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Physics World Stories Podcast

Updated 3 days ago

Technology
Science
Natural Sciences
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Physics is full of captivating stories, from ongoing endeavours to explain the cosmos to ingenious innovations that shape the world around us. In the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester talks to the people behind some of the most intriguing and inspiring scientific stories. Listen to the podcast to hear from a diverse mix of scientists, engineers, artists and other commentators. Find out more about the stories in this podcast by visiting the Physics World website. If you enjoy what you hear, then also check out the Physics World Weekly podcast, a science-news podcast presented by our award-winning science journalists.

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Physics is full of captivating stories, from ongoing endeavours to explain the cosmos to ingenious innovations that shape the world around us. In the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester talks to the people behind some of the most intriguing and inspiring scientific stories. Listen to the podcast to hear from a diverse mix of scientists, engineers, artists and other commentators. Find out more about the stories in this podcast by visiting the Physics World website. If you enjoy what you hear, then also check out the Physics World Weekly podcast, a science-news podcast presented by our award-winning science journalists.

iTunes Ratings

53 Ratings
Average Ratings
28
11
5
3
6

Dr. Jessica Barker

By BandwagonR - Apr 25 2019
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She’s also interviewed about security in the episode of the internet of things

Good, but the host needs to stop wispering.

By Mormon Person - Jun 10 2017
Read more
Please speak up. I can only hear your guests.

iTunes Ratings

53 Ratings
Average Ratings
28
11
5
3
6

Dr. Jessica Barker

By BandwagonR - Apr 25 2019
Read more
She’s also interviewed about security in the episode of the internet of things

Good, but the host needs to stop wispering.

By Mormon Person - Jun 10 2017
Read more
Please speak up. I can only hear your guests.

Listen to:

Cover image of Physics World Stories Podcast

Physics World Stories Podcast

Updated 3 days ago

Read more

Physics is full of captivating stories, from ongoing endeavours to explain the cosmos to ingenious innovations that shape the world around us. In the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester talks to the people behind some of the most intriguing and inspiring scientific stories. Listen to the podcast to hear from a diverse mix of scientists, engineers, artists and other commentators. Find out more about the stories in this podcast by visiting the Physics World website. If you enjoy what you hear, then also check out the Physics World Weekly podcast, a science-news podcast presented by our award-winning science journalists.

Artificial intelligence: is there anything to fear? - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Artificial intelligence (AI) bots are going to replace our jobs.

AI cars are not to be trusted, they will drive us off a cliff

AI machines will inevitably conspire to kill us all.

These are exaggerated versions of three fears commonly associated artificial intelligence (AI). Even the late Stephen Hawking spoke about a potential future in which humans could be superseded by advanced forms of artificial intelligence. But these concerns are not so present in the mind of Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer at Microsoft who once worked in Hawking’s theoretical physics group at the University of Cambridge.

Myhrvold is the co-founder of Intellectual Ventures, which develops and licenses intellectual property. Having also written a several tomes about modernist cooking techniques, Myhrvold does not shy away from lofty academic pursuits. Earlier this year, the Seattle-born polymath presented the annual Tacitus Lecture in London with a talk entitled “Cyber-Trade: Will AI Displace or Enhance our Work?”

In our latest podcast, Andrew Glester reports from the event where he spoke to Myhrvold, who explained why he is optimistic that AI can be a force for good in the world. You will also hear clips from that lecture, a few words on the topic from Hawking himself, and a fruity anecdote from Prue Leith one of the judges from the popular TV show The Great British Bakeoff. All will be revealed!

Mar 21 2018

29mins

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Quantum mechanics in popular-science books - Physics World Stories Podcast

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As usual, the podcast is hosted by James Dacey, who is joined by Physics World‘s editor Matin Durrani and the magazine’s reviews editor Margaret Harris. The first part of the podcast addresses the question of why so many authors decide to write these books. The Physics World hosts are joined by physicist Chad Orzel, author of the bestselling book How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog, which was released in 2010.

The middle section of the podcast looks in more detail at the process of writing these books. It features the established popular-science writer Marcus Chown, who describes his experience of writing the book Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You, which was published in 2007. Chown admits that he found the Pauli exclusion principle to be the most challenging aspect of quantum mechanics to explain in everyday language. This leads on to an interesting debate about the pros and potential pitfalls of using metaphors to describe complex science and mathematics.

If scientists and science writers go through such pain to describe these features of the quantum world, then surely somebody without a scientific background should run a mile. But they don’t, instead they keep buying these books. In the final section of the podcast, the historian and philosopher Robert P Crease shares his thoughts on why the counterintuitive nature of quantum physics holds such a fascinating appeal for readers.

Apr 11 2012

16mins

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A quantum leap for industry - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In the July edition of Physics World Stories, Andrew Glester looks at the latest developments in technologies based on quantum mechanics. While quantum computing often steals the headlines, there is a whole world of other quantum-based devices in the pipeline for a range of applications.

Glester speaks first with Raphael Clifford and Ashley Montanaro at the University of Bristol about quantum computing. They are interested in the prospects of achieving “quantum supremacy” – the point at which quantum computers can outperform classical computers at specific tasks.

Next, Glester hands the reigns over to Physics World’s Margaret Harris who recently attended the 2018 Photonics West conference in San Francisco. At that event, Harris caught up with Anke Lohmann, the director of ESP Central Ltd, which supports the transfer technology form academic settings to the marketplace. Lohmann gives her opinion on the quantum innovations most likely to have the most significant impacts in the coming years, among them is quantum key distribution for secure communication.

Finally, Glester heads to the University of Birmingham, the site of one of the UK Quantum Technology Hubs. He is given a tour of the lab by Kai Bongs who explains how the goal is to transform scientific concepts in practical applications that are economically viable. The focus at the Birmingham hub is on developing sensors and metrology techniques. Targeted applications include gravity-mapping beneath the Earth’s surface and highly precise optical clocks.

Jul 24 2018

44mins

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Nuclear diamonds: the ultimate long-life battery? - Physics World Stories Podcast

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The proposal comes from a group of researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK, who say they have a practical way of dealing with some of the nearly 95,000 tonnes of radioactive graphite that was used as a moderator in the UK’s nuclear reactors. Applications of such devices could include long-lasting power supplies for pacemakers and even a lightweight power supply for space missions.

Unsurprisingly, this eye-catching research captured the attention of specialist and mainstream media publications alike when it was announced towards the end of 2016. In this podcast, we probe deeper into the science behind the headlines.

The episode is presented and produced by Andrew Glester, a science communicator based in Bristol, who says he takes a “sceptical optimism” to such bold scientific claims. Glester visits the research team at the University of Bristol to find out more about the proposal – its applications, nuclear safety concerns, and the challenges that stand in the way of this idea becoming a practical reality.

Feb 09 2017

29mins

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Physics in 2018 - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Fortunately for scientific soothsayers, some developments in 2018 are entirely predictable, not least the space missions scheduled for the next 12 months. Physics World managing editor Matin Durrani introduces a few of these, starting with BepiColombo, the European Space Agency mission to Mercury, scheduled for October. He also talks about China’s Chang’e 4 mission to the far side of the Moon, as well as the two asteroid-sampling missions – Japan’s Hayabusa 2 and NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex – that will reach their targets in July and August respectively.

