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Institute of Physics articles

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Cost-effective quantum moves a step closer

Cost-effective quantum moves a step closer
Canadian and US researchers have taken an important step towards enabling quantum networks to be cost-effective and truly secure from attack. The experiments, by the team from the University of Calgary, the California Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Colorado, prove the viability of a measurement-device-independent quantum key distribution (QKD) system, based on readily available hardware.
20th September 2017

Institute urges girls to consider A-Level physics

Institute urges girls to consider A-Level physics
  In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, hundreds of thousands of students have recently received their GCSE results. And despite the fact that the overall population of 16 year olds is down in England, Wales and NI - by 2.7% on 2016 - overall GCSE entries are up by 3.9% to 5.4 million.
25th August 2017

Physicists add amplifier to quantum communication toolbox

Quantum encryption using single photons is a promising technique for boosting the security of communication systems and data networks, but there are challenges in applying the method over large distances due to transmission losses. Using conventional optical amplification doesn't help as this disrupts the quantum link between sender and receiver, but physicists in Europe have found a solution – heralded photon amplification – and put it to the test.
1st June 2017

Possibilities for microfluidics opened up by LEGO-like blocks

Possibilities for microfluidics opened up by LEGO-like blocks
  From building castles to spaceships, LEGO already has millions of applications. Researchers in California have found a new use for the popular blocks, a modular microfluidics system.
25th January 2017

Travelling wave pattern could contain biological coordinates

Physicists in Israel and the US have proposed a new type of travelling wave pattern -- one that can adapt to the size of physical system in which it is embedded – reporting the work in the New Journal of Physics. According to the theory, all of the key characteristics of the oscillation (the number of maxima, minima and nodes) remain the same, over a very wide range of host sizes, which turns out to be an exciting result.
19th December 2016

Reaction microscope scheme targets relevant molecules

Researchers in Germany and the US have upgraded the performance of a reaction microscope so that the technique - known as Cold Target Recoil Ion Momentum Spectroscopy, or COLTRIMS for short - can be extended to distinguish between isomers with two carbon centres. Having demonstrated the applicability of the approach on a synthetic prototype molecule a few years ago, the advance allows the team to begin exploring more complex structures such as those found in healthcare, and further develop our fundamental understanding of their behaviour.
11th November 2016

Gel pen improves drug development

One way to lower the cost of developing pharmaceutical drugs is by improving the predictive properties of preclinical screening. By making benchtop testing more realistic, ineffective drugs can fail faster and before they undergo expensive animal and human trials. To help tackle the issue, Alison McGuigan and her group at the University of Toronto in Canada have developed scaffold strips that can be loaded with cell populations and then rolled up to generate thick tumour sections for use in early-stage drug development.
19th September 2016

There’s more to rainbows than meets the eye

There’s more to rainbows than meets the eye
Knowledge gained from studying these multicoloured arcs of scattered light can be incredibly useful in ways that may not immediately spring to mind. Rainbow effects can warn of chemical contamination in the atmosphere, help to develop more efficient combustion engines and possibly even provide insight into the mechanics of reinforced concrete.
26th August 2016

Physics used to unpick the art of spin bowling

Physics used to unpick the art of spin bowling
Spin bowlers in cricket are masters at making the ball loop slowly through the air to confuse batsmen. Legends of the game know the magic combinations of top-spin, side-spin and off-spin necessary to fool the opposition, but some clever calculations by physicists in Australia could help to share this knowledge with a wider audience.
1st August 2016

Collective hum: buzzing midges inspire new swarm theory

Collective hum: buzzing midges inspire new swarm theory
A team of researchers based in Israel and the US has found a mathematical resemblance between swarm dynamics and gravitational interactions. The study, which has just been published in the New Journal of Physics, could provide a big leap forward in understanding the mass movement of flying insects.
22nd July 2016

