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  Mobile version   RSS   Subscribe   Unsubscribe   Archive   Media Kit Dec. 29, 2012
Volume: III
Number: 45

National Society of Black Physicists    African Physical Society   South African Institute of Physics   African Astronomical Society  

As 2012 comes to a close, AfAS, AfPS, NSBP and SAIP would like to wish our members, partners and friends a safe and happy holiday season. As we reflect on the past year in physics and astronomy, we would like to provide the readers of Waves and Packets a look at the most accessed articles from the year. Our regular publication will resume Jan. 5.

Discovery of Higgs-like particle opens new questions
Waves and Packets    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
From July 7, 2012: In July, the ATLAS and CMS teams reported the discovery of what very well may be the long sought-after Higgs boson. But like all great discoveries there are many profound questions remaining that can actually be simply stated. Rolf Heuer, CERN's director-general, laid it out simply by saying, "Which Higgs?" Both Joe Incandela and Fabiola Gianotti talked about the need for more data. Yale University's Keith Baker points out that there is not yet enough data to determine the intrinsic spin and parity of whatever particle may be attributed to this excess. Also the gamma-gamma Higgs decay channel can have heavy states contributing to the process that signals new physics beyond even the Higgs itself.

But the "which Higgs" question raises the possibility of multiple Higgs, and that would be an extremely interesting result for theorists like Maryland's Jim Gates. Supersymmetry, which Gates first discussed in his 1977 Ph.D. thesis, demands multiple Higgs particles and their superpartners. On the NSBP blog Vector, several physicists discuss this new discovery, implications for SUSY and what comes next.

South African biophysicists make important advance in fight against tuberculosis
NSBP via South African Institute of Physics and University of Cape Town    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
From Oct. 27, 2012: The World Health Organization has declared tuberculosis infection to be a global health emergency. It is a major complication in HIV pathology, urban poverty as well as in rural settings. A specific anti-TB drug would be an important new clinical modality to treating TB infections . And rational drug design informed by protein biophysics research would be very useful in continuing the decline of TB deaths; just as it has been in development of anti-HIV drugs. In a paper in the biological crystallography section of Acta Crystallographica, a team of biophysicists in South Africa report a significant advance towards rational anti-TB drug design. The zinc-dependent enzyme, N-acetyl-1-d-myo-inosityl-2-amino-2-deoxy-d-glucopyranoside deacetylase (MshB) is important in the survival of the tuberculosis bacteria. Inhibit this enzyme and the infection could effectively be stopped. The South African team was able to grow protein crystals that diffract to 1.95 angstroms. Their images present a compelling view of the enzyme's active site, and the researchers were able to determine the stereoelectronic and dynamic roles of specific amino acids in the active site. Importantly, in this work they found that glycerol could be competitive inhibitor of this enzyme. More

At DOE, body blows to fusion, nuclear physics and particle physics
Science Insider    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
From Feb. 18, 2012: Overall, the budget numbers for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the largest funder of physical sciences research in the United States, look reasonably good. The office would see its budget climb by 2.4 percent to $4.992 billion. Programs thought to be supporting "clean energy" are administration priorities. The U.S. contribution to ITER would increase at the expense of other projects in DOE's fusion program. RHIC would only run for 10 weeks, half the time it did in 2011. The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams would see its 2012 budget cut by more than half. More

Sun's twin discovered — The perfect SETI target?
Discovery News    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
Astronomers have identified a clone to our sun lying only 200 light-years away, a yellow dwarf that is exactly the same mass, temperature and chemical composition as our nearest star. In a recent paper reporting on observations of the star — called HP 56948 — astronomer Jorge Melendez of the University of San Paulo, Brazil, calls it "the best solar twin known to date." the chemical composition of HP 56548 has unusual amounts of aluminum, calcium, magnesium, and silicon -- by the same ratio as our sun has. This means terrestrial planets could exist around HP 56548. Simply put, the nearby presence of a twin star potentially offers a fascinating experiment in parallel evolution. More

OPERA's faster-than-light neutrino measurement has 2 possible errors
Nature News Blog    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
According to a statement by OPERA, two possible problems have now been found with its set-up. As many physicists had speculated might be the case, both are related to the experiment's pioneering use of Global Positioning System signals to synchronize atomic clocks at each end of its neutrino beam. First, the passage of time on the clocks between the arrival of the synchronizing signal has to be interpolated and OPERA now says this may not have been done correctly. Second, there was a possible faulty connection between the GPS signal and the OPERA master clock. More

Elusive Majorana fermions may be lurking in a cold nanowire
Ars Technica    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
Collective behavior of atoms and electrons in materials, especially at low temperatures, can give rise to quasiparticles: particle-like excitations that have strikingly different properties than the electrons that form them. Researchers in the Netherlands have reported via Science that they have produced quasiparticles that act like Majorana fermions: electrically-neutral particles that are their own antiparticles, such that if two collide, they annihilate. The interpretation still has some degree of uncertainty because the team was not able to test for some of the predicted properties of Majorana fermions. But if these quasiparticles indeed turn out to be Majorana fermions, that will be the first confirmed detection of them in any physical system. More