Closer to home, Physics World will complete its own launch in the form of a new website, which will go live in the next month or so. One of the changes is that we’ll be expanding to incorporate three existing websites in the fields of environment and energy, nanotechnology and biomedical physics. Journalists James Dacey and Liz Kalaugher focus on the environmental side of things, discussing the type of coverage you can expect in that area, including climate studies, renewable energy and natural hazards. You’ll hear about the launch of a new video series for 2018 focusing on environmental challenges and the possible technology solutions.

Of course, any look to the year ahead can’t avoid a mention of how science interacts with political situations around the world. Physics World journalists share their views on the continued emergence of Chinese science, the likely impacts of Brexit and whether the March for Science events in 2017 can pave the way for a more unified global movement in 2018. For a quick dip into some of the news and analysis likely to feature on the Physics World website in the coming year, look no further than this podcast.

Jan 23 2018

28mins

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Lee Smolin on the nature of time - Physics World Stories Podcast

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The concept of time has puzzled human beings for centuries. Many physicists have suggested that the problem is that time is not actually real but a property that emerges from something more fundamental – just as an object can feel solid even though it is mostly made up of empty space. Lee Smolin, who is a researcher at Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, takes the opposite view. He thinks time is real – so real, in fact, that even the supposedly timeless laws of physics – are subject to it. Having published numerous scientific papers about his theories of time, Smolin has now put his main ideas into a new popular-science book called Time Reborn, the thinking behind which he explains in this podcast.

Listen to the podcast now to hear more of Smolin’s views on the nature of time.

Sep 23 2013

9mins

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The future of the Internet - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In the previous episode of the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester revisited the birth of the World Wide Web at CERN in 1989. This month, Glester looks to the future of Internet technologies, profiling some of the developments that might transform our daily lives.

Glester finds out about the different ways we will connect to the Internet in the near future. Global access could be expanded thanks to WiFi provided by satellites in low-Earth orbit. Meanwhile, a more secure way of connecting to the Internet could be provided by LiFi – wireless data encoded into everyday light sources.

Looking beyond the individual technologies, the concept of an Internet of Things (IoT) holds the promise of making everyday living more convenient. Devices are already on the market, such as fridges that monitor your eating habits and automatically order replenishments. In the future, these sorts of systems could become commonplace in all aspects of society.

But as we move to an ever-more connected world, we also leave ourselves more vulnerable to cybercrime. To discuss security considerations, Glester catches up with ethical hacker Freaky Clown who describes the cat-and-mouse battle between the security services and cyber criminals.

If you enjoy what you hear, then you can also subscribe to Physics World Stories via Apple podcasts or your chosen podcast host.

Apr 23 2019

38mins

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The story behind the first ever black hole image - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In the May edition of the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester reflects on the biggest astronomy story of the year – the first ever image of a black hole and its “shadow”. Unless you’ve been living in a black hole yourself, you will have seen the glowing donut/eye of Sauron/smiley face, which is actually the supermassive black hole at the centre of the M87 elliptical galaxy, some 55 million light-years from Earth.

The image represents an incredible feat of science and engineering, produced from petabytes of data captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of individual radio telescopes and telescopic arrays scattered across the globe. The EHT team reported the results in six papers in a special issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, which is published by the Institute of Physics on behalf of the American Astronomical Society.

To find out more about the story behind the discovery, Glester catches up with three scientists from the EHT team who also hold positions at Radboud University in the Netherlands. First up is Monika Mościbrodzka, a member of EHT’s data analysis team who speaks about the significance of the discovery and the future prospects for the project. “Black holes are no longer just a theory. It’s now reality”, she says.

Meanwhile, Freek Roelof explains how the group generated the image from all the raw radio wave data. He worked on data collection at the Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) on Mount Graham, Arizona. When not doing cutting edge science Roelof plays the guitar and you can hear some of his black-hole-inspired songs in the podcast.

Since the publication of the image, many people have asked the question: “Why did these astronomers look all the way to the M87 galaxy, when we have a black hole – Sagittarius A* – at the centre of our own galaxy?” The reason comes down to scale. Despite being a thousand times further away, the black hole at the centre of M87 is a whopping 0.7 billion solar masses, a thousand times more massive than Sagittarius A*.

But now that the EHT has proved its capability, you wouldn’t bet against the collaboration capturing an image our Sagittarius A* at some point. In the meantime, you can take a look at this virtual reality simulation based on best-fit models of observations of Sagittarius A*. Its creator, Jordy Davelaar, joins the podcast to explain how and why he created it.

If you enjoy what you hear, then you can subscribe to Physics World Stories via your chosen podcast host. Also check out our other podcast Physics World Weekly, which brings you regular updates on the latest research developments in the physical sciences.

May 22 2019

36mins

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The enigmatic life of J Robert Oppenheimer - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Monk is a philosopher at the University of Southampton in the UK, and in the podcast you will hear him discuss the efforts he made to get to grips with Oppenheimer’s physics – including his theoretical work on mesons and the gravitational collapse of neutron stars – as well as the atomic-bomb project. You will also hear Monk’s views on the events that led to Oppenheimer having his security clearance revoked by the US government and the aspects of “Oppie’s” character that made him such a charismatic leader.

Listen to the podcast now to learn more about this pivotal figure in the history of modern physics.

Jun 24 2013

13mins

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Physics for all – building a more inclusive discipline - Physics World Stories Podcast

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The issue generated a lot of reaction, ranging from e-mails and letters to comments on the website, in person and on social media. In this podcast, Physics World editor Matin Durrani and careers editor Margaret Harris address some of the responses from the physics community – both good and bad – to that special issue in the company of Andrew Glester from The Cosmic Shed podcast.

Much of that reaction was in response to Louise Mayor’s feature “Where people and particles collide” on what it is like to be in a gender or sexual minority at the CERN particle-physics lab, which got picked up widely elsewhere in the media. But we also discuss reader thoughts on the article on unconscious bias, on the feature on “microaggressions” in the workplace and why Physics World devoted a whole issue to this topic in the first place.

Apr 20 2016

28mins

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Physics in fiction - Physics World Stories Podcast

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The podcast is hosted by James Dacey and features four books in total. The first two, The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth and The Sensorium of God, are both fictionalized versions of real episodes in physics history. They are part of a trilogy (the third book is due to be published in 2013) by the science writer Stuart Clark, and in the podcast they are covered by Physics World‘s reviews editor, Margaret Harris.

Next up is a thriller by Robert Harris called The Fear Index. This book is set in the modern-day world of mathematical finance, and as Physics World‘s editor Matin Durrani explains, its main character is a rather unsavoury ex-CERN physicist who has become a hedge-fund tycoon.

The last book discussed in the podcast is Mr g. This one is a bit harder to describe but author Alan Lightman – a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – bills it as “a novel about the creation”, which seems pretty spot-on to us.

So are any of these books destined to become classics of physics fiction? Unlike in physics itself, there are no right or wrong answers here – but there are plenty of opinions, and we would love to hear your favourite examples of physics in fiction after you’ve listened to the podcast. You can post them as comments to this article, e-mail them to us at pwld@iop.org or send them to @PhysicsWorld on Twitter.

