involves a large amount of debugging and optimising of the experimental sequence. When not in the lab, at times it felt almost impossible to debug. We set up software control for the equipment, such as oscilloscopes, vacuum pumps, and others. However, the tool that played the most important role was our environmental monitoring system. Trapped cold atoms are extremely sensitive to any variations in the environmental conditions. Changes in the ambient temperature of the lab, humidity, residual magnetic fields, vacuum pressure, and so on, result in laser instability, polarisation fluctuations or changes in the trapping fields. All of these effects lead to fluctuations of the number of trapped atoms, as well as their position and temperature.

Debugging the system is a long process, but this can be greatly helped by monitoring the environmental conditions at all times. This may sound elaborate, however with the rising popularity of time series databases and data visualisation software, it is possible to develop a convenient monitoring system. We made use of cheap and easily programmable microcontrollers for data collection, and two popular open source platforms, InfluxDB and Grafana, for storing and visualising the data, respectively. We set up a large network of sensors throughout the labs, aimed at monitoring all the parameters relevant to the operation of the experiments. If atom numbers fluctuated, or something wasn’t performing well, we could quickly narrow down the problem by looking at our Grafana dashboards. This meant that our experimental control sequence could be quickly tweaked from home for compensating the environmental fluctuations, and the monitoring system proved to be an extremely useful tool in achieving BECs remotely.

Dr Amruta Gadge working from home with an image of her BEC on screen

Amruta Gadge

We were installing a new 2D magneto-optical trap atom source in the lab, and managed to see a signal from it just the day before the lockdown. I remember clearly that I was very worried that lockdown was going to delay the progress of our experiment significantly.  .  However, thankfully we could keep operating remotely, and managed to achieve our long-awaited first BEC from my home.

I was very excited when I saw the image of our first BEC. I had spent the whole day optimising the evaporation cooling stage. It was past 10pm, and I was about to stop for the day and suddenly the numbers started looking promising. I continued tweaking the parameters and in just few attempts, I saw the bimodal distribution of the atoms — a signature of a BEC. It was strange to have no one there to celebrate with in person, but we instead got together to hold celebrations virtually — something we are all getting used to now. I was really hoping to get the first BEC of our experiment before moving to my next post-doc, and having it obtained remotely turned out to be even more gratifying.


*Dr. Amruta Gadge is now a post-doctoral researcher in the cold atoms and laser physics group at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel.




Return to the lab

As coronavirus restrictions have been easing over the past few months, increasing numbers of researchers are starting to return to labs and begin experimental work again. Nature Reviews Physics organised a photo competition, inviting submissions of photos which depict lab-life in the era of COVID-19.

Here are some of our favourite entries:


Safety first – particles from outer space second! In this picture you see Claire Antel (left) and Lydia Brenner (right) in the lab of the FASER Experiment at CERN. This new dark matter detector will be installed 100 meters underground before the end of this year. This picture was taken on the 10th of July when we for the first time managed to test the detector by measuring cosmic ray particles. You can see the normal protective gear we always have to wear, such as steel-reinforced work boots and helmets, as well the face-masks that are now mandatory in all indoor work areas at CERN. You can also see that we have to maintain distance at all times, which makes working on the same small machine, between us in the picture, slightly more complicated, but we managed. Submitted by Lydia Brenner


Luca Naticchioni (INFN) and Maurizo Perciballi (INFN) working on the installation of a new underground seismic station at the candidate site for the Einstein Telescope in Sardinia, Italy (Sos Enattos – Lula, August 2020). Submitted by Maurizio Perciballi.


Marco La Cognata is mounting experimental set-up for a Nuclear Astrophysics experiment at INFN Laboratori Nazionali del Sud (in Catania, Italy). The 27Al beam for this experiment was the first delivered in Italian laboratories after the lock-down. Taken in May 2020. Submitted by Sara Palmerini.


