Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Why solar and wind won’t make much difference to carbon dioxide emissions

We all like the convenience of electrical energy. It lights our home and offices, and drives motors that are needed in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that keep us buildings comfortable no matter what the temperature is outside. It’s essential for refrigeration that secures our food supply. In short, it makes modern life with all its comfort and conveniences possible.

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World Space Week: a reading list

Space exploration has dominated human imagination for the most of the last 125-odd years. Every year we learn more about what lies beyond the limits of Earth’s atmosphere. We learn about extraterrestrial resources, such as metals on asteroids or water on the Moon; we discover new exoplanets that may be able to support life; we research new technologies that will get us onto planets a little closer to home, such as Mars.

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Lovely LISA

One of the amazing ideas to emerge from Einstein’s theory of general relativity was the possibility of gravitational waves rippling their way across the cosmos. It took a century to verify this prediction. Their existence was finally confirmed by LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) in September 2015.

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A mission to Saturn and its discoveries

Cassini was the NASA-developed Saturn orbiter, and Huygens was the European-built probe that sat on-board, which would eventually descend on to the surface of Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan. Cassini will come to an end on 15th September 2017, when it makes its final approach to Saturn, diving in to the atmosphere (sending data as it goes), and finally burning up and disintegrating like a meteor.

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Back to physics: a reading list

Back to university means picking out the best textbooks to use for your studies. If you’re just starting out in your first year of studies or are pursuing further degree in a more specialized field, we have some great resources to explore. From the basics of fundamental physics to the intricacies of understanding light-matter interaction, this list provides the best starting point for under-graduates and post-graduates alike.

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Five fascinating questions physicists are seeking to answer

From Copernicus to Einstein, the field of Physics has changed drastically over time. With each new theory, further hypotheses appear that challenge conventional wisdom. Today, although topics such as the Big Bang Theory and General Relativity are well-established, there are still some debates that keep physicists up at night. What are your thoughts on the five of the biggest current debates in Physics?

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How well do you know the history of physics? [quiz]

Less than four centuries separate the end of the Renaissance and the theories of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton from the development of quantum physics at the turn of the 20th century. During this transformative time, royal academies of science, instrument-making workshops, and live science demonstrations exploded across the continent as learned and lay people alike absorbed the spectacles of newfound technologies, devices, and innovations.

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The conceptual evolution of mass and matter [excerpt]

We learn in school science class that matter is not continuous, but discrete. As a few of the philosophers of ancient Greece once speculated nearly two-and-a-half thousand years ago, matter comes in “lumps.” If we dig around online we learn that we make paper by pressing together moist fibers derived from pulp. The pulp has an internal structure built from molecules (such as cellulose), and molecules are in turn constructed from atoms (carbon, oxygen, hydrogen).

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Cosmic ripples

Michael Faraday transformed our understanding of the physical world when he realised that electromagnetic forces are carried by a field permeating the whole of space. This idea was formalized by James Clerk-Maxwell who constructed a unified theory of electromagnetism in which beams of light are undulations in the electromagnetic field. Maxwell’s theory implies that visible light is just one part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

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Last minute guide to the total solar eclipse

The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, but it’s also 400 times closer to earth, which means that remarkably, the two bodies appear to us as exactly the same size. For 14 days a month, the orbiting moon is on the ‘sunny’ side of the spinning earth, and the sunlight casts a shadow. Almost all the time, that shadow is projected way off into space; but on very particular occasions, the shadow falls onto the earth – the moon is obscuring our view of the sun.

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Understanding the origin of the wind from black holes

Contrary to common belief, black holes don’t swallow everything that comes nearby. In fact, they expel a good part of the gas of the centre of galaxies. This happens when a wind of ionized gas is formed in the vicinity of the black hole. In the case of supermassive black holes that occur at the centre of many galaxies, they produce a wind that can interact with the galaxy itself shaping its evolution through time.

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Living in a material world

The singer Madonna had a worldwide hit record in the 1980s (‘Material Girl’) in which she described herself as ‘the material girl living in a material world’. This is a prescient phrase for the world of today some 30 years after the release of this record. Although Madonna may have been referring to wealth and ‘cold hard cash’ in her song, the rapid development of goods for professional and consumer use really do put us at the mercy of all things material.

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Planetary astronomy in ancient Greece

As eclipse 2017 quickly approaches, Americans—from astronomers to photographers to space enthusiasts—are preparing to witness the celestial wonder that is totality. Phenomenon found within planetary science has long driven us to observe and study space. Through a shared desire to dismantle and reconstruct the theories behind our solar system, ancient Greek philosophers and scientists built the foundation of planetary astronomy.

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Radio telescopes to detect gravitational waves

Sensationally detected for the first time by the LIGO instrument in 2015, gravitational waves are ripples in space-time – the continuum of the universe – that propagate outward from astrophysical systems. The question is: can we find more of these gravitational waves and do it regularly? Some years ago we have devised a method of finding far more of them, and from weaker sources, than is possible with present techniques with the help of radio telescopes and natural astrophysical masers.

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Large sample of giant radio galaxies discovered

Recently a team of astronomers from India have reported discovery of a large number of extremely rare kind of galaxies called “giant radio galaxies” (GRGs), using a nearly 20 year old radio survey. GRGs are the largest galaxies known in the Universe, which are visible only to radio telescopes. These extremely active form of galaxies harbor a super massive black hole ‘central-engine’ at the nucleus

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Seeing light element lithium with electron microscopy

Remember your cell phone, laptop computer, tablet, and other mobile electronic devices? Most of these devices employ “lithium-ion batteries (LIBs)” which allow for the significant size reduction of batteries due to the high energy-density per unit volume – in other words, there is a high density of electric carries that can be used in charging/discharging of batteries.

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