Aug 30 2012

12mins

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Exploring the cosmos with gravitational waves - Physics World Stories Podcast

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To say the past couple of years have been a whirlwind for scientists engaged in gravitational-wave research would something of a cosmic understatement. After detecting its first gravitational waves in 2015, the LIGO experiment in the US went on to announce three more detections, all of them from the merger of two black holes. One of these was also detected by the Virgo experiment in Italy. This October Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne shared the shared the Nobel Prize for Physics for their pioneering contributions to the field and to the LIGO detector itself.

Less than two weeks after the Nobel announcement, astronomers gathered at the Royal Society for the announcement of arguably the most significant breakthrough of all. The merger of two neutron stars was observed by the LIGO–Virgo collaboration, while gamma rays from the same event were picked up by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. This prompted the global astronomical community to point up to 70 different telescopes and detectors around the world, and in space, at the origin of the signals in a distant galaxy – building a detailed picture of the collision and its aftermath.

Glester was at that latest announcement at the Royal Society to soak up the atmosphere and learn all about multimessenger astronomy. Among the people he met was the Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, whose CV also includes terms as president of the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society. Rees hails the latest result as “sociologically very important” because it demonstrates international collaboration between teams of scientists and engineers to achieve measurements of phenomenal precision. “It illustrates how astronomy is a very broadly based international and multi-technique subject,” he says.

As the editor of physicsworld.com, Hamish Johnston, pointed out shortly after the Nobel prize announcement, we should not forget that for millennia, humans could only see visible light from the cosmos. It is only during the last century that we have been able to view the universe across much more of the electromagnetic spectrum – as well as through the arrival of high-energy particles such as cosmic rays and neutrinos. Adding gravitational waves to the mix now brings a new way of seeing the heavens that could reveal astronomical events that had been beyond the view – and even beyond the imagination – of astrophysicists.

For a more in-depth look at the significance of these latest discoveries, take a look at Multimessenger Astronomy by Imre Bartos of the University of Florida and Marek Kowalski of Humboldt University and DESY. Part of the Physics World Discovery series, this free-to-read ebook explores the scientific questions surrounding these new messengers and the detectors and observational techniques used to study them. It also provides an overview of current and future directions in the field.

  • Neutron-star collision artwork courtesy of the University of Warwick and Mark Garlick

Nov 09 2017

38mins

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Art McDonald explains why neutrinos continue to amaze physicists - Physics World Stories Podcast

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The neutrino was first proposed in 1930 by Wolfgang Pauli to explain a mysterious deficit of energy that was observed in the study of nuclear decay. Pauli famously joked that he had done a terrible thing by postulating a particle that could not be detected. But the particle was detected in 1956, and since then just about every discovery in neutrino physics has thrown up more questions than answers.

Because it does not fit in with the Standard Model, the neutrino is a prime target for the discovery of new physics. There have already been four Nobel prizes awarded for neutrino physics and thousands of physicists are working on experiments worldwide hoping to make the next big discovery.

In this podcast, Nobel laureate Art McDonald talks about the new SNO+ experiment that is located more than 2 km underground in a Canadian mine and which will look for hypothetical process called neutrinoless double-beta decay. Its discovery would be another bombshell in the history of neutrino physics because it would mean that the neutrino is its own antiparticle. Knowing the decay rate would also provide a direct measurement of the mass of the neutrino – a poorly known and much sought after quantity.

As well as being a laboratory for fundamental physics, SNO+ will also be an important tool for geophysicists studying the Earth’s crust – as McDonald explains. Other, more practical, applications of neutrino physics include fusion energy, says McDonald, who makes it very clear that the mysterious neutrino still has a lot more to give to science.

May 25 2016

10mins

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Physics World 30th anniversary podcast series – fusion energy - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Physics World has recently turned 30 and we are celebrating with a 5-part series podcast series exploring key areas of physics. This third episode in the series explores the prospects for fusion energy ­­– a carbon-free form of energy generation that may finally be on the cusp of becoming practical.

For the past few decades, the running joke has been that despite the excitement, fusion energy is “always 30 years away.” In the January episode of Physics World Stories, Andrew Glester meets fusion researchers at the UK company Tokamak Energy to learn about the practical challenges and the technology that could make fusion a reality within the next 15 years.

Melanie Windridge, a communication consultant (and adventurer), explains the science behind the two main approaches to achieving fusion. The first is known as inertial confinement fusion and its feasibility is being investigated at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in the US. The alternative involves using intense magnetic fields to confine hot plasma inside a device known as a tokamak. This is the approach taken at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), an international collaboration based in southern France.

In contrast to the much larger tokamak ITER tokamak, the technology being developed by Tokamak Energy could lead to a compact tokamak that can run at much higher plasma pressure. Glester visits the company in Oxfordshire to meet the company’s chief executive David Kingham, who believes this smaller-scale approach could make fusion energy more economically viable. Both Kingham and Windridge believe that practical fusion energy has become more realistic due to two key factors – the growing global consensus that we need to act on climate change coupled with the arrival of private enterprise in this space.

If you enjoy the podcast, then take a listen to the first two podcasts in the 30th anniversary series. Glester began in October by looking at the past and future of particle physics. Then in November he explored gravitational waves by looking at the exciting future for multimessenger astronomy. Don’t forget you can also subscribe to Physics World Stories via the Apple podcast app or your chosen podcast host.

Jan 22 2019

48mins

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Still not even wrong - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Disillusioned by the charms of string theory, he began writing a book detailing the history and the “overwhelming triumph” of the Standard Model of particle physics, the birth of string theory and its subsequent “overwhelming failure to find any way to make further progress on fundamental questions”. This year marks the 10th anniversary of that book – Not Even Wrong: the Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics.

Not Even Wrong coincided with the publication of another book – The Trouble with Physics – that had a similar theme and tone, penned by Woit’s friend and renowned physicist Lee Smolin. Together, the two books put the theory and its practitioners under a critical spotlight and took string theory’s supposed inadequacies to task. The books sparked a sensation both in the string-theory community and in the wider media, which until then had heard only glowing reports of the theory’s successes.

To mark the anniversary of Not Even Wrong, Physics World reporter Tushna Commissariat caught up with Woit to talk about the book, the subsequent “string wars” and the sociology of science. In the resulting podcast, you can also find out what has happened in fundamental and particle physics over the past decade – including the discovery of the Higgs particle at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, but the lack of any supersymmetric particles until now. Woit also explains what he thinks needs to happen in the field to propel it into the future.

Both scientists and philosophers have long hunted for the ultimate theory – one that perfectly explains the universe we observe, from a quark to a quasar. In the mid-1980s string theory emerged at the top of the pile as the most promising candidate in this quest for a “theory of everything”, or more specifically, a theory that unified quantum mechanics and general relativity.

The original theory was a framework in which the point-like particles were replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings. It emerged that for the theory to work and to be mathematically consistent, it would require at least 10 dimensions of space–time, rather than our usually observed four dimensions. The extra dimensions, according to the theory, are “compactified” or fold in on themselves. Each extra dimension can be of a variety of “shapes” and there exist a myriad ways in which they can be compactified, meaning that there are too many possible solutions to be able to make a clear prediction.

Not being able to make clear predictions, combined with the lack of falsifiability, are the major deficiencies of string theory, according to Woit, Smolin and others such as the Nobel-prize-winner Sheldon Glashow, who once said “Sadly, I cannot imagine a single experimental result that would falsify string theory. I have been brought up to believe that systems of belief that cannot be falsified are not in the realm of science.”