Part of the SMOG2 group installing, in front of the LHCb detector, the first gas fixed target at the LHC. LHC will have not only beam-beam but also beam-gas interactions. A new frontier for quantum chromodynamics and astroparticle physics, LHCb cavern, CERN 6th of August 2020. Submitted by Pasquale di Nezza.

And finally, our winning photo is:


Optical alignment of microscopy setup at IIT GENOVA. Immediately after Italy announces a little relaxation (mid of May 2020) for the researcher to continue their research activities following the strict norms and regulation advisory. Submitted by Rajeev Ranjan

Congratulations Rajeev! Rajeev will be receiving a one-year personal subscription to Nature Reviews Physics. Stay tuned for our next photo competition which will announced soon via Twitter – follow us @NatRevPhys for more information!


Post compiled by Ankita Anirban.

10 June 2020 is #Strike4BlackLives and we urge you to participate in this strike. Organised by a group of physicists, led by Brian Nord and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, this is a day to #ShutDownAcademia and #ShutDownSTEM in solidarity with Black colleagues, Black students and Black people who are excluded from academia. Learn more about the strike here.

“As researchers, teachers, students, and staff we devote an immense amount of our time and mental energy to learning more about the world and ourselves within the framework of our own discipline. The strike day gives us the space and time to center Black lives, show solidarity with academics with marginalized ascribed identities, to educate ourselves about the ways in which we and our institutions are complicit in anti-Black racism, and to take concrete action for change.” –  Particles for Justice call to action.

Thousands have pledged to join the strike, including the arXiv and the American Physical Society. Today, take time to pause your academic work and reflect on your role within the academic institution. Talk to your colleagues, organise within your department and work to become anti-racist.

In the UK, just 1.7% of first year physics undergraduates in 2016 were Black and an IOP report from 2012 shows that for PhD- holding researchers, the number is even lower at 0.1%. If you are not Black, take a moment to count how many Black physicists you have come across in your academic career.


It is clear that academic institutions are in need of radical structural change. Yet with so few Black voices within the system, there is an urgent need for non-Black allies to take an active role in campaigning for change.

Here we provide some starting points we have found useful for learning more about racism in academia, how racism and science are inextricably linked and the case for a more inclusive and pluralist science.

Being Black in physics

For non-Black academics, the first step to understanding the extent to which racism pervades academic life is to hear the stories of Black academics. One place to start is the  #BlackintheIvory hashtag on Twitter which has been used to share experiences of Black academics.

Op-ed: The ‘Benefits’ of Black physics students by Jedidah Isler, New York Times, 2015

News: Why are there so few Black physicists? by Ryan Mandelbaum, Gizmodo, 2020 

Perspective: Curiosity and the end of discimination by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Nature Astronomy, 2017

Blog: Ain’t I a woman? At the intersection of gender, race and sexuality by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Women in Astronomy blog, 2014

Addressing the inequalities and discrimination within academia requires structural change. As an individual, you can campaign within your department to recognise the need for this change and enact it in policies regarding hiring, mentoring and support for Black students. When organising a conference or a new collaboration, reflect on your choice of participants and strive to include more Black voices in the conversation.

500 Women Scientists – Black History Month

Fellows of the National Society of Black Physicists

Who are the Black Physicists? A historical list

Science and colonialism

Modern science as we practise it today has inextricable links to empire, colonialism and the slave trade. Here are some accessible resources which introduce how colonialism has shaped science:

Podcast: BBC Radio 4 In Our Time – on astronomy and the British empire

Blog: Black Women Physicists In the Wake by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, 2017

Reading list: Decolonising science reading list compiled by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Building a more inclusive science

In addition to recognising the historical impact of colonialism on science, it is also important to acknowledge the influence it continues to wield within scientific practice today.  Here are some resources that re-centre Indigenous science:

Australian Indigenous Astronomy 

Blog: The fight for Mauna Kea and the future of science by Sara Segura Kahanamoku, Massive Science, 2019

Comment: Towards inclusive practices with indigenous knowledge by Aparna Venkatesan et al., Nature Astronomy, 2019

Article: Challenging epistemologies: Exploring knowledge practices in Palikur astronomy by Lesley Green, Futures, 2009

Article: ‘Indigenous Knowledge’ and ‘Science’: Reframing the Debate on Knowledge Diversity by Lesley Green, Archaeologies, 2008

Long Reads:

Superior by Angela Saini.

Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician by Katherine Johnson

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Beyond Banneker: Black Mathematicians and the Paths to Excellence by Erica N. Walker 

A different kind of dark energy: placing race and gender in physics, BSc thesis by Lauren Chambers, Department of African American Studies, Yale University

Behind the paper: CP violation in neutrino oscillations

In 1967, Andrei Sakharov proposed conditions required in the early universe for generating
matter and anti-matter at different rates, to explain the abundance of matter in our universe
today. Charge-Parity (CP) violating processes are essential under these conditions.
Measurements of the CP violation in quarks, first performed in 1964, are too small to explain
the difference, and finding other sources of CP violation is an ongoing quest in the physics
community. In April 2020, the T2K collaboration published a paper in Nature suggesting
large CP violation in the leptonic sector, namely in neutrino oscillations. Some of the
researchers involved in the project tell us their story.

A guest post by Ciro Riccio (Scientist, Stony Brook University), Patrick Dunne (Scientist,
Imperial College London), Pruthvi Mehta (Ph.D. student, University of Liverpool), Sam
Jenkins (Ph.D. student, University of Sheffield), Tomoyo Yoshida (Graduated Ph.D. student,
Tokyo Institute of Technology), Clarence Wret (Scientist, University of Rochester)

The oscillation analysis, whose results were recently published in Nature, is the last link in a
long chain of work. It amalgamates the effort of the entire collaboration, from those designing
and constructing the experiment 20 years ago, to the countless hours of detector operations
taken by people all over the world, to the development of the analyses.

The project
There are over 400 people working on T2K, in 12 countries, at 69 institutes. Many of us have
spent years building our bit of the experiment, from physical objects like detector or beamline
instrumentation, to abstract items like data analysis frameworks. Looking at the author list,
you’ll see that T2K consists of collaborators from all over the world. Our daily
communications happen online; in video meetings, emails, and chats. It’s sometimes a
challenge to find good time-slots for connecting people over 16 time zones, and it’s not
uncommon to sign-off from a meeting with a good-night, only to be met with a good-morning,
and vice versa.

Our international collaborators frequently fly to Japan to spend a week or two monitoring the
experiment in Tokai—on the east coast—where the neutrino beamline and Near Detectors
are, or Kamioka—just west of the Japanese alps—where the Far Detector is. In addition to
the flashing computer screens and sounding alarms, we get to witness a very different side
of Japan from the bright lights of Tokyo, from the beautiful mountains and rivers of rural
Japan, to the delicious local specialities. Avoiding the risk of data loss often occurs at the
cost of sleep for the operations experts (as the contributors to this blog post can attest)—but
all is forgotten after a morning visit to the local onsen (hot-spring).

It’s impossible to overemphasise the fantastic experience of Japanese culture as an added
bonus of partaking in T2K. Many of the restaurants in the Tokai and Kamioka areas are
familiar with members of the collaboration, and are very accommodating to international
collaborators. The owner of one particular restaurant in Tokai often recognises Sam and
remembers that he can speak a small amount of the language (chotto), and indulges him to
order in broken Japanese (we like to think it’s good for practice, and not solely their
entertainment). A favourite annual event is the sweet potato festival (imo matsuri), a
community event in Tokai held in November to celebrate the root vegetable that the Ibaraki
prefecture is renowned for.

