Physical Sciences

Professor Yoshio Waseda – Understanding the Atomic Structure of New Materials

Materials science – the discovery and characterisation of new materials – drives forward the creation of new technology. In particular, the development of thin films of materials is vital to the electronics industry, as they are used in various device components such as displays and sensors. The properties of these materials are defined by their atomic structure, and until recently it was a major challenge for scientists to accurately characterise this. Towards this aim, Professor Yoshio Waseda and his team at the Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials have developed a novel method for characterising the atomic structure of thin films.

Dr Donald Fosnacht – Bringing Biomass into the Renewable Mix

A completely decarbonised society may now be firmly on the agendas of many businesses and world leaders, but the paths that need to be taken to realise this goal still remain far from clear. Dr Donald Fosnacht at the University of Minnesota believes that biomass is currently underappreciated as a way to realise a carbon-neutral society. The techniques his team has developed have already been demonstrated on industrial scales in some cases, and even promise to improve the lives of some communities in the developing world. With further research, Dr Fosnacht hopes that biomass will transform the ways in which our industries and power stations function.

Dr Philip Myers – A Family Affair: Exploring Early Star Formation

We know much about fully-formed stars, such as our Sun, but the very earliest processes of star formation are still a mysterious area of astrophysical research. The original idea that a single new-born star (or ‘protostar’) forms within a single molecular cloud core has been dispelled by the discovery of new-born pairs, triplets, or even larger groups of protostars in cores. Dr Philip Myers of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard and Smithsonian has been observing and interpreting protostar formation for many years using a range of sophisticated telescopes and theoretical models.

Dr Shadia Habbal | Dr Miloslav Druckmüller – Hiding the Sun: Coronal Discoveries during Total Solar Eclipses

Extending far beyond its surface, the Sun’s corona hosts a variety of intricate structures and behaviours. Yet because the Sun is so much brighter than its surrounding environment, these properties can be incredibly hard to spot under typical observing conditions. In their research, Dr Shadia Habbal at the University of Hawaii and Dr Miloslav Druckmüller at Brno University make use of one of the most well-known astronomical phenomena to solve this issue: total solar eclipses.

Dr Robert Winglee – High Velocity Impacts: A New Way to Collect Samples from Space

For now, planetary scientists can only dream of getting their hands-on rock samples taken from the surfaces of distant worlds. Achieving these extractions presents a significant set of challenges, but Dr Robert Winglee and his colleagues at the University of Washington have made significant strides towards developing feasible techniques for retrieving samples. Through detailed computer design and field experiments, they have now clearly demonstrated that obtaining core samples created during high-velocity impacts with planetary surfaces could one day be a reality.

Dr Scott King – The Dawn Mission: Casting New Light on Ceres

The dwarf planet Ceres is just a fraction of the size of Pluto, yet it holds valuable information about the evolution of our solar system. As a member of the Dawn mission team, Dr Scott King at Virginia Tech has been using data gathered by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft to explore the interior structure of Ceres.

Professor Andrei Pimenov – Controlling Light by Manipulating Electromagnons

Worldwide obesity has almost tripled over the past 50 years. This alarming statistic calls for new initiatives aimed at promoting better weight management, in order to prevent and treat obesity and associated diseases. Dr Michelle Schelske Santos, professor and former director of the Nutrition and Dietetics Program at the University of Puerto Rico, has been working on an academic initiative designed to enhance nutrition and dietetics education in Puerto Rico, forming professionals who are better equipped to deal with the obesity epidemic.

Dr Peter Evans – Retro-Causality: Unravelling the Mysteries of Quantum Cosmology

Despite many years of research aiming to unite quantum mechanics with cosmological theories, researchers in fields across physics and philosophy remain in disagreement about a solution. Now, Dr Peter Evans at the University of Queensland sheds new light on the debate. He argues that on quantum scales, the idea of cause and effect does not need to follow the one-way passage of time, as we understand it. If correct, his theories could dispel some of the most puzzling mysteries of quantum theory – a significant step forward in understanding the true nature of the universe.

Dr Scot Rafkin – Exploring the Weather of Titan and Mars

The moons and rocky planets of our Solar System may be remote, unfamiliar worlds, but even on the very strangest of them, the weather on those with atmospheres is not wholly unlike our own. Dr Scot Rafkin, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, believes that the small-scale patterns their atmospheres exhibit are directly comparable with Earth’s weather. Based on the results of computer models simulating the atmospheres of Titan and Mars, he argues that these local and regional behaviours are significantly underappreciated in planetary science.