String theory still polarizes opinion, but its advocates remain firm and deem it a beautiful and mathematically rigorous framework. As Woit explains in the podcast, “For many years, I’d been thinking that the situation with string theory was really pretty odd…this junction between the public perception of it, the way it had been portrayed and what was actually going on.”

Sep 23 2016

19mins

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We need to talk about quantum mechanics - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Along with learning about the most up-to-date and exciting advances in the field, the group discussed everything from the inherent complexity that arises because of the many interpretations of quantum mechanics to helping people discern the actual science from the “quantum woo” to all the good science communication that is already being done.

In this podcast, you will hear from Commissariat and a selection of her fellow boot-campers, including quantum physicist and science-communication enthusiast Raymond Laflamme, director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in Canada; conference organizer, blogger and NORDITA physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, and author, blogger and researcher Chad Orzel. She also chats to journalist and author Michael Brooks; New Scientist features editor Valerie Jamieson and blogger and freelance journalist Sedeer el-Showk about how journalists can crack the code to crafting the perfect quantum tale.

Listen to the podcast to discover their strategies for bringing quantum mechanics out from behind closed laboratory doors and into the mainstay of our everyday lives.

Nov 19 2014

16mins

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The sound man - Physics World Stories Podcast

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As an acoustical physicist at the University of Salford, Trevor Cox spends much of his time developing ways to minimize distortions and other unwanted effects in concert halls and recording studios. A few years ago, however, an “acoustic epiphany” in a Victorian sewer, of all places, opened his mind – and his ears – to the beauty and wonder of less-conventional soundscapes. Since then, Cox has been on “scientific odyssey of sound” that has included trips to the singing sands of the Mojave Desert, a Cold War listening post and a vast underground oil tank that holds the Guinness World Record for the longest echo.

In this podcast, you’ll hear Cox describing some of these “sonic wonderlands” to Physics World‘s reviews editor Margaret Harris, who visited him in Salford to learn more about the science of unusual sounds – and to experience a few of these sounds first-hand.

Sep 24 2014

14mins

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Mary, Queen of Scottish banknotes - Physics World Stories Podcast

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To learn about Somerville’s academic achievements and personal life, Dacey visits the University of Oxford’s Somerville College. Founded in 1879, it was originally a women-only institution and is named after Somerville, who achieved international acclaim during her lifetime. Famous alumni include chemistry Nobel laureate Dorothy Hodgkin, and the only female prime ministers of the UK and India to date: Margaret Thatcher and Indira Ghandi. Today, the college accepts both men and women but maintains its reputation for being one of the more open and progressive of Oxford’s colleges. Dacey meets Somerville’s current principal Alice Prochaska, a historian by training, who describes Somerville’s formative years and how her influence lives on at the college today.

Prochaska describes how Somerville first encountered mathematics from an unlikely source – an algebra puzzle in a woman’s magazine. Without the support of her parents – who thought maths could turn a female mind to mush – Somerville showed a combination of genius and sheer determination to teach herself Euclidian geometry by candlelight. Under the encouragement of her second husband, William Somerville, she developed a flair for interpreting some of the leading mathematics of her day and communicating this to a wider audience via her accessible writing. One of her best received publications was her book On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, originally published in 1834 and hailed by many of the period’s leading thinkers, including Charles Darwin. To learn about the influence of Somerville’s work and how she became a fixture in Europe’s intellectual circles, Dacey also meets with science historian Allan Chapman.

In the second half of the podcast, Prochaska talks about some of the challenges that women in science still face today, and discusses some of the initiatives in place at Oxford to encourage diversity. If you would like to find out more about diversity issues in physics, make sure you don’t miss the March issue of Physics World, a special edition on this topic.

Feb 23 2016

19mins

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Exploring the worlds of TRAPPIST-1 - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Just 40 light-years from Earth, TRAPPIST-1 is relatively small compared with the size of our Sun, with a mass 80 times that of Jupiter. Researchers were able to spot periodic drops in intensity of light from the star, as observed by the TRAPPIST telescope in Chile. Using the “transit” method of exoplanet detection, the astrophysicists were able to infer the presence of seven planets sweeping across the face of the star. Remarkably, all seven objects appear to be similar in size to Earth, with radii ranging from 0.77–1.13 Earth radii. The team was able to determine the mass and density of six of the exoplanets, which suggests that they have rocky compositions.

In this podcast, Glester meets researchers involved in the discovery to find out what they know so far about the system. What would it be like to stand on the surface of a TRAPPIST-1 planet and stare out at the night sky? What is the geology of the planets? How can future space missions enable us to learn more about the system?

With his characteristic enthusiasm, Glester discovers that these planets could be even more intriguing than we first thought. You can also hear Glester’s extended conversation with lead researcher Michael Gillon on the Cosmic Shed podcast .

Apr 06 2017

29mins

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Quantum computing: challenges, triumphs and applications - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Participants include John Martinis of the University of California, Santa Barbara; Raymond Laflamme of the University of Waterloo in Canada; John Preskill of the California Institute of Technology; and Charles Marcus – who was at Harvard when the recording was made but who is now at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark.

While most experts agree that practical quantum computers are some way off in the future, I also spoke to Geordie Rose, who is co-founder of Canada’s D-Wave Systems, which claims to have already built – and sold – quantum processors. While Rose says that the firm’s processors are currently being used to develop practical commercial applications, he also thinks that ultimately they may even have more artistic uses.

Mar 21 2013

12mins

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Physics and film, a match made in Hollywood - Physics World Stories Podcast

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“Physics at the movies” is the theme of the November issue of Physics World magazine. In this star-studded episode of the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester interviews a trio of people who have worked on – or inspired – Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters.

First up, Glester travels to MCM Comic Con in London to meet Paul Franklin, a member of the team that won the 2014 Oscar for Best Visual Effects for its work on Interstellar. Franklin is the creative director of DNEG, which has worked with director Christopher Nolan on his various other films including Inception, The Dark Knight trilogy and Dunkirk. But the conversation focuses on Interstellar and what it was like to work with science advisor Kip Thorne, a process that even led to a scientific paper about previously unseen details of black holes.

Next up, Glester is in conversation with Jill Tarter, former director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Tarter is said to be the inspiration for Ellie Arroway, the lead character in Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, which was adapted into the 1997 blockbuster of the same name starring Jodie Foster. Tarter describes how she reentered astronomy thanks to a government scheme, and shares anecdotes about working with Foster to portray her personality on screen.

Finally, Glester catches up with Andy Weir, author of the book The Martian, which was adapted into the 2015 film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon. Weir speaks about the calculations and thought-experiments that underpinned some of the book’s plot. He admits that he never expected the story to appeal to such a wide audience and that Mark Watney – the story’s lead character – is a version of himself with all the good traits magnified.

To find out more about about physics at the movies take a look at the November special issue of Physics World, which features interviews with the actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Radcliffe.

Nov 28 2019

36mins

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Doing physics in microgravity environments - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In this month’s Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester discovers why microgravity environments are such interesting places to do physics experiments. Perhaps the ultimate microgravity laboratory is the international space station (ISS), where astronauts carry out experiments designed by scientists across the globe. But microgravity environments can also be created here on Earth, via parabolic flights and drop towers that can achieve microgravity conditions within the gravitational field of the Earth.