T2K collaboration meeting, Paris 2019, Credit: Pieyre Sylvaineat

The measurement
The Super-Kamiokande Far Detector started construction in 1991 in Kamioka, and operates
24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so as not to miss rare astrophysical events, such as
supernova bursts. The neutrino beam and the Near Detectors started construction 2001
(beam) and 2007 (Near Detectors) in Tokai, and are continuously operating when we have
pre-allocated beam time, sometimes up to seven months per year.
To make our measurement we not only need the neutrino beam and the detectors, but also a
computer-simulated model of the entire experiment, painstakingly quantifying how we think
each component behaves and how certain we are of that description. This includes
everything from the neutrino beam (and the proton beam collisions that creates it), to the
neutrino interactions in our detectors, to the density of the Earth between Tokai and
Kamioka, to how good our detectors are at measuring the neutrinos.

To characterise the neutrino beam, we have two detectors (“ND280” and “INGRID”) 280m
from the neutrino source, which have a staggering amount of neutrinos passing through
them. Occasionally these neutrinos interact at the Near Detectors, occasionally they interact
300km later in Super-Kamiokande, but most of the time they continue out through Earth’s
atmosphere, propagating deep into space. To put things into perspective, this analysis used
about 3×1021 (3,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) proton interactions to create the neutrino
beam. Roughly one neutrino is created per proton interaction, but due to their rare interaction rate with matter, we observe a mere 120,000 neutrino events at ND280 (60,000
of which were used in our analysis) and about 500 at Super-Kamiokande over the course of
nine years. In the early neutrino beam experiments of the 1970s, the data are often on less
than 500 neutrino events, with the experiments sitting right next to the neutrino source for
tens of years. Today we have about the same number of neutrino events in a similar amount
of time, but sitting 300km away from the source at Super-Kamiokande. It’s only recently that
we have the technology, international funding support from governments, and scientific
community in place to produce such powerful neutrino beams, which are the backbone of
these precise measurements.

Presentation of final results of the oscillation analysis. Credit: Pieyre Sylvaineat

Once the neutrinos are characterised at the Near Detector, the oscillation analysis takes all
the models of the neutrino beam, the detectors, the neutrino interaction, and neutrino
oscillations, combines them with their constraints, and blends them together to describe our
observations. The analysis and all of its inputs turns PhD students’, scientists’ and
professors’ daily work into many cycles of communication-implementation-validation, over
the course of more than a year. When validations and tests are satisfied, we finally get to
look at the data and make our measurement of the neutrinos’ oscillations. That last link in
the long chain has the privilege to see the final result first in the collaboration. The moment
when the plot pops onto your screen and you’re the only person who knows what it shows is
pretty special. For this result, published in April 2020, we first saw the results internally in
Autumn 2018, and spent the time between then and now extensively validating and testing
alternate explanations.

Looking ahead
T2K is currently in the process of updating the analysis using more data taken during
2019/2020, and using better models of the experiment, all thanks to the continuing dedicated
work of all our collaborators. Many of us are also working on upgrades of the neutrino
beamline, the Near Detectors and the Far Detector, to squeeze out more science from the
neutrino beam. Our results published in Nature are the strongest constraint on the CP
violating phase in neutrinos to date, but we have only taken about half of our allocated data.
There is much more to come and the prospects are truly exciting for all of us. As we
continue, we’re including the work of even more people than the analyses that came before;
new students, scientists and professors. We hope they, like us, get their share of the
pleasant, stressful, lovely, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding experience of being on an
international science collaboration such as ours.

Party at Abbaye des Vaux de Cernay. Credit: Pieyre Sylvaineat

Don’t make it so

Christine Horejs reviews the latest series in the Star Trek franchise, the recently broadcasted Star Trek: Picard.

We live in almost surreal times: it feels as if Q was playing another one of his evil games, expecting humanity to fail again it its attempt to prevent a catastrophe (remember the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation?).  Precisely because of this, the new Star Trek: Picard promises to be the show to watch. Wait, is this the biased view of a Trekkie, who cited Jean-Luc Picard at the beginning of her PhD thesis? Maybe. But Star Trek has always been at the forefront of scientific advance, has solved unsolvable moral and medical problems, has gone where no women or men had gone before. Right now, this is exactly what we would like to see. We need the flagship of the Federation with its wise Captain and crew, who can solve pretty much every problem in the Galaxy using science and diplomacy.

