Physics Nobel Prize

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 | Esther | No Comments

The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to Peter Higgs and François Englert for their prediction in 1964 of the Higgs boson. Experiments at CERN have now confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson.

More information is available from the Nobel Prize website. More information about the Higgs boson is also available from CERN. Physics World have a short (less than two minutes) video explaining the Higgs boson.

Update 10 Oct: There is also a rather good animation from the New York Times. (Thanks Kim for pointing this out.)

Science News for Kids

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 | Esther | No Comments

Science News for Kids is a website that offers news stories about science and technology as well as suggestions and resources for hands-on activities.

The site has a section News in the Classroom that allows you to browse news stories by topic. For example, selecting Force and Motion leads to two stories. One from 2003 Running with Sneaker Science about how running shoes are designed and one from 2006 describing how a Gravitational Tractor could change the orbit of an asteroid.

IOP Physics in Perspective

Friday, May 3rd, 2013 | Esther | No Comments

The Institute of Physics in the UK runs a three day course for 16-19 year-olds called Perspective in Physics. Videos from this year’s event are available from the IOP website. They include Dr Suzie Sheehy talking about particle accelerators (36.35 min), including a taster clip (1.43 min) covering ‘the man who put his head inside a particle accelerator’, and Dr Helen Czerski talking about why penguins are accompanied by air bubbles when they shoot out of the water (2.30 min).

Animal Physics

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012 | Esther | No Comments

The November 2012 Physics World is a special edition of short articles relating to the physics of animals. It includes:
• A picture of a mantis shrimp which not only has 0.5 mm wide appendages capable of exerting a force of 700 N but can also detect circularly polarized light.
• A hypothesis explaining the advantage of stripes to zebras based on the sensitivity of flies to linearly polarized light.
• How pond skaters walk on water.
• Do cats and dogs drink differently?
• How birds navigate using optics, acoustics, geomagnetism and celestial mechanics
• How mosquitoes survive collisions with raindrops that are fifty times their own body mass.
• Wasps with built-in solar cells.
• The similarities between a baby’s cry and a lion’s roar.

You can download a free copy from (at least until the December edition becomes available).

The Higgs Boson

Friday, July 27th, 2012 | Esther | No Comments

On 4 July physicists at a CERN announced preliminary results showing evidence for a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson.

There are two events in Dunedin discussing this discovery and its implications.

  • Café Scientifique: Formal Discovery of the Higgs Boson: What is it? What are the implications? Where might it lead?
    • When: Tuesday 31 July, 8pm (Bar open 7.30pm to 8 pm)
    • Where: Abbey College, enter from Castle Street (opposite 685 Castle Street) (map),
  • Open Seminar: CERN, particle physics and the hunt for the Higgs Boson
    • Speaker: Professor Emmanuel Tsesmelis  CERN, Visiting Professor in Particle and Accelerator Physics, University of Oxford.
    • When: Monday 6 August, 3pm
    • Where: Quad 2, Geology Building, Leith Walk (map)

What is the Higgs boson?

In the early 1960’s physicists realized that the electromagnetic force and the weak force, which is the nuclear force responsible for beta decay, could be unified by exploiting symmetry principles. At first there was a major problem with the theory. It predicted that the bosons that mediated the electromagnetic and weak forces would all be massless. The photon, which mediates the electromagnetic force, is massless leading to long-ranged forces between charged particles. The weak force, however, is short-ranged, which implies that the mediating bosons must have mass. In 1964 three groups Peter Higgs (University of Edinburgh), Robert Brout and François Englert (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and G. S. Guralnik, C. R. Hagen, and T. W. B. Kibble (Imperial College London) proposed a mechanism, now known as the Higgs mechanism, by which the bosons mediating the weak interaction could acquire mass.  The basic idea is that there is a special field, which we call the Higgs field. The bosons that mediate the weak interaction are affected by this field and this is what causes them to acquire mass. A commonly used analogy is to imagine a room in which people are uniformly distributed. They represent the background Higgs field. When an important person, representing one of the bosons that mediate the weak force, enters the room people tend to cluster around that person making it harder for them to move across the room, which is equivalent to increasing their mass.  Another is to imagine walking through custard. You represent a particle and the custard represents the Higgs field. Just as we can describe the interaction between charged objects as an exchange of a photon, interactions with the Higgs field can be described as the exchange of another boson – the Higgs boson.

Some resources:

Plus Magazine . Higher level than most newspaper coverage but aimed at general readers who are prepared to put in a bit of thought.

Piled Higher and Deeper: The Higgs Boson Explained

CERN News Release:

ATLAS News Release:

CMS News Release:

Andy Parker, Professor of High Energy Physics at the University of Cambridge, explains the significance of the discovery:

Transit of Venus

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 | Esther | No Comments

Next Wednesday 6 June there is a transit of Venus, that is, the planet Venus will pass directly between the Earth and the Sun. The next time this will happen is in December, 2117.

In Dunedin the transit will start at 10.15am and will be complete at 4.44pm. On 6 June sunset is at approximately 5.00pm.

You should never look directly at the sun. Sunglasses do not protect your eyes from direct sunlight.

Weather permitting there are a number of ways of safely viewing the transit:

–          Use a solar viewer (

–          Use a pinhole projector ( and

–          Use a whole room pinhole projector (

Sites with further information:

Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand

Ways of Viewing the Transit

Why are transits of Venus so rare?

Captain Cook and the transit of Venus

Resources for teachers



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