In the episode, Glester travels to Swindon to meet Libby Jackson, the human exploration programme manager at the UK Space Agency. Jackson explains why removing gravity from the equation can allow researchers to probe a range of questions, not necessarily related to space science. She herself, has flown on a so-called “vomit comet” and she describes the experience of adapting to weightlessness while trying to control a science experiment.

Marco Marengo, a thermal engineering research at the University of Brighton, UK, is another frequent flyer on parabolic flights. He describes some of the physics experiments he has been involved with and the process through which researchers can apply for time at these facilities. Unsurprisingly, he always finds time to have some fun while weightless in addition to doing the serious science.

Within Europe, researchers requiring a microgravity environment regularly visit the ZARM drop-tower, located in Bremen, Germany. Just shy of 150m in length, this facility comprises an experimental capsule housed inside a long steel tube. In the video below, you can see Paxi – the European Space Agency’s educational mascot – falling down this drop. The ESA website has full details of how to apply to use parabolic flights, drop towers and other related facilities.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36637WobHZA

While researchers are less likely to be making a trip themselves to the ISS, the options for sending your experiment there are expanding. Jackson explains how it is now possible to buy time on the ISS through the ICE Cubes service, which involves launching your experiment in a 10cm3 container. Companies can also pay for time on the the ISS securing the rights to any resulting intellectual property.

Glester will be back with another episode of Physics World Stories next month. In the meantime you can listen to our more regular podcast Physics World Weekly. You can subscribe to both programmes on Apple podcasts or your chosen podcast provider.

Support for this podcast came from Pfeiffer Vacuum.

Oct 28 2019

39mins

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Driving in the present - Physics World Stories Podcast

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For many years, the electric car industry was viewed as a fringe sector, with some believing that cars running entirely on electricity would always remain on the margins. But electric cars are becoming mainstream much faster than anticipated. In September 2019, 7.5% of all cars sold in Europe were electric, which is double the number for the previous September.  The number in the US is lower, but it is projected that 10% of all new cars sold in China will be electric by 2020.

In the September episode of Physics World Stories, Andrew Glester investigates the latest technologies in electric cars and some of the developments expected in the near future. He also looks at some of the economic factors that are making electric cars a more viable choice for consumers. Entangled in the technology and economics are a number of environmental issues, including the need to find a sustainable source of metals and minerals for the batteries.

On his journey through the land of electric cars, Glester meets a variety of people. Most of the interviews took place at the recent Full Charged Live event at Silverstone – home of the British Grand Prix and other high profile motor races.

Actor and tech aficionado Robert Llewellyn speaks about his experiences as an early adopter of electric cars and the vast improvements in the UK’s network of charging points.

Simon Moores of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence talks about the challenges in the life cycle of electric car batteries.

Chris Day, technical director of Jaltek Systems, discusses the interface between electricity grids and electric cars, including the idea that vehicles can store electricity that can later be transferred back to the grid.

Taking a different turn, Mihai Caleap from the University of Bristol, introduces the field of meta sonics. He explains how metamaterials can be used to filter external noises to make driving a car a more pleasant experience.

Finally, Clare Jones introduces an innovative new addressing system, developed by her company what3words. By giving every location an earth a unique string of 3 words, it will help drivers (and automated cars) to precisely locate places, including charging points that can be tricky to find.

Driving in the present, is a follow on to the August 2018 episode of Physics World Stories, entitled ‘Driving in the future’. That episode took a more general look at the need for more environmentally conscious transport decisions.

Glester will be back with another episode of Physics World Stories next month. In the meantime you can listen to our more regular podcast Physics World Weekly. You can subscribe to both programmes on Apple podcasts or your chosen podcast provider.

Sep 30 2019

41mins

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Physics and the climate crisis - Physics World Stories Podcast

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The UK, France, Ireland and Canada have already taken the symbolic step of declaring a climate emergency, but many believe that the actions of these and other countries do not yet match the boldness of their rhetoric. In this episode of the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester speaks to Will Cook of Extinction Rebellion – a movement that wants governments to accelerate their response to the climate crisis – about the need for politicians around the world to commit to meaningful action.

Glester also explores how academics and physicists are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint. He speaks to Anna Lewis, the sustainable labs officer at the University of Bristol – the first UK research institution to declare a climate emergency – who explains how the university plans to meet its pledge of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

Lewis point out that science labs can be some of the biggest users of energy, and Glester talks to Caroline Jarrett, technical manager for the university’s school of science, about the practical measures that researchers can take to make their labs more sustainable. Finally, Glester tackles the thorny question of air travel, not least to academic conferences, and speaks to Matthew Tulley from Solid Carbon Storage about an innovative way to offset your carbon emissions on the occasions when you do need to fly.

Aug 16 2019

48mins

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50th anniversary of Apollo 11 – returning to the Moon and going beyond - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Throughout July the world has been celebrating 50 years since Apollo 11, when Neil Armstrong took those historic first steps on the Moon. In this episode of the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester looks to the future, at the prospects of returning humans to the Moon before setting our sights on Mars.

Glester reports from the Blue Dot festival at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, UK. There, he enjoyed a lively mix of contemporary music, scientific talks, and plenty of other creative performances. In the podcast, you will also hear from:

  • Monica Grady, professor of planetary and space science at the Open University
  • Michaela Musilova, an astrobiologist and director of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS).
  • Libby Jackson, director of human space flight at the UK Space Agency.
  • Kerry Sanz, operations director of MDA, a company offering LiDAR mapping technologies.

This podcast follows on from the June episode of Physics World Stories, which looked back at some of the lesser known stories from the Apollo era. For a comprehensive view of the Apollo legacy and future space travel, take a look at the July special issue of Physics World.

Jul 24 2019

29mins

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50th anniversary of Apollo 11 – hidden stories - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In July the world will be celebrating 50 years since Apollo 11, when Neil Armstrong took those historic first steps on the Moon. In this episode of the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester looks back at some of the lesser known stories from the Apollo era.

Glester catches up with Kevin Fong, presenter of 13 Minutes to the Moon, the BBC podcast exploring the final dramatic 13-minute descent of the Apollo 11 mission, when everything came close to going badly wrong. Fong explains why the Apollo rockets’ guidance systems were so ground-breaking at the time. He also describes the extraordinary psychology of the Apollo astronauts who risked their lives in the pursuit of progress.

Next up, Alan Andres speaks about Chasing the Moon, the book he co-authored with Robert Stone that has been turned into a PBS documentary. He discusses the complex dual life lived by Wernher von Braun, Nazi scientist-turned NASA rocket pioneer. Andres also explains why James Webb, the American government official who oversaw NASA from 1961 to 1968, left such a lasting legacy on the US education system.

Glester also visits the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK where he catches up with a trio of Apollo aficionados. Science presenter Dallas Campbell shares some of his favourite stories including the surprising modest origins of the US flag that was planted into the lunar surface. Astronomer Nick Howes speaks about the social value of the Apollo programme and why we need to recapture the era’s spirit of adventure. While geoscientist Louise Alexander explains why it is still worth analysing samples of lunar rock returned during the Apollo missions.

Finally, you can hear an archive interview with Apollo astronaut Alan Bean, who went to the Moon on Apollo 12. Since retiring, Bean developed a passion for painting and creates works inspired by his adventures in space. This pursuit brought Bean the freedom of expression he never had as an astronaut where speed of thought and precision were among the required skills.