Jean-Luc Picard 2

Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard. Credit: Patrick Caughey[1]derivative work: Loupeznik / CC BY-SA (

Star Trek: Picard is a ten-episodes series, the follow-up of the legendary Star Trek: The Next Generation, centred around captain Jean-Luc Picard – Captain, Sir or Jean-Luc, but certainly not JL.  The story is set at the end of the 24th century, that is, 20 years after we last saw Jean-Luc commanding the USS Enterprise. He has now retired from Starfleet, following his great disappointment with the Federation, who refused to help the Romulans after the destruction of their home planet by a supernova. What follows is a complicated conspiracy theory story, involving the Romulans, Starfleet, the Borg (or rather Ex-Borgs and their cube) and the ‘Synthetics’, who are essentially Data’s children, designed based on his positronic memory.

The plot remains rather unexciting and to prevent any potential spoilers, I will jump right into the scientific vision – if only I could. Thinking of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there are numerous scientific and technological inventions and visions that made every scientist’s heart jump a beat.  Voice activation (long before Siri or Alexa), virtual reality (especially now, I would give everything for a holo deck), replicators (could they make toilet paper?), touch screens (long before iPads), video calls (what would we be without them), diagnostic beds (Beverly Crusher could diagnose everything using those beds and her medical scanning device), to name only a few (see also Boldly going for 50 years). And then there was the really big science: matter-antimatter generators, cloaking devices, the warp drive. In fact, every time a species was close to developing the warp drive, the Enterprise would pay a visit to ensure diplomatic first contact. So, what are the major scientific stories in the new Star Trek: Picard series? Ethical questions related to AI or synthetic life? Well, this has all been discussed at length throughout all The Next Generation episodes with Data, his brother and his father Noonien Soong.  De-assimilation of the Borg? That is indeed interesting; however, the science behind this is not given any room in the series. Making Picard an android? Yes, that is new, albeit without any (valid or not-valid) scientific explanation.  Indeed, the creators managed to take the science out of science fiction.

Then there is the crew. At the heart of every Star Trek series are the smart, adventurous, highly trained crew members, comprising multiple species from all over the Galaxy. Spock, the legendary Vulcan science officer of the original series, Worf, the grumpy Klingon, growing up with humans, always in between two worlds, Geordi, the best engineer in Starfleet, Beverly, the clinician with a passion for fundamental science, Neelix, the Talaxian, who has numerous jobs on board the Voyager, Major Kira, the Bajoran, who certainly is one of the strongest female characters of Star Trek on Deep Space Nine. We meet some of the beloved characters of Next Generation again. Seeing William Riker and Deanna Troi finally happy together is certainly a highlight of the show. And the appearance of Data and Spot 2 are intriguing. However, Seven of Nine as action figure killing Romulans and taking over the place of the Borg queen is rather disturbing. Picard’s new crew members cannot even remotely reach the depth of the old Star Trek characters, and the fact that the majority are human goes against the very principle of Star Trek and the United Federation of Planets.

One of the most hilarious scenes of the new Star Trek: Picard series, in which he calls his dog ‘Number One’, is in the very first episode. And unfortunately, it goes downhill from there. The only thing that will always remain the same is the amazing acting of Sir Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who still spreads the same optimism and belief in the peaceful solution of conflicts as he always has. Make it so!

Why so serious? PowerPoint Karaoke at MRS Meetings

Guest post by Daniel Stadler, PhD student in Chemistry at the University of Cologne and organizer of the PowerPoint©  Karaoke at the Materials Research Society (MRS) meetings

The idea that karaoke is fun and a great ice-breaker is shared by all those who have ever participated in a karaoke event.  But karaoke in science — where you have a PowerPoint© slide instead of a teleprompter and music — can also be hilarious, as was shown at the recent Materials Research Society (MRS) meetings. What if you have never seen a slide you are asked to present: welcome to PowerPoint© Karaoke!

