Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

How well do you know the history of physics?

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.

Read More

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).

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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

Read More

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.

Read More

Margaret Thatcher, Lego, and the Principle of Least Action

Imagine a toy city, seen from afar. Now imagine that some of the buildings have Lego-shaped castellations, others have Lego-shaped holes in the walls, and there are a few loose Lego bricks lying around. All this evidence leads us to guess that the whole toy city is made up of Lego bricks. When we get up close, we see that our guess is correct. By a similar blend of evidence and theorizing, John Dalton, around 1800, came up with the Atomic Theory

Read More

What are the best ways to view a solar eclipse?

Millions of people will soon travel to a narrow strip in America to witness a rare event: a total solar eclipse. On 21 August, many will look up to the sky to witness this phenomenon – will you be one of them? In the following shortened excerpt from Totality: The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024, learn what types of eyewear you should be using to watch the Sun disappear

Read More

Using novel gas observations to probe exocomet composition

Space missions like the Rosetta space probe built by the European Space Agency, that recently reached and studied the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, address the profound question of how life came to Earth by quantifying the composition of comets in the Solar System. Comets are made of the pristine material from which planets were formed. By exploring the composition of comets, we can thus access the pristine composition of the building blocks of planets.

Read More

A glimpse at Eclipse 2017 [excerpt]

Anyone who has experienced the diamond ring effect that heralds the start of a total solar eclipse will tell you that it is the most beautiful natural phenomenon that they have ever seen.

Read More

Coincidences are underrated

The unreasonable popularity of pseudosciences such as ESP or astrology often stems from personal experience. We’ve all had that “Ralph” phone call or some other happening that seems well beyond the range of normal probability, at least according to what we consider to be common sense. But how accurately does common sense forecast probabilities and how much of it is fuzzy math? As we will see, fuzzy math holds its own.

Read More

A photographer’s guide to solar eclipses

How do you capture the spectacle of a total eclipse with a camera? Photographing an eclipse isn’t difficult. It doesn’t take fancy or expensive equipment. You can take a snapshot of an eclipse with a simple camera (even a smartphone) if you can hold the camera steady or place it on a tripod. The first step in eclipse photography is to decide what kind of pictures you want.

Read More