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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Five tips for women and girls pursuing STEM careers

Many attempts have been made to explain the historic and current lack of women working in STEM fields. During her two years of service as Director of Policy Planning for the U. S. State Department, from 2009 to 2011, Anne-Marie Slaughter suggested a range of strategies for corporate and political environments to help better support women at work. These spanned from social-psychological interventions to the introduction of role models and self-affirmation practices.

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Choudhuri_Nature's Third Cycle

Are the mysterious cycles of sunspots dangerous for us?

Galileo and some of his contemporaries left careful records of their telescopic observations of sunspots – dark patches on the surface of the sun, the largest of which can be larger than the whole earth. Then in 1844 a German apothecary reported the unexpected discovery that the number of sunspots seen on the sun waxes and wanes with a period of about 11 years. Initially nobody considered sunspots as anything more than an odd curiosity.

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Celebrating Women in STEM

It is becoming widely accepted that women have, historically, been underrepresented and often completely written out of work in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Explanations for the gender gap in STEM fields range from genetically-determined interests, structural and territorial segregation, discrimination, and historic stereotypes. With free Oxford University Press content, we tell the stories and share the research of both famous and forgotten women.

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Of black holes, naked singularities, and quantum gravity

Modern science has introduced us to many strange ideas on the universe, but one of the strangest is the ultimate fate of massive stars in the Universe that reached the end of their life cycles. Having exhausted the fuel that sustained it for millions of years of shining life in the skies, the star is no longer able to hold itself up under its own weight, and it then shrinks and collapses catastrophically unders its own gravity. Modest stars like the Sun also collapse at the end of their life, but they stabilize at a smaller size.

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Time as a representation in physics

A previous piece (“Patterns in Physics”) discussed alternative “representations” in physics as akin to languages, an underlying quantum reality described in either a position or a momentum representation. Both are equally capable of a complete description, the underlying reality itself residing in a complex space with the very concepts of position/momentum or wave/particle only relevant in a “classical limit”. The history of physics has progressively separated such incidentals of our description from what is essential to the physics itself.

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Physics Project Lab: How to create the domino effect

Many dominoes may be stacked in a row separated by a fixed distance, in all sorts of interesting formations. A slight push to the first domino in the row results in the falling of the whole stack. This is the domino effect, a term also used in figuratively in a political context. You can use this amusing phenomenon to carry out a little project in physics.

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Stardust making homes in space

Although we rarely stop to think about the origin of the elements of our bodies, we are directly connected to the greater universe. In fact, we are literally made of stardust that was liberated from the interiors of dying stars in gigantic explosions, and then collected to form our Earth as the solar system took shape some 4.5 billion years ago.

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The shape of our galaxy

Many of you have likely seen the beautiful grand spiral galaxies captured by the likes of the Hubble space telescope. Images such as those below of the Pinwheel and Whirlpool galaxies display long striking spiral arms that wind into their centres.

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Physics Project Lab: How to investigate the phenomena surrounding rubber bands

Rubber bands are unusual objects, and behave in a manner which is counterintuitive. Their properties are reflected in characteristic mechanical, thermal and acoustic phenomena. Such behavior is sufficiently unusual to warrant quantitative investigation in an experimental project. A well-known phenomenon is the following. When you stretch a rubber band suddenly and immediately touch your lips with it, it feels warm, the rubber band gives off heat.

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Physics Project Lab: How to make your own drinking bird

You may have seen the drinking bird toy in action. It dips its beak into a full glass of water in front of it, after which it swings to and fro for a while, returns to drink some more, and so on, seemingly forever. You can buy one on the internet for a few dollars, and perform with it a fascinating physics project. But how does it work?

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Physics Project Lab: How to build a cycloid tracker

If you are a student or an instructor, whether in a high school or at university, you may want to depart from the routine of lectures, tutorials, and short lab sessions. An extended experimental investigation of some physical phenomenon will provide an exciting channel for that wish. The payoff for the student is a taste of how physics research is done. This holds also for the instructor guiding a project if the guide’s time is completely taken up with teaching. For researchers it seems natural to initiate interested students into research early on in their studies.

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Patterns in physics

The aim of physics is to understand the world we live in. Given its myriad of objects and phenomena, understanding means to see connections and relations between what may seem unrelated and very different. Thus, a falling apple and the Moon in its orbit around the Earth. In this way, many things “fall into place” in terms of a few basic ideas, principles (laws of physics) and patterns.

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Blue LED lighting and the Nobel Prize for Physics

When I wrote Materials: A Very Short Introduction (published later this month) I made a list of all the Nobel Prizes that had been awarded for work on materials. There are lots. The first was the 1905 Chemistry prize to Alfred von Baeyer for dyestuffs (think indigo and denim). Now we can add another, as the 2014 Physics prize has been awarded to the three Japanese scientists who discovered how to make blue light-emitting diodes.

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Are we alone in the Universe?

World Space Week has prompted myself and colleagues at the Open University to discuss the question: ‘Is there life beyond Earth?’ The bottom line is that we are now certain that there are many places in our Solar System and around other stars where simple microbial life could exist, of kinds that we know from various settings, both mundane and exotic, on Earth. What we don’t know is whether any life DOES exist in any of those places.

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CERN: glorious past, exciting future

Today, 60 years ago, the visionary convention establishing the European Organization for Nuclear Research — better known with its French acronym, CERN — entered into force, marking the beginning of an extraordinary scientific adventure that has profoundly changed science, technology, and society, and that is still far from over.

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Infinity Puzzle

Celebrating 60 years of CERN

2014 marks not just the centenary of the start of World War I, and the 75th anniversary of World War II, but on 29 September it is 60 years since the establishment of CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research or, in its modern form, Particle Physics.

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