Power Point Karaoke at the Fall MRS meeting 2019 in Boston. Image courtesy of Daniel Stadler.

An initiative of the Student Engagement Subcommittee of the Materials Research Society dedicated to promote the engagement of the younger generation in science, the PowerPoint© Karaoke was coordinated and organized by a group of highly motivated volunteers, and the event was featured at both the Spring and Fall editions of the 2019 MRS meeting. In the words of Sanjay Mathur, a professor from the University of Cologne who chairs the broader committee of which the Student Engagement Subcommittee is part,a science karaoke can be both intimidating and thrilling at the same time, but it creates an excitement that is best described as an amalgam of a delightful social gathering and scientific presentation”.

At this event where you don’t know the content of your slide, you have to come up with your own interpretation and ideas. And because this slide was made by another person, it is sometimes difficult to get the intended message, but this gives the presenter the possibility to create their own, sometimes very entertaining story. A dozen of participants took part to the two editions of the MRS PowerPoint© Karaoke before an audience of more than 200 people, and really nailed it. In the serious and sometimes exhausting frame of a conference, with a lot of discussions, scientific networking and debating, people could see that there is also a room for entertainment and fun in science. Sometimes it just needs one presentation to remind people that this fun is needed to create new ideas.

The event also has some educational aspects. On the one hand, the slide authors have to prepare a clear, readable and – most importantly – understandable PowerPoint© presentation. On the other hand, the presenter needs to get the idea and come up with a catchy way to deliver the message. In fact, the presenter needs to be brave enough to give this kind of presentation in the first place. At this point, the audience comes into play. By cheering and supporting the presenter, the audience creates a relaxed environment: stuttering is not awful, missing a word not a big deal. From this, the role of an audience in any presentation becomes clearer, and should be a take home message for everyone. The interplay between presenter and audience is critical, and the beauty of PowerPoint© Karaoke lies in the fact that people are experiencing this without deliberately noticing.

Going up on stage and giving a three-minute performance on an unknown topic requires self-confidence and courage and I have great respect for everyone who was willing to participate in this very enjoyable event,” says Isabel Gessner, MRS PowerPoint© Karaoke enthusiast since day one. “All participants, presenters and slide authors did a fantastic job, and I am very thankful to the organizer who let us include this scientific and entertaining event in the MRS Meeting program.” 

During the organization of the first event, I did not know in which direction PowerPoint© Karaoke might evolve. Now, one year later, I look back on many wonderful talks and lots of good memories. A good presentation does not need to be only scientifically sound, but also natural. Be yourself, present yourself and deliver the message you see in the PowerPoint© slide. See you at the next MRS PowerPoint© Karaoke event!

CERN Science Gateway – for audiences of all ages, and for the scientific community

Ana Godinho, the Head of Education, Communications and Outreach at CERN, talked to us about the CERN Science Gateway, a very exciting outreach project.


On a recent trip to Lisbon, the taxi driver asked me where I had flown in from.

“Geneva,” I replied.

“And what do you do there?” he asked.

“I work at CERN,” I said.

“Ah, CERN. Where they accelerate particles round the huge tunnel,” the taxi driver cheerfully offered.


Was I surprised that someone from outside the scientific world was familiar with CERN? As a matter of fact – no, I wasn’t. Over more than a decade, concerted communications and public engagement programmes have contributed to CERN becoming part of popular culture. The start of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), in 2008, and the discovery of the Higgs boson, in 2012, captured the imagination of both scientific communities (notice the plural) and the so-called lay public alike.

CERN is one of the world’s leading laboratories for particle physics. Today, it is also recognised as a source of inspiration and engagement for citizens around the world. The taxi driver could well have been one of the over 100 000 visitors that visit CERN each year (he wasn’t), or he could know one of the close to 1000 teachers that take part in CERN’s programmes, or any of the almost 7000 students that each year participate in hands-on physics workshops at CERN.