Square Kilometer Array board makes decision: Africa and Australasia to share telescope
BBC    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
From May 26, 2012: "We have decided on a dual site approach," said SKA board Chairman John Wommersley at a press conference following a meeting of the SKA organization's members. The SKA is a $2 billion mega-project to build the world's most sensitive radio telescope consisting of 3,000 separate dishes spread out over thousands of kilometers. The project planning has been ongoing for nearly 20 years. After a global competition to host the telescope, a partnership of eight African countries led by South Africa, and a partnership between Australia and New Zealand emerged as the two finalists. Two months ago, the SKA Site Selection Advisory Committee issued its confidential report. Several news stories on the report's contents, including a press report by Nature News, had indicated that the committee's recommendation was that the project be awarded to the African partners. Under the SKA board's May 25 decision, Africa will host more than two-thirds of the 3,000 dishes. The official announcement indicates that the Australian/New Zealand facility will work at low frequencies while the African array will work at midfrequencies. More

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What do we want graduate school to be?
Astrobites    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
From Nov. 3, 2012: Recently, an email that was sent to graduate students at the astronomy department of a U.S. university caught the attention of faculty and students in departments across the country. Perhaps the most important result of this letter is a serious discussion about what the graduate student experience should be like. Recently, Astrobites, a daily blog written by a team of astronomy graduate students covering the latest research literature, asked its readers to comment on expectations and experiences of graduate school in general. The results indicate that the original letter itself was unpopular. There was much discussion on work-life balance, especially the number of hours per week students are expected to work. The comments showed much concern over job prospects, including the impression of a mentoring culture that suggests that tenure-track positions at research-focused universities are only desirable outcome for Ph.D. students in astronomy. The underrepresentation of women and minorities in the field was also a major concern. Overriding all the issues was the very real concern about student mental health, as graduate school can have consequences for the lives of real people. More

Why quantum theory is so misunderstood
The Wall Street Journal    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
From Feb. 25, 2012: Brian Cox explores the space for science in popular culture. For some scientists, the unfortunate distortion and misappropriation of scientific ideas that often accompanies their integration into popular culture is an unacceptable price to pay. He asserts, however, that recognizing the innate human desire to be dazzled is the key to understanding why some people are drawn to pseudo-scientific drivel. Therefore he concludes that scientists must not be afraid to speak of their discoveries in language that fires the imagination and satiates the innate human need for wonder, because wonder is a doorway to a deeper appreciation and understanding of science. More

Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering
Designed as a unique and much-needed resource for educators, managers and policymakers, the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering publishes original, peer-reviewed papers that report innovative ideas and programs for classroom teachers, scientific studies and formulation of concepts related to the education, recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups in science and engineering.

Access now available to NSBP members at

What not to do with your physics education
Science Careers    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
From Aug. 18, 2012: Brooke Allen offers some thoughts on the perils of physics on Wall Street. More

365 Days of Astronomy Podcast
365 Days of Astronomy Podcast publishes daily podcasts, five to 10 minutes in duration. They are written, recorded and produced by people around the world. We are looking for individuals, schools, companies and clubs to provide five to 10 podcasts. You can do as few as one episode or up to 12 episodes (one per month, subject, of course, to our editorial discretion). Our goal is to encourage people to sign up for a particular day (or days) of the year. For more information, see the 365 Days of Astronomy website.

Spider silk conducts heat better than copper
Wired    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
From March 31, 2012: As detailed in a paper in Advanced Materials, spider silk conducts heat better than silicon and copper, 1,000 times better than woven silkworm silk and 800 times better than other organic tissues. Spider silk's thermal conductivity is also increased by 20 percent when it was stretched to its 20 percent limit. Most materials lose thermal conductivity when stretched. These unusual properties are down to the defect-free molecular structure of spider silk, including proteins that contain nanocrystals and the spring-shaped structures connecting the proteins. This discovery could open a door to using spider silk to create flexible, heat-dissipating parts for electronics, better clothes for hot weather and bandages that don't trap heat. However, more research is needed to fully understand why spider silk is so good at conducting heat. More

Experiments prove nanoscale metallic conductivity in ferroelectrics    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
In a paper published in Nano Letters, a team of researchers demonstrated metallic conductivity in a ferroelectric film that otherwise acts as an insulator. This phenomenon of an insulator-metal transition was predicted more than 40 years ago by theorists but has eluded experimental proof until now. The result unambiguously identifies a new conduction channel that percolates through the insulating matrix of the ferroelectric, which opens potentially exciting possibilities to "write" and "erase" circuitry with nanoscale dimensions. Although the researchers focused their study on a well-known ferroelectric film called lead-zirconate titanate, they expect their observations will hold true for a broader array of ferroelectric materials. More

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