In the July episode of Physics World Stories, Glester will look forward to some of the missions that will see humans (and machines) return to our nearest celestial neighbour. Also look out for the July issue of Physics World magazine, a special issue devoted to the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

Jun 26 2019

53mins

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The story behind the first ever black hole image - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In the May edition of the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester reflects on the biggest astronomy story of the year – the first ever image of a black hole and its “shadow”. Unless you’ve been living in a black hole yourself, you will have seen the glowing donut/eye of Sauron/smiley face, which is actually the supermassive black hole at the centre of the M87 elliptical galaxy, some 55 million light-years from Earth.

The image represents an incredible feat of science and engineering, produced from petabytes of data captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of individual radio telescopes and telescopic arrays scattered across the globe. The EHT team reported the results in six papers in a special issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, which is published by the Institute of Physics on behalf of the American Astronomical Society.

To find out more about the story behind the discovery, Glester catches up with three scientists from the EHT team who also hold positions at Radboud University in the Netherlands. First up is Monika Mościbrodzka, a member of EHT’s data analysis team who speaks about the significance of the discovery and the future prospects for the project. “Black holes are no longer just a theory. It’s now reality”, she says.

Meanwhile, Freek Roelof explains how the group generated the image from all the raw radio wave data. He worked on data collection at the Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) on Mount Graham, Arizona. When not doing cutting edge science Roelof plays the guitar and you can hear some of his black-hole-inspired songs in the podcast.

Since the publication of the image, many people have asked the question: “Why did these astronomers look all the way to the M87 galaxy, when we have a black hole – Sagittarius A* – at the centre of our own galaxy?” The reason comes down to scale. Despite being a thousand times further away, the black hole at the centre of M87 is a whopping 0.7 billion solar masses, a thousand times more massive than Sagittarius A*.

But now that the EHT has proved its capability, you wouldn’t bet against the collaboration capturing an image our Sagittarius A* at some point. In the meantime, you can take a look at this virtual reality simulation based on best-fit models of observations of Sagittarius A*. Its creator, Jordy Davelaar, joins the podcast to explain how and why he created it.

If you enjoy what you hear, then you can subscribe to Physics World Stories via your chosen podcast host. Also check out our other podcast Physics World Weekly, which brings you regular updates on the latest research developments in the physical sciences.

May 22 2019

36mins

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The future of the Internet - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In the previous episode of the Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester revisited the birth of the World Wide Web at CERN in 1989. This month, Glester looks to the future of Internet technologies, profiling some of the developments that might transform our daily lives.

Glester finds out about the different ways we will connect to the Internet in the near future. Global access could be expanded thanks to WiFi provided by satellites in low-Earth orbit. Meanwhile, a more secure way of connecting to the Internet could be provided by LiFi – wireless data encoded into everyday light sources.

Looking beyond the individual technologies, the concept of an Internet of Things (IoT) holds the promise of making everyday living more convenient. Devices are already on the market, such as fridges that monitor your eating habits and automatically order replenishments. In the future, these sorts of systems could become commonplace in all aspects of society.

But as we move to an ever-more connected world, we also leave ourselves more vulnerable to cybercrime. To discuss security considerations, Glester catches up with ethical hacker Freaky Clown who describes the cat-and-mouse battle between the security services and cyber criminals.

If you enjoy what you hear, then you can also subscribe to Physics World Stories via Apple podcasts or your chosen podcast host.

Apr 23 2019

38mins

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Physics World 30th anniversary podcast series – 30 years of the World Wide Web - Physics World Stories Podcast

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On the 30th anniversary of the birth of the World Wide Web at CERN, the Physics World Stories podcast visits the particle-physics lab in Geneva to learn how things developed from an esoteric proposal to something that has changed the world forever.

Physics World magazine has also recently turned 30 and we have been celebrating with a five-part podcast series exploring key developments in physics. This fifth and final episode revisits the birth of the World Wide Web at CERN in the late 1980s. In March 1989 British physicist turned computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee produced the now-famous document entitled “Information management: a proposal”. Over the past three decades, this modest origin has evolved into a globally connected web of computing systems, transforming the way we live our lives.

To mark the occasion, Physics World Stories host Andrew Glester visits CERN to meet some of the scientists who were there in the early years of the Web. Along the way he meets, Jean-François Groff (see left), François FlückigerBen Segal and Tim Berners-Lee’s former boss Peggy Rimmer.

You will also hear from Tim Berners-Lee himself, who shares his hopes and fears for the future of the Web. The creator of the Web is amazed by the speed and extent of global change brought about by the Web. But, like the majority of us, he also fears the worrying trend for nefarious activities enabled by the Web, including misinformation and the amplified voices of those who choose to spread hate. “The Web is for everyone and collectively we hold the power to change it,” says Berners-Lee. “It won’t be easy but if we dream a little and work a lot we can get the Web we want.”

The 30th anniversary of the Web is also the theme of the March special issue of Physics World magazine. You can enjoy many of that issue’s articles – along with a host of others – in a special online-only collection. The collection includes a brilliant graphic by Jess Wade, a look at the business impact of the Web, and the latest episode of the Physics World Weekly podcast in which Physics World journalists chew the fat over how on earth we got anything done before the Web came along.

If you enjoy the podcast, then take a listen to the first four podcasts in the 30th anniversary series. Glester began in October by looking at the past and future of particle physics before tackling gravitational waves in November. In January he examined the prospects for nuclear fusion, then in February he looked at how high-temperature superconductivity research has evolved over the past three decades since the phenomenon was first observed. Don’t forget you can also subscribe to Physics World Stories via Apple podcasts or your chosen podcast host.

Mar 12 2019

1hr

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Physics World 30th anniversary podcast series – high-temperature superconductivity - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Physics World has recently turned 30 and we are celebrating with a five-part podcast series exploring key areas of physics. This fourth episode in the series explores how high-temperature superconductivity research has evolved over the past three decades since the phenomenon was first observed.

In the late 1980s there was a lot of hype surrounding these materials because of the many exciting applications that would follow. Among the promised spin-offs were lossless transmission lines, lossless magnetism and levitating trains. All of these applications have been demonstrated to some extent but it is also fair to say that high-temperature superconductors are not as ubiquitous as some had hoped.

In this podcast, Andrew Glester picks up the story to find out more about the history of high-temperature superconductivity and its prospects for the future. He catches up with the physicists Elizabeth Blackburn from Lund University in Sweden and Stephen Hayden from the University of Bristol, UK.

If you enjoy the podcast, then take a listen to the first three podcasts in the 30th anniversary series. Glester began in October by looking at the past and future of particle physics before tackling gravitational waves in November and then nuclear fusion in January. Don’t forget you can also subscribe to Physics World Stories via Apple podcasts or your chosen podcast host.

Feb 27 2019

30mins

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Physics World 30th anniversary podcast series – fusion energy - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Physics World has recently turned 30 and we are celebrating with a 5-part series podcast series exploring key areas of physics. This third episode in the series explores the prospects for fusion energy ­­– a carbon-free form of energy generation that may finally be on the cusp of becoming practical.

