This week, among the top physics news, we have such news as an update on the science of invisibility cloaks, an advancement in the understanding of the physics of space-time and a view into the fundamental laws of biological materials. As always, if you would like to receive these news straight to your email, please register for our email newsletter.
1. Billion-Dollar “Discovery Machine” set for Launch (December 17)
The currently most sophisticated space telescope ever built in Europe has been unofficially called the “discovery machine”. Officially it is called the Gaia space telescope and the list of its potential discoveries makes the whole project unique in scope and scientific return. Gaia’s primary goal is to carry out an “astronomical census”, locating the position of a billion stars, or around one percent of all the stars in the Milky Way. Read more at the link above.
Spac-etime: smooth or grainy?
2. Uncovering the Fundamental Laws of Biological Materials (December 18)
Physicists from the universities of Chicago and Massachusetts, Amherst are working towards finding out the fundamental laws of biological materials. Margaret Gardel, professor in physics at UChicago, is one of the physicists, who study the building blocks of the cytoskeleton — the materials inside a cell that provide its shape and allow it to move.
Studying the unique physics of such materials is interesting in its own right and could allow physicists to produce novel materials for applications outside the lab. “We are trying to take advantage of what is intrinsically new that these materials can do, that cannot be done by equilibrium material,” said physics graduate student Patrick McCall, a member of Gardel’s lab. Through their work physicists aim to catalog the phases of biological materials, which would then allow to study these materials using similar techniques that are now used in condensed matter physics.
3. Space-time: Smooth or Grainy? (December 20)
One of the most important puzzles in the physics of space-time is whether it’s smooth or grainy at the Planck scale. If it was grainy, this could lead to deviations from the theory of special relativity. In particular, the non-continuity of space-time would violate the invariance of the laws of physics as it is described in special relativity. Thus there have been many theoretical suggestions on how such violations could be detected.
Now, a paper by Stefano Liberati, the coordinator of the Astroparticle Physics group of the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste, offers a systematic review of the present state of the art in this field and the constraints that can be placed on the various tests of violations of SR.
The idea of grainy space-time comes from material science, in which materials look continuous at the macroscopic level and yet, after closer inspection, appear to be porous and irregular at the microscopic level. “In a certain sense physicists have been trying to do something similar with space-time: to find something that acts as a microscope to find out whether at very small length scales there is indeed some irregularity. In my paper I presented a systematic overview of the experiments and observations that can be exploited to investigate the existence of these irregularities,” said Liberati.