To expand and diversify its education, communication and public engagement portfolio, CERN is preparing to build a new education and outreach centre – CERN Science Gateway. Housed in an iconic building designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, CERN Science Gateway will enable a diverse audience across all ages and all sectors of the public to engage with the science, the discoveries, the technologies and the people working at CERN. A series of three pavilions and two tunnels, joined by a bridge floating over the road running in front of CERN, will house exhibitions, laboratories for informal learning and a 900-seater auditorium. An ample and forest-like outdoor area will consolidate the vision of a village, where people will meet to explore CERN Science Gateway, and depart on a discovery of the CERN sites.

CERN Science Gateway Credit: Renzo Piano Building Workshop

CERN Science Gateway’s permanent exhibitions will be housed in the two suspended tubes. In ‘Discover CERN’ children and adults alike will feel they are behind the scenes at CERN, interacting with technologies and discoveries in their actual setting, embedded in stories featuring real scientists and engineers. ‘Our Universe’ will be a journey through space and time back to the origin of everything we see around us today – the Big Bang. It will also be a journey into the future, inviting visitors to discover the big mysteries that govern our universe: dark matter, gravity, extra dimensions and more. Another hands-on exhibition area (located in one of the pavilions) will explore the quantum world – visitor will investigate on a macro scale the weird world in which particles move and interact.

Hands-on and minds-on is the motto for the learning laboratories in CERN Science Gateway. Through enquiry-based learning, children (from age five), students and families will work independently on experiments linked to the research carried out at CERN. Specially trained tutors will guide the visitors on their exploration into the working methods, technologies and research of the world’s largest particle physics laboratory.

CERN Science Gateway Credit: Renzo Piano Building Workshop

The modular auditorium will provide a unique space (in fact, several spaces) for both the scientific community and for public events. It will be a privileged venue for the meetings of the collaborations of the experiments at CERN and indeed for the wider particle physics community. For the public of all ages, science shows, film festivals, theatre, performances, debates will be part of a wide-reaching and diverse programme, making CERN a hub for multidisciplinary debate, learning and participation.

This ambitious project (as all projects at CERN) costs at CHF 79 million, and is fully covered by external funds, raised through a dedicated fundraising strategy. Several important donations have been secured since the work started on the project, in 2017, setting us confidently on the path to start building work in 2020 and opening CERN Science Gateway in the third quarter of 2022.


Make a note in your diaries for a visit to Geneva in 2022, to explore Science Gateway and CERN!

Interactions: Ankita Anirban

Ankita joins Nature Reviews Physics after a brief period as locum associate editor at Nature Reviews Materials. After a BSc degree from King’s College London, Ankita went on to pursue an MPhil at the University of Cambridge, on low-temperature transport of one-dimensional electron systems. She then continued with PhD studies on the theme of electron transport of topological insulator heterostructures at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge.

What made you want to be a physicist?

As a child, I loved fantasy novels and used to wish that I lived in a world with magic, elves and dragons. Physics classes at school seemed dull in comparison, until I discovered quantum mechanics through popular science books as a teenager. Suddenly it seemed that our world could be as crazy as Alice in Wonderland with strange phenomena like entanglement and superposition of particles. This seemed cooler than dragons as we could actually “see” these things happen in a lab – and so I became a physicist!

If you weren’t a physicist, what would you like to be (and why)?

A travel writer/journalist. I’d love to explore lots of interesting and remote places around the world and write about the stories and people I met.

Which is the development that you would really like to see in the next 10 years?

I want science to become more accessible. So many non-scientists are intimidated by the idea of science and maths. I would love for science to become “dinner table conversation” in the way politics or books or films are for the general public.

What would be your (physics) superpower?

To have magic eyes – that can work as a microscope (maybe even an electron microscope!) and zoom into all the details of things around me, and also as a telescope to see distant galaxies.

What’s your favourite (quasi-)particle?

Probably the humble electron. It’s not a glamorous particle, but I’ve spent years making electronic devices which I think of as “electron playgrounds” so I have grown attached to them.

