Physics News of the Week: A Portable Fusion Reactor and Roman Lead

| December 2, 2013 | 0 Comments

This week we have some great news for nuclear physics fans and those who are in need for some news on dark matter. As always, here is a summary of top 3 news of the week + some extra reading. And if you’d like to receive these news straight to your email, register for our email newsletter.

1. Studying the Coldest Objects in the Universe (November 27)

The coldest known objects known as Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) are so fragile that even a single photon might destroy them. And for this reason, until now, it has been extremely hard to control and study BECs. Now, however, scientists from UK and Australia have come up with a new way of measuring BECs by using a filter to cancel out the damage caused by the streams of light.

Scientists hope that this theoretical method will be soon used in experiments and BECs will be applied to tackle the fundamental problems of physics. For instance, BECs could be used to study and detect Hawking radiation from black holes.

Picture of Rossi’s reactor prototype

2. Buying a Portable Cold Fusion Plant Might Soon be a Reality? (November 28)

So one of the most controversial recent news report was on the Italian company called ECAT, which has announced that it is taking pre-orders for a portable fusion plant. Now, for those, who forgot your basic physics, fusion is a way of harnessing energy by fusing atoms together. Stars, for instance, use fusion to release enormous amounts of energy. That’s why scientists have been working on the so called cold fusion reactors, which would theoretically produce energy by controlling the fusion process. Controlling such a process, however, is really really hard.

Interestingly, an Italian scientist Andrea Rossi claims he has invented a portable fusion plant, which is available for pre-order. The funny thing is that Mr Rossi has never published anything related to the fusion plant. Nor did anyone from ECAT. Which, as you might guess, begs the question if this thing really works. Right now, a big part of the scientific community seems sceptical, but, having in mind, that the reactors will be ready for delivery in around 4 moths, the mystery will definitely be solved by then.

3. The Controversy of Roman Ingots (November 29)

Interestingly, another controversy has appeared in the last weeks news. And it all started around two thousand years ago, when a Roman vessel carrying ingots of lead has sank near the shores of Sardinia. A similar situation has happened in the 18th century, when another ship loaded with lead ingots wrecked at the French coast. Most of the lead from these ships has been successfully recovered. The twist in this story is that these ingots appear to be of great value to particle physics, as the properties of this material appears to be perfect for the hunt of new particles and dark matter.  In fact,  since 2011, more than a hundred of these ingots have been used to build the Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events (CUORE).

However, not everyone is happy with such a use of the ancient lead bricks. Underwater archaeologists, for example, pointed out that such use of the underwater artifacts is basically a destruction of cultural heritage. This, in turn, led to a dialogue between archaeologists and physicists on whether the law was broken or not. This also poses a philosophical question of whether we should sacrifice the past in order to discover new knowledge.

More news & extra reading:

What is the Universe Expanding Into
Pushing the Limits of Light Microscopy
Another Mystery of Neutron Stars

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