CERN’s Future Circular Collider

Geneva-based particle physics research centre, CERN, plans to build a £20bn particle accelerator that is almost four times longer than today’s largest and most powerful accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). At 100 kilometres long, this ‘Future Circular Collider’ (FCC) will be able to accelerate particles to unprecedented speeds, leading to collisions that are 10 times more energetic than those achieved on the LHC. Measurements taken from such collisions will help scientists in solving several longstanding mysteries in physics, such as the nature of dark matter. In this exclusive interview, we speak with CERN physicist Dr Matthew McCullough, who tells us about CERN’s plans for the FCC, its remarkable capabilities, and the new physics that he is most excited to explore.

TEMPO: Monitoring North America’s Pollution from Space

Created by sources ranging from campfires to cargo ships, air pollution is incredibly difficult to track. This has meant that the full impacts of air pollution are almost impossible to assess, but a solution is on the horizon. The TEMPO instrument (tempo.si.edu), built by Ball Aerospace to Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory specifications and managed by the NASA Langley Research Center, will soon provide an all-encompassing view of pollution across North America. As part of a global constellation of satellite air quality missions, TEMPO will soon provide us with the most extensive view of pollution ever achieved, along with its impacts, allowing us to tackle it more effectively than ever before.

Jianguo Wang – Ion-Barrier Coatings: The Next Generation of Anticorrosion Technology

Corrosion, the gradual destruction of metals, is a significant physical and economic problem worldwide. Traditional heavy metal-based coatings used to protect metals are now viewed negatively due to their impact on the environment. Research led by Jianguo Wang of AnCatt Inc reveals why ion-barrier coatings are the next generation of anticorrosion coating technology.

Dr Nancy Chabot | Dr Carolyn Ernst | Ariel Deutsch – Icy Discoveries on Our Innermost Planet

The location of water in our solar system may hold the key to understanding how the planets evolved, and indicate other potential places to find life away from Earth. Dr Nancy Chabot and Dr Carolyn Ernst of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and Ariel Deutsch at Brown University, use data from NASA’s MESSENGER mission to understand how much ice exists on Mercury and how it may have arrived there.

Dr Liming Li – Exploring Energy Flow in Planetary Atmospheres

Within the atmospheres of different planets, energy is continually moving around and being converted into different forms. In his research, Dr Liming Li at the University of Houston studies how the different worlds of our solar system generate, transfer and convert energy in different ways. Through analysing the atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Titan and Earth, his team has made discoveries that provide new insights both for astronomers and for scientists studying our own changing climate.

Dr Andreas Keiling – Alfvén Waves: When Earth’s Shield Comes under Attack

The Earth’s magnetic field has long protected us from surges of harmful charged particles originating from the Sun, yet physicists still don’t entirely understand what happens during this interaction. To explore the issue, Dr Andreas Keiling of the University of California at Berkeley studies the complex processes that take place during these so-called solar storms. His work has now begun to unravel the mysteries of the electromagnetic battleground far above Earth’s surface.

Dr Baowei Fei – A New Technique for Targeted Prostate Cancer Biopsies

Two-dimensional transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) guided biopsy is the standard method for prostate cancer diagnosis. However, the technique is limited in one respect – it can be prone to sampling error. Cancers can be missed, or their severity grossly underestimated. To address this, Dr Baowei Fei, from the University of Texas (UT) at Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center, is pioneering a technique that merges positron emission tomography (PET) with TRUS to detect prostate cancer more accurately than before.

The SETI Institute’s Earthling Project

An exciting new endeavour at the SETI Institute, the Earthling project, aims to connect humans around the world through the universal language of music. Charged with the task of creating music that represents us as humans, composer Felipe Pérez Santiago aims to foster...

The Royal Astronomical Society

  Established almost two centuries ago, the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) is the UK’s learned society dedicated to facilitating and promoting the study of astronomy, solar-system science and geophysics. In this exclusive interview, we speak with the Society’s...

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation promotes academic cooperation between excellent scientists and scholars from abroad and from Germany. To this end, it grants more than 700 research fellowships and research awards annually. These allow researchers from all over...

Outcomes of Gender Summit 11, Co-hosted by NSERC

From November 6 to 8, 2017, more than 675 advocates of gender equity from across many different fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) took part in Gender Summit 11, in Montreal, Quebec. Co-hosted by the Natural Sciences and Engineering...

Professor Gilles Gerbier – A Flickering in the Darkness

Deep, deep underground, surrounded by kilometres of solid rock, a team of scientists led by Professor Gilles Gerbier of Queen’s University, Canada, watches for a miniscule flicker of energy. A flicker that will, they hope, betray the existence of the most elusive...