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Light and matter in sync

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 (depicted by the rainbow colors). 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.

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  … Read more

A number of pictures

A number of pictures

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.  Read more

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

Dr Amruta Gadge adjusting a laser pre 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.  Read more

Behind the paper: CP violation in neutrino oscillations

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

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.  Read more

The matter that apparently doesn’t matter

Artist's impression of the expected dark matter distribution around the Milky Way

We interact with ordinary matter all the time. It is the bed in which you wake up in the morning and the food that you eat for breakfast. It is the people we love and the pets we often love even more. It is us. Being fairly prominent stuff, ordinary matter is often referred to as ‘the matter that matters’ and without doubt deserves our attention. But we should not forget that it only makes up 5% of our Universe, the remainder of which is dark matter. Indeed, dark matter crosses paths with all of us but unless you’re a physicist it is unlikely to have crossed your mind.  Read more

There was nothing sane about Chernobyl

Liquidators (biorobots) clear radioactive debris off the roof of the reactor, throwing it on the ground where it will later be covered by the sarcophagus.

The new British-American miniseries ‘Chernobyl’, aired on HBO and Sky in May and June 2019, takes you on a dark ride through the insanity that accompanied the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl. Five haunting episodes depict the night and aftermath of the explosion of reactor 4, using the style of disaster films to vividly show how the combination of bad nuclear reactor design, irresponsible scientists, a totalitarian system and human error led to one of the biggest nuclear disasters, with devastating consequences within and outside the Iron Curtain.    … Read more

The rise of open source in quantum physics research

The rise of open source in quantum physics research

Open-source scientific computing is empowering research and reproducibility. It forms one of the principles of the ‘open science’ movement, which aims to promote the spread of scientific knowledge without barriers. Open-source software refers to code which can be read, modified and distributed by anyone and for any purpose under the various open-source compliant licenses. This ‘open source way’ could extend beyond just software and is impacting quantum physics research in radically different ways.  Read more

What is physics? Challenges and opportunities when working at the interface with other disciplines.

What is physics? Challenges and opportunities when working at the interface with other disciplines.

This year’s Berlin Science Week kicked off with a diverse programme. Among many events, visitors could discuss the connection between art and astronomy or learn how new technologies can be inspired by nature, or participate in a panel discussion at the Springer Nature office. The panellists set out to find an answer on how we define physics today, and to map out the boundaries with other related areas such as chemistry or biology.  Read more

Science without borders: A view from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

The campus of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research around the time of inauguration of its new buildings in January 1962 in south Bombay (now Mumbai). Photo courtesy of the Archives of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

After seventy years of the government of independent India nurturing scientific enterprise, even in the face of criticism of its investment in the fundamental sciences, it is a good moment to review the story of what many regard as the prized jewel of them all – the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), which was founded in 1945 by the physicist Homi Bhabha with the help of the Dorabji Tata Trust. We are treated to a visit of this famous institute and its history in the book Growing the Tree of Science, Homi Bhabha and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (Oxford Univ Press, New Delhi 2016) written by Indira Chowdhury. The reference to a growing tree in the title came from a Presidential Address by Bhabha in 1963 at the National Institute of Sciences of India: “A scientific institution… has to be grown with great care, like a tree.”  … Read more

10 things to remember for when you have graduate students

Graduate school has been both a wonderful experience and incredibly challenging. When I will later look back on this period in my life, I’m sure that my memory will fail to accurately capture what it was like to be a graduate student. I’ll remember the highs, and more lows than I care to admit, but will likely lose some of what the day-to-day experience was like. If I have graduate students of my own someday, I want to have a more complete picture of what graduate school was like so that I can give them a better experience. With that goal in mind (and with some great suggestions from Twitter folks), I compiled the following list for my future self.     … Read more

DIY science: open source and low-cost instruments

DIY science: open source and low-cost instruments

Without hardware there is no science. Equipment, reagents and consumables are all paramount for the execution of experiments, collection of new data and generation of new knowledge. Coupled with the movement for open science, many groups and initiatives are pushing to make Open Science Hardware the new norm in labs worldwide. We interviewed one of the founders of one such initiative, Prometheus Science, that is working to develop easily accessible and usable open science hardware starting from published academic research.  Read more