For the past few decades, the running joke has been that despite the excitement, fusion energy is “always 30 years away.” In the January episode of Physics World Stories, Andrew Glester meets fusion researchers at the UK company Tokamak Energy to learn about the practical challenges and the technology that could make fusion a reality within the next 15 years.

Melanie Windridge, a communication consultant (and adventurer), explains the science behind the two main approaches to achieving fusion. The first is known as inertial confinement fusion and its feasibility is being investigated at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in the US. The alternative involves using intense magnetic fields to confine hot plasma inside a device known as a tokamak. This is the approach taken at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), an international collaboration based in southern France.

In contrast to the much larger tokamak ITER tokamak, the technology being developed by Tokamak Energy could lead to a compact tokamak that can run at much higher plasma pressure. Glester visits the company in Oxfordshire to meet the company’s chief executive David Kingham, who believes this smaller-scale approach could make fusion energy more economically viable. Both Kingham and Windridge believe that practical fusion energy has become more realistic due to two key factors – the growing global consensus that we need to act on climate change coupled with the arrival of private enterprise in this space.

If you enjoy the podcast, then take a listen to the first two podcasts in the 30th anniversary series. Glester began in October by looking at the past and future of particle physics. Then in November he explored gravitational waves by looking at the exciting future for multimessenger astronomy. Don’t forget you can also subscribe to Physics World Stories via the Apple podcast app or your chosen podcast host.

Jan 22 2019

48mins

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Physics World Book of the Year 2018 - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Each year since 2009, Physics World has been awarding one excellent popular-science book with the title of Book of the Year, not to mention creating a shortlist of nine other top titles from all the books we reviewed that year. We also love talking about physics books, and ever since our first such podcast in 2011, we get together each December to discuss our shortlist and reveal our winner. As is becoming a tradition, this chat was hosted by our regular podcast presenter and producer Andrew Glester, in his garden shed, where he can often be found musing about “science fiction, science fact and everything in-between” for his own podcast the Cosmic Shed.

As this year’s winner is the 10th to bag our Book of the Year, we decided to catch up with some previous winners to see what they are working on today; to chat about how their books have aged; and hear what they would do differently today. Tune in to the podcast to hear 2009 winner Graham Farmelo talk about Paul Dirac and his family; find out what 2015 winner Amanda Gefter is working on today; hear what 2010 winner Anil Ananthaswamy has to say about travel and science-writing; and find out more about hippies and physics from 2012 winner David Kaiser.

Of course we also discuss the various exciting books on the 2018 shortlist, and reveal our 10th winner of the Physics World Book of the Year, so tune in to the podcast to hear from a host of interesting writers and scientists.

We hope that everyone will find something to appreciate on this list, and hopefully we have given you a few ideas for some excellent holiday presents.

Shortlist for Physics World Book of the Year 2018 (in no particular order):

Treknology: the Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drives by Ethan Siegel

Ad Astra: an Illustrated Guide to Leaving the Planet by Dallas Campbell

Exact Thinking in Demented Times: the Vienna Circle and the Epic Quest for the Foundations of Science by Karl Sigmund

Beyond Weird: Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Quantum Physics is Different by Philip Ball

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray by Sabine Hossenfelder

The Dialogues: Conversations About the Nature of the Universe by Clifford V Johnson

When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11: Or How to Explain Quantum Physics with Heavy Metal by Philip Moriarty

What is Real: the Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics by Adam Becker

Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine by Hannah Fry

Dec 17 2018

1hr 5mins

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Physics World 30th anniversary podcast series – gravitational waves - Physics World Stories Podcast

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As regular readers will know, Physics World has just turned 30 and we have been celebrating the anniversary with a range of special content. This includes a 5-part series for our monthly podcast, Physics World Stories, exploring key areas in physics that evolved significantly during the past 30 years. This second episode in the series looks at gravitational waves by revisiting the celebrated first detections by the LIGO collaboration, then looking to the exciting future for multimessenger astronomy.

Along the way, presenter Andrew Glester speaks with several members of the LIGO team: Mark Hannam of Cardiff University; Chris Messenger from the University of Glasgow; and Lisa Barsotti from the MIT Kavli Institute who received of a New Horizons Breakthrough prize for her work on the LIGO detectors. He catches up with Paul McNamara, a project scientist on the European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder mission – a precursor to the first space-based gravitational wave observatory.

Glester also examines the controversy surrounding a recent analysis suggesting that LIGO has not yet discovered gravitational waves. The group at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark claimed in a paper on the arXiv preprint server that the positive detections could just be correlated “noise” from LIGO’s two detectors, and they have since followed up with further analyses of the LIGO data. Glester speaks with the group’s spokesperson Andrew Jackson and offers LIGO researchers the chance to respond.

If you enjoy what you hear, then you take a listen to the first episode in this special podcast series, which looked at the past and future of particle physics. Don’t forget you can also subscribe to Physics World Stories via the Apple podcast app or your chosen podcast host.

Nov 28 2018

1hr 8mins

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Physics World 30th anniversary podcast series – particle physics - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In October 1988 the first ever edition of Physics World magazine was published, so this month marks our 30th birthday. The October 2018 issue of Physics World revisits some of the key topics and issues in physics from 30 years ago, examines how they’ve developed, and contemplates their prospects for the next three decades. Particle physics, gravitational waves, optics and laser technology, fusion energy, and high-temperature superconductivity, are all reviewed.

As part of the ongoing 30th anniversary celebrations we are also producing a five-part series of podcasts to look deeper into the crystal ball, exploring the future of these key fields in more detail. The episodes form part of our monthly Physics World Stories podcast series, hosted by Bristol-based science communicator Andrew Glester.

Particle physics is where we start as Glester looks for hints of life beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. Sharing their thoughts are Valerie Gibson of the University of Cambridge and Derek Fox who has recently published intriguing research using data from the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) experiment.

One big difference over the coming 30 years will be the growing influence of China, which has released details for a huge particle collider that will produce over a million Higgs bosons in a seven-year period. Glester explores the plans for this the China Electron Positron Collider (CEPC) facility with Yifang Wang, Director of the Institute of High Energy Physics of Chinese Academy of Sciences and researcher Yiming Li. Glester also gets the thoughts on China’s rise as a scientific powerhouse from Dutch-born astronomer Richard de Grijs who spent a decade working at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University, before recently relocating to Australia.

If you enjoy what you hear, then you can subscribe via the Apple podcast app or your chosen podcast host.

Oct 23 2018

43mins

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Communicating science at music festivals - Physics World Stories Podcast

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As the summer draws to a close in the northern hemisphere, Andrew Glester looks back on two festivals he attended this year – the Blue Dot Festival in Cheshire and Green Man Festival in Wales. Glester meets a range of people involved in communicating science to festival audiences, often in surprising and innovative ways. He wants to know what motivates these people and what they have found to be the most effective ways of combining science with entertainment.

