The 2010 Nobel prize for Physics has been awarded to two Russian-born scientists, Andre Geim, of the University of Manchester and Radboud University Nijmegen, and Konstantin Novoselov, also in Manchester, for their work on the monolayer carbon material graphene. Graphene is basically a flat sheet of carbon atoms connected in a honeycomb lattice, that displays some interesting properties: it’s flexible, strong and is an excellent conductor for heat and electricity.
Geim and Novoselov’s work to separate the material from bulk graphite has opened up a whole new area of research, into potential applications of graphene or simply to test our understanding of the basic physics of materials on this exciting new material.
As I alluded to in my previous post, last week I spent a rather fabulous week in the Rocky Mountain resort of Aspen. The Aspen Center for Physics hosted a conference, organised by Andrea Ghez, Vicky Kalogera, Fred Rasio, and Steinn Sigurdsson (of the Dynamics of Cats blog), on the Formation and Evolution of Black Holes. I don’t work on black holes myself* but am lucky enough that my significant other does, and the prospect of a week in Aspen just sounded too good to turn down.
I was planning to attend some talks and maybe blog about the meeting, but in the end the lure of the white stuff proved too strong and I spent all my time skiing. Luckily Daniel Holz, blogger at Cosmic Variance, was also in attendance and he will be writing about the meeting on CV.
The one conference activity I attended, apart from eating and drinking, was the customary mid-week public lecture in teh Aspen Opera House, which was given by the ever-enthusiastic Andrea Ghez of UCLA on her work on the supermassive black hole in the Galactic Centre. As well as being an excellent scientist, Andrea is a fun speaker and a great advocate for astronomy. You can watch the lecture online at Grassroots.tv.
Aspen is a pricey ski resort but the infrastructure and facilities are truly fantastic, if you enjoy the snow I recommend you try to go there sometime (on someone else’s grant). Through the Aspen Center for Physics, conference participants get incredibly generous discounts on lift passes, ski rentals, classes, and even food on the mountains – and these discounts extend to hangers-on like me. A really big thanks for that!
* Yet! That may change in 2011. Sort of.
When a physicist is on the front page of a newspaper, you know the story is either really bad, or really good. Just before Christmas, the Dutch paper De Volkskrant ran a big story on theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde, who has been making waves with his new theory for the origin of gravity. Since the story ran, Verlinde published a paper explaining his new theory to the Arxiv. In it, he postulates that gravity is an emergent phenomenon resulting from changes in entropy rather than the fundamental force of nature we currently think it is, and demonstrates this using simple thought experiments. Gravity, he says, is an entropic force – a bit like, say, osmosis.
So when Verlinde, who works at the University of Amsterdam, turned up on the colloquium schedule of Leiden’s Lorentz Institute, I thought it was worth checking out.
Despite widespread financial gloom, 2009 has been an excellent vintage for physics and astronomy. The Hubble Space Telescope‘s final servicing mission was declared a resounding success, LHC finally powered up after last year’s false start, several new astronomy satellites were launched and astronomers have tantalisingly reported a possible first-ever detection of dark matter particles. But in the UK, the year was closed on a blue note following an ominous pre-budget report in early December and the subsequent announcement of drastic cuts to the particle physics and astronomy programmes by the country’s Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC.
For the sake of spreading the word to a wider community, I wrote a general overview blog post on the Lay Scientist blog about the funding cuts to British physics and astronomy research. Go read it here.