Issue 51

June 2009
This special double issue of Plus is cause for celebration: both of the endeavours of physics to understand our Universe, and of the writers of tomorrow who may help explain it. We explore the frontiers of modern physics: searching for alien life in space and exotic particles in the LHC, looking through the Hubble Space Telescope, imagining a holographic Universe, and wrestling with one of the biggest problems in modern physics. And the winners of the Plus new writers award 2009 explore the most beautiful equation of them all, explain the credit crunch, and unveil the curse of good looks. We raise a toast to mathematics and physics — to all the explorers of the new frontiers and the new writers who can take us there!

We are proud to present the winners of the Plus New Writers Award 2009. The winners were chosen by our three prominent judges for each of the three categories — schools, university and general public.

Read the winning entries now!

With online socialising and alternative realities like Second Life it may seem as if reality has become a whole lot bigger over the last few years. In one branch of theoretical physics, though, things seem to be going the other way. String theorists have been developing the idea that the space and time we inhabit, including ourselves, might be nothing more than an illusion, a hologram conjured up by a reality which lacks a crucial feature of the world as we perceive it: the third dimension. Plus talks to Juan Maldacena to find out more.
Two of the most fundamental questions asked by people are how life emerged on the Earth, and whether we are alone in the cosmos. These deeply important questions form the core of a new kind of science, one that recently has been rapidly gathering momentum: astrobiology. Lewis Dartnell explains.
On May 19 2009 the Space Shuttle Atlantis released the Hubble Space Telescope back into orbit after a hugely successful servicing mission. To mark the occasion, Mario Livio, one of the scientists involved in the mission and intimately acquainted with Hubble, takes stock of its scientific legacy.
It's hard to avoid CERN these days. Last year's successful switch-on of CERN's Large Hadron Collider, followed by a blow-out which is currently being fixed, sparked wide-spread media coverage, and currently CERN stars in the Tom Hanks movie Angels and Demons. So what goes on at CERN and why the hubbub about the Large Hadron Collider, known as the LHC? Ben Allanach investigates.
The mathematical maps in theoretical physics have been highly successful in guiding our understanding of the universe at the largest and smallest scales. Linking these two scales together is one of the golden goals of theoretical physics. But, at the very edges of our understanding of these fields, one of the most controversial areas of physics lies where these maps merge: the cosmological constant problem.
Are the unchanging features of the Universe really unchanging?
And the winner is...
Alexis Wajsbrot is a visual effects specialist who has worked on a number of high-profile films including Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, and also on some of those visually stunning commercials you see while waiting for your film to start. His speciality is anything that behaves like a fluid: water, smoke, fire, even fur or cloth. Plus went to see him to find out more.
In this issue's teacher package we look at some of the maths and science behind a recent expedition to the Arctic. The aim of the Catlin Arctic Survey was to gather data on ice thickness that will help to predict when the North Pole sea ice cover will melt, an event that will have dramatic consequence for the Arctic ecosystem and the Earth's climate as a whole. Plus was commissioned by Catlin Arctic Survey Education to produce mathematics and science enrichment material for ages 14 to 19 (key stages 4 and 5). The toolkits look at climate and sea ice models, GPS and cartography, how to predict future climate trends, and how to present statistical evidence.
What it takes to win Wimbledon
It's not very often that something I read makes me want to jack in my lovely job at Plus and return to study and research. But that is just what happened when reading Sync by Steven Strogatz.
If the quest for a physical theory of everything, and some of the strange concepts that have sprung from it, strikes you as somewhat mystical, then this is just the book you need to explore the idea further.