Along the way, Glester meets the following people:

  • Tim O’Brien, who curates the science elements of Blue Dot Festival. O’Brien talks about the festival’s origins and his personal journey in science communication from shy early-career researcher to addressing thousands from the Blue Dot stage.
  • Jim Wild, a space physics researcher from Lancaster University, who was at Blue Dot festival to talk about space weather. Delving into the science, Wild speaks about the hazard to astronauts posed by solar radiation – something that would be especially challenging in a manned mission to Mars.
  • The playwright Dave Windass who speaks about Pale Blue Dot, a new play he’s scripted that tackles global environmental issues and the search for more sustainable ways of living. Windass, who had not previously worked with science themes, speaks about the challenges of marrying science communication with successful storytelling.
  • Sam Illingworth, a science communicator who is part of the Games Research Network at Manchester Metropolitan University. With a particular interest in table-top games, Illingworth believes that puzzles can lead to deep engagement in science. You will also hear recordings of some of Illingworth’s science-inspired poetry, which he delivered to audiences at Green Man festival.
  • Maddie Foard, who runs the Solar Stage at Green Man Festival. She explains why her approach is to grab the attention first, then slip in the science almost by stealth.
  • Will Hunter, the curator of Einstein’s Garden, a performance area at Green Man that blends a diverse range of acts relating to science and technology. Hunter describes his approach as “playful” because he wants to embrace the ethos of the festival.
  • Anna Ploszajski, materials scientists and science communicator who was at Green Man speaking about the wonders of “smart materials”. Ploszajski, who often takes a humorous look at science and engineering, speaks about the various unexpected skills you can develop in the process of science communication.

If you enjoy what you hear, then you can subscribe via the Apple podcast app or your chosen podcast host.

Sep 18 2018

49mins

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Driving in the future - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In the August episode of the Physics World Stories podcast Andrew Glester investigates the challenges of moving towards personal transport with a smaller carbon footprint. While flying cars powered by hydrogen are unlikely to hit mass market anytime soon, Glester instead looks at some of the realistic solutions for the present and the near future. Along the way, he gets the thoughts of various people he met at Blue Dot 2018 – a festival blending science, art and music.

Francis Hill from the Centre for Alternative Energy gives her opinion on why citizens in developed countries need to reconsider their lifestyle choices. Her proposed changes include travelling less and using fewer non-renewable materials such as single-use plastics.

Kevin Anderson is part of a group called Rapid Acceleration of Car Emission Reductions (RACER), which is part of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Anderson believes that petrol-powered cars still have a role to play in the short-medium term future, but they use should be limited in urban areas. Increasingly, journeys will be made by alternative means, especially by electric bicycles (e-bikes).

Michael Taylor is a PhD student at the Power Networks group based at the University of Manchester. Taylor highlights the fact that a rapid growth in use electric car will put a big strain on power networks – caused by large volumes of people recharging their vehicles at the same time. He is investigating solutions, such as smart-charging systems that respond to the level of demand.

Finally, Glester meets a couple of students from Durham University’s society for electric motorsport. They are part of a team developing a new solar-powered race car to improve on existing models, which they will enter into competitions. They discuss the outlook for solar-powered and hybrid-solar cars hitting the market place.

Aug 17 2018

29mins

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A quantum leap for industry - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In the July edition of Physics World Stories, Andrew Glester looks at the latest developments in technologies based on quantum mechanics. While quantum computing often steals the headlines, there is a whole world of other quantum-based devices in the pipeline for a range of applications.

Glester speaks first with Raphael Clifford and Ashley Montanaro at the University of Bristol about quantum computing. They are interested in the prospects of achieving “quantum supremacy” – the point at which quantum computers can outperform classical computers at specific tasks.

Next, Glester hands the reigns over to Physics World’s Margaret Harris who recently attended the 2018 Photonics West conference in San Francisco. At that event, Harris caught up with Anke Lohmann, the director of ESP Central Ltd, which supports the transfer technology form academic settings to the marketplace. Lohmann gives her opinion on the quantum innovations most likely to have the most significant impacts in the coming years, among them is quantum key distribution for secure communication.

Finally, Glester heads to the University of Birmingham, the site of one of the UK Quantum Technology Hubs. He is given a tour of the lab by Kai Bongs who explains how the goal is to transform scientific concepts in practical applications that are economically viable. The focus at the Birmingham hub is on developing sensors and metrology techniques. Targeted applications include gravity-mapping beneath the Earth’s surface and highly precise optical clocks.

Jul 24 2018

44mins

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Doing business in space - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In this month’s Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester looks at some intriguing developments in the space industry. He is in conversation with Harvard University astrophysicist Martin Elvis about the prospects of asteroid mining moving from science fiction to reality.

Later in the podcast, Glester investigates how the UK space industry might be affected by Brexit – the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union. Lucy Berthoud from the Space Universities Network explains why it is so important for the UK government to get the right deal because of what is at stake in the space sector.

Finally, Glester takes a trip to Goonhilly Earth Station on the south-western tip of the UK. Goonhilly representative Kat Hickey explains why the site is such a unique place to do science and why she believes it should be chosen for the UK’s first spaceport.

Look out for a special collection of articles about the space industry to be published on this site in the next week or so. Also, if you enjoyed this podcast then you can subscribe via iTunes or your podcast provider. Also check out Physics World Weekly – our news-focused podcast presented by the Physics World editorial team.

Jun 18 2018

34mins

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Learning from the ozone solution - Physics World Stories Podcast

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In the May episode of our Physics World Stories podcast, Andrew Glester is in conversation with the Nobel laureate Mario Molina. The Mexican researcher shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on understanding formation and decomposition of ozone in the Earth’s atmosphere. He talks about how winning the award transformed his status as a scientist, giving him a unique platform to influence politicians.

The banning of substances (mainly CFC chemicals) that deplete the ozone under the 1987 Montreal Protocol is hailed as a shining example of coordinated global action in tackling an environmental issue. Molina talks about how industries in the 1980s paid attention to the scientists at a relatively early stage, and sought alternative products and processes to CFCs. He engages with the reasons why it is harder today when dealing with the more multifaceted issue of climate change.

Later in the podcast, Glester picks up the story with Lorraine Whitmarsh, a social scientist at the Tyndall Centre – a network of universities seeking sustainable responses to climate change. Whitmarsh is interested in why the general public responds to the science of climate change in particular ways. She is also interested in practical solutions for shifting to a lower carbon lifestyles and offers her top tips for reducing your carbon impact.

If you enjoyed this podcast then you can subscribe via iTunes or your podcast provider. Also check out Physics World Weekly – our news-focused podcast presented by the Physics World editorial team.

May 21 2018

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Plant-inspired innovations - Physics World Stories Podcast

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Spring has just about sprung here in the UK, as the bluebells and daffodils are emerging after a long gruelling winter. In Physics World April podcast, Andrew Glester embraces the botanical theme by looking at a selection of technological innovations inspired by plants.

First up, Glester speaks with Claudia Zeiger about the idea of cleaning up oil spills using lotus leaves and a type of aquatic fern called Salvinia. Zeiger’s team at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is interested in how these hairy-leaved species can selectively soak up oil particles while repelling water. It’s a property that could inspire more efficient clean-up operations than current approaches.

Later in the episode Glester catches up with Amirkhosro Kazemi from the department of ocean and mechanical engineering at Florida Atlantic University. Kazemi’s studies the physical properties of mangroves – common in tropical and subtropical regions – which provide a natural buffer to flood waters as well as the more routine coastal erosion. Gaining a better understanding of how these shoreline trees can dissipate water and its kinetic energy could inform the design of innovative coastal defence structures.

To find out about more nature-inspired research, check out the April issue of Physics World, a special edition on the physics of plants.

  • Lotus image courtesy Houroumono (CC BY 2.0)

Apr 18 2018

15mins

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