What Sci-Fi gadget / technology would you most like to have / see come true (and why)?

Definitely a time-machine. Ignoring all the related paradoxes I’d have to deal with, I want to be able to transport myself to the past and actually find out what history was like.

Neutrino physics: past, present and future

On 19th December we hosted a neutrino symposium in our Springer Nature campus in London. We invited four scientists to share their views and excitement about the past, present and future of neutrino physics. The meeting was organised together with King’s College London and with the support of JSPS.

Mark Vagins, professor at UC Irvine and the first full-time foreign professor at Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe in Japan told the history of supernova neutrinos and explained the gadolinium detection he invented, claiming he owns more gadolinium than any other human.

Atsuko Ichikawa, associate professor at Kyoto University and the spokesperson of the T2K experiment in Japan started her talk by asking “why am I here?” It turned out that she was referring to the reason why there is more matter than antimatter in the Universe rather than question her presence at the meeting. This became clear as she explained the mechanism of neutrino oscillations and CP violation.

Linda Cremonesi introduced the NoVA, DUNE and ANITA experiments illustrating her slides with the iconic particlezoo neutrinos. She explained how one launches and recovers a balloon-borne experiment such as ANITA in the most remote locations in Antarctica and described the IceCube experiment at the South Pole.

During the lunch break Ben Still, visiting research fellow at Queen Mary University London, particle physicist, author and educator gave a live demonstration of his unique way of explaining particle physics using LEGO bricks. The participants had the opportunity to build their own particles.

David Wark, professor at University of Oxford and former director of the particle physics group at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, T2K international spokesperson, UK co-spokesperson of SNO experiment, gave a round-up talk explaining what we knew, and thought we knew back in 1981 compared what we know, we think we know, and we really do not know today. There are many exciting questions about neutrinos.

A keen group of sixth form students attended the symposium. “I’d vaguely heard of neutrinos, but I didn’t know much about what they were” one of them told us. When asked whether they could follow the talks they answered “Yeah, at least most of it. I especially love the LEGO demonstration, it’s so interactive and accessible”. Most of the students are planning to study physics at university – although one student said he was there just for fun!

The event ended with and open discussion moderated by Yoshi Uchida, professor at Imperial College.

The first question was where are we going in the longer term future (>10 years) and what is the public support for the neutrino program? In Japan the funding looks good as Hyper-Kamiokande has just been given green light and the speakers called the neutrino “the national particle of Japan”. The speakers recalled personal experiences with members of the general public being extremely knowledgeable, supportive and sometimes in awe of neutrino physics.  David Wark pointed out that in most areas of science, you wouldn’t dream of having a strategy for 10 years or more.

Asked about the challenges of working in large collaborations the speakers mentioned cultural differences, major travel and communication over different time zones. Astuko Ichikawa compared large collaboration to the teams behind Formula 1 cars, or a rocket going to the Moon. For winning the Grand Prix or reaching the Moon you need large teams of experts and you need them to cooperate. Everyone has their own part to play and each project is a creative one, each person has to do a creative work so it is very rewarding.

Another question was whether we are running out of testable theories? None of the speakers thought that was the case, although they agreed that most theories are unlikely to be correct. Linda Cremonesi pointed out that saying we don’t have any good theories is a very LHC-centric view of things. There are a lot of open questions in neutrino physics and many exciting possibilities.

When asked what do they do outside of work, the speakers came up with unexpected hobbies such as a rock band, standup comedy and impersonating Santa Claus.

When asked whether they would bet on neutrinos being Majorana or Dirac particle, four out of five speakers voted for Majorana and only Mark Vagins proved to be a Dirac supporter.

When asked what is THE thing they want to find out in the next decade most of the speakers agreed on: measuring neutrinos from the Big Bang, confirming the CP violation and understanding how big is it and answering whether neutrinos are Majorana particles or not. David Wark added that he wants to see something genuinely unexpected, because we haven’t had anything completely unpredicted – that turned out to be correct – for a long time.