Located near the city of Pisa in Italy, the Virgo interferometer is the most sensitive gravitational wave detector in Europe. The latest version of the interferometer – the Advanced Virgo – was built in 2012, and has been operational since 2017. Virgo is part of a scientific collaboration of more than 100 institutes from 10 European countries. By detecting and analysing gravitational wave signals, which arise from collisions of black holes or neutron stars millions of lightyears away, Virgo’s goal is to advance our understanding of fundamental physics, astronomy and cosmology. In this exclusive interview, we speak with the spokesperson of the Virgo Collaboration, Dr Jo van den Brand, who discusses Virgo’s achievements, plans for the future, and the fascinating field of gravitational wave astronomy.
Cancer is one of the most common causes of mortality worldwide and diagnosis rates are continually increasing. An estimated one in three women and one in two men will be diagnosed with a form of cancer at some point throughout our lives. For many cancer types, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the chosen treatment methods, but their success rates are surprisingly limited, and both can cause serious side-effects. Dr Afsaneh Lavasanifar and her research group at the University of Alberta have set out to develop drug-delivery systems to improve the effectiveness of cancer treatment and reduce side-effects. Their research involves the targeted delivery of drug-loaded nanoparticles directly to tumour tissues.
It is undoubtable that virtual reality and augmented reality will soon be an integral part of our daily lives at home, in education, and at work. Here, we look at some of the exciting projects that Dr William Hurst of the Department of Computer Science at Liverpool John Moores University is driving forward and read how he is embracing virtual reality and augmented reality to enhance teaching and education, providing insight into how such technology may be utilised in the not too distant future.
By precisely measuring path differences in light waves as they are split apart and recombined, interferometers have allowed physicists to make some of their most profound discoveries: from disproving the ether theory in the late 19th century, to the first detections of gravitational waves in 2016. Now, Dr Stephanie Manz and Dr Thorsten Schumm at TU Vienna aim to push the capabilities of interferometers further with iWave: an instrument that exploits particle-wave-duality, one of the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics. By replacing light waves with matter waves, the duo and their team believe that their new interferometer could bring about exciting experimental opportunities.
Using laser light to produce and receive high-frequency radiation, photoconductors have become a promising aspect of materials science in recent years. So far, however, their production has faced a number of barriers. Through his research, Dr Sascha Preu at TU Darmstadt in Germany has tackled many of these challenges through the use of an alloy based on indium gallium arsenide enhanced with erbium arsenide particulates, whose electrons display some intriguing properties. His team’s work has now greatly improved the prospects for photoconductors in applications including spectroscopy, imaging and non-destructive testing.
Dr Mike Müller-Petke | Dr Stephan Costabel – Enhancing Groundwater Detection with Magnetic Resonance
Detecting underground water is of considerable importance, particularly for applications such as groundwater exploration, predicting the movement of contaminants in soils or building underground tunnels and mining facilities. Underground water is a limited resource that is essential for human life, but it can pose a safety threat in cases where the structural integrity of underground structures, such as tunnels, depends on solid earth being present throughout. Dr Mike Müller-Petke of the Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics, and Dr Stephan Costabel of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, are investigating methods to greatly improve the detection of underground water, using a technology known as nuclear magnetic resonance.
From brown dwarfs to supermassive black holes, many of the strangest objects known to astronomers are formed as material collapses in on itself under its own gravity. Through a combination of physical theories and the latest computer simulations, Dr Shantanu Basu at the University of Western Ontario in Canada is offering intriguing new insights into how these structures originate. His theories could help astronomers to understand the very earliest stages of bodies ranging from those too small to become stars, to the vast, all-devouring heavyweights that reside in the centres of galaxies.
When the Sun’s surrounding corona erupts, colossal streams of charged particles are ejected out into interplanetary space, and go on to interact with the material that resides there. Dr Robert Ebert at the Southwest Research Institute and his colleagues combine observations from spacecraft with the latest computer models to uncover the mysteries of these interactions. Their research focuses on advancing astronomers’ understanding of the highly energetic processes that play out in the void that comprises over 99% of the Solar System’s volume.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
Professor Klaus Peters | Professor Miriam Fritsch | Professor Wolfgang Gradl – Quark Binding: Solving a Quantum Enigma
Quantum Chromodynamics is arguably the crowning achievement of modern particle physics – explaining the very existence of a vast majority of stable, observable matter in the universe. All the same, the theory is far from complete. Professor Klaus Peters, Professor...
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 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...
Dr Peter Thirolf | Dr Lars von der Wense | Benedict Seiferle – The Thorium Isomer: Paving the Way for Nuclear Clocks
Atomic clocks have long been the most accurate timekeeping devices known to physics, but thanks to research carried out in recent years, it looks like their reign could soon be over. As part of the European consortium ‘nuClock’ (nuclock.eu), Dr Peter Thirolf,...
Dr Reinhard Genzel | Dr Linda Tacconi | Max Planck – Investigating the Evolution of Star Formation with Millimetre Wave Astronomy
Astronomers have much to learn from the giant clouds of gas and dust that occupy the vast spaces between stars. These conglomerates of dense, cool interstellar matter provide the food needed for star formation in galaxies. Over the past decade, Dr Reinhard Genzel and...