Knuckleball machine delivers soccer science

Knuckleball machine delivers soccer science
The zigzag trajectory of knuckleballs through the air has bamboozled goalkeepers and batsmen the world over. Scientists have been puzzled too by these strange shots and pitches, which are delivered at relatively slow speeds with little or no spin and yet travel in such an unpredictable way.
18th July 2016

Electron spin relaxation can enhance magnetic compass sensors

Reporting their results in the New Journal of Physics, scientists have taken a step forwards in unravelling the inner workings of the avian compass - a puzzle that has captivated researchers for decades. The team, led by a group at Oxford University, is exploring the popular hypothesis that birds orientate themselves thanks to light-induced, magnetically sensitive chemical reactions, which take place in proteins known as cryptochromes present in the retina.
9th June 2016

Breath analysis aims to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions

The overuse of antibiotics gives harmful bacteria the opportunity to evolve into drug resistant strains that threaten health care. To help tackle the problem, scientists in China have begun a pilot study examining biomarkers exhaled by patients. The team’s goal is to develop an efficient (fast, accurate, painless and affordable) test that will assist doctors in prescribing antibiotics only when the treatment is absolutely necessary.
8th June 2016

Prodding leukemia cells with nanoprobes could provide cancer clues

Giving blood cells a gentle squeeze can reveal a great deal about their health. To find out more, researchers in France have used a tiny force probe to compare the mechanical responses of healthy and cancerous hematopoietic cells (biological structures that help to renew blood in the body).
2nd June 2016

Theoretical tiger chases statistical sheep

Studying the way that solitary hunters such as tigers, bears or sea turtles chase down their prey turns out to be very useful in understanding the interaction between individual white blood cells and colonies of bacteria. Reporting their results in the Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical, researchers in Europe have created a numerical model that explores this behaviour in more detail.
3rd May 2016

Saliva test for rapid diagnosis of poisoning

Saliva test for rapid diagnosis of poisoning
Scientists at Loughborough University and the University of Cordoba have developed a new method for the rapid diagnosis of poisoning in apparently drunk patients. The saliva-based test offers the potential to screen for poisons commonly associated with the cheap or imitation manufacture of alcohol and γ-hydroxybutyric acid - the so-called ‘date rape’ drug GHB.The results are published in the Journal of Breath Research.
7th January 2016

A fishy tale of a sheep in wolf’s clothing

Scientists have developed a technique to perform dietary analysis of fish by analysing microscopic tooth wear. The process, which involves taking moulds of the teeth similar to those a dentist might take, used focus variation microscopy to digitally capture details of the tooth surfaces, zooming in to an area just 1/7th of a mm in width, around the same as that of a human hair.
11th December 2015

Neural stimulation offers treatment for ‘dry eye’

Neural stimulation offers treatment for ‘dry eye’
Scientists have developed a device that electronically stimulates tear production, which will offer hope to sufferers of 'dry eye' syndrome, one of the most common eye diseases in the world. The device, 16mm long, 3-4mm wide and 1-2mm thick, was implanted beneath the inferior lacrimal gland in rabbit eyes. It was activated wirelessly and shown to increase the generation of tears by nearly 57%.
11th December 2015

Using cycling to explain why physics isn’t a drag

Using cycling to explain why physics isn’t a drag
Scientists and teachers have combined to develop a simple spreadsheet-based method of teaching aerodynamic drag to 14 and 15 year olds. By measuring the speed of one of their classmates riding a bike, taking a photo to in order to measure the frontal area of the cyclist, the students were able to calculate the drag co-efficient. The results are published in the journal Physics Education.
11th December 2015

Detecting pilot hypoxia in-flight & in real-time

Detecting pilot hypoxia in-flight & in real-time
United States researchers, led by the Air Force Research Laboratory, 711th  Human Performance Wing, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, replicated a fairly standard ‘hypoxic’ event. Volunteers were exposed to 5 minutes of reduced oxygen levels to simulate higher altitudes, followed by 5 minutes at 100% oxygen ‘recovery’. This is a typical response protocol to in-flight hypoxia.
28th October 2015

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