The Ph-word                

                                            Particles, cosmology and everything

Hi <<First Name>>. Thanks for reading the seventh issue of this newsletter!

Things have been keeping it low over here. Meanwhile I'm glad that a poster with my recent work will be on display at the European Space Weather Week next month, and that I'll speak at a local run of the global NASA's Space Apps Challenge, in the town of Larisa.
Let's jump to the rest, but first: if you have something to say to the Ph-word, use the line right below.
September '18: The latest in ph-word

September was uncharacteristically quiet from the astrophysics and cosmology side. So much so that I believe they're up to something :p

Not that particles have been much noisier. Actually, in the absence of news, this month's issue turned out to be very meta: the particles part is about collateral benefits of particle detectors and the Serendipity column grew out of proportions. Even worse, I then realized that the particles part actually happened two months earlier. But let us take a step back here and compose ourselves.

Medipix X-ray scans

Basic research is done to answer the, you know, big questions about the world, however it also often comes with  practical benefits. Some of them manifest after a longish time (electricity, anyone?) but others manifest almost right away, usually as collateral applications of technology developed for doing the research. In the case of particle physics this often translates to medicine and diagnostics (although I would hate not mentioning the collateral application called the World Wide Web).
The reason for the several diagnostic uses is that particle physicists are quite keen on detecting extremely small and volatile particles. As a result they build detecting equipment which can take detailed looks inside other objects: just send some particles to pass through those other objects, and the detectors will find what they've been through (see what I did there?). And an excellent such other object is the human body.
In the case at hand, the Medipix electronics chips, developed at CERN, are very sensitive to light and can tell its energy. Combining them with X-rays, an algorithm for visualizing measurements in three dimensions and ten years of work let a small family company build the jaw-dropping-est body imaging yet: colour 3D X-ray scans. As X-ray light passes through different tissues its energy drops accordingly and Medipix picks this up to tell them apart. The device has produced a few impressive demos and is now under hospital trial.

Rovers on Ryugu

By the way, Hayabusa2, the JAXA mission that three months ago closed in on its target to try and land on the asteroid Ryugu, made it! Its two robotic rovers already sent back images and a small video from the asteroid's surface. The rovers weigh 1kg, are round, and move around by hopping <cute!>. In the asteroid's gravity each hop lasts about fifteen minutes <!>. And as we speak, they are collecting material for further studies of what it is asteroids do.

Last month Jocelyn Bell was awarded a Special Breakthrough Prize. The Breakthrough is a young private prize that established itself quickly (largely due to handing out bunches of 3 million dollars). Many found this to be kind of a moral compensation for the Nobel prize, since Bell was involved in a quite controversial physics Nobel prize decision. Probably one of the top controversial ones. Okay, just drop "probably one of" and change "ones" to singular.
In 1967 Bell discovered the existence of pulsars while she was still a PhD student. As this is one of the defining discoveries of 20th century astrophysics, seven years later a Nobel prize was given for it....
...To Bell's PhD professor.
One might say that it's uncommon for a student to receive a prestigious award in place of their team leader, but in physics I can already think of three such times (to Curie, de Broglie, 't Hooft and I'm certainly omitting more). Others might say that the case was unfair to both students and women. Ironically, the other half for that same year's prize was awarded to Martin Ryle, who advanced the field of radioastronomy - by refining instruments previously built by the first person who used radio waves in astronomy: Ruby Payne-Scott, a physicist who developed radar for Australia's defense in WWII and then wasn't allowed to keep working in a public lab after she got married.
Talking about infamous Nobel omissions one can't help thinking of nuclear fission. Nuclear fission has shaped recent human history and is practically the synonym of extreme technological advance, right? So you'd expect that the persons who first brought it about might get a Nobel. Only that not all of them did.
Lise Meitner was for decades the head of the lab who made nuclear fission happen. In 1938 as the
work by Otto Hahn, her, and colleagues was about to culminate, Meitner realized that she'd better flee Germany, which happened within a two-hour window. Through secret letter exchange with Hahn she was the first to understand that the lab had achieved fission and publish the theory behind it. In 1945 Hahn received the Nobel (for chemistry), alone.
If talking about women overlooked for the prestigious prize, two more of them are customarily mentioned, although in less obvious contexts than Bell and Meitner. One is Vera Rubin, who discovered the presence of dark matter in galaxies (previously hypothesized by Frank Zwicky). It could be said that nobody knows for sure yet if dark matter is really made of matter, if it is gravity behaving weirdly, or anything else, so a Nobel might have been risqué (however, dark energy did receive its own a few years ago).
And the second is Emmy Noether, considered the greatest female mathematician in, so far, ever. In addition to her math work, "Noether's theorem" is a relation that underlies the foundations of the whole of particle physics, to not put it too dramatically. It can be argued that the extent of its importance wasn't fully realized during her lifetime, but barely so. In any case it's noteworthy that she came up with it in 1915, during the period of sixteen years that she worked at German universities for free, because they weren't allowed to hire female staff. She often taught classes as well, initially under the pretext of assisting the renowned mathematician David Hilbert - who defended hiring her by stating "gender is not an argument against her admission; this is a university, not a bath house".

(Since I'm on this kind of roll today: We've all probably wondered how come women have produced almost zero classic works of art. I tip off dear readers to scroll through womensart's tweets.)
The kickin' link

In the mood for light reading on physics and math? Maybe for a lot of light reading? How about checking the comics by researcher Jean-Pierre Petit, steadily drawn for decades now and translated into a few dozen languages: "Les Aventures d'Anselme Lanturlu".
Stellar travel tips... 

 Tugca Sener is an astrophysicist and amateur actress hailing from Ankara, Turkey, now working on neutron stars.

-Tugca, what is your suggestion to tourists who are also science fans for things to do in Ankara?

As a capital city, Ankara is surely suffering a lot from the light pollution but Ankara University Observatory is still active and organizes public events every month. For more of an unplanned activity, I would suggest Feza Gürsey Science Center as it has many experiments and various exhibitions. Also, having a nice breakfast by the Mogan lake might be far from science but I would say you won't regret.

- Will you share a few words about a cool project or discovery that you worked on?

Despite my expertise being mainly on hot subdwarf stars and binaries, the project I am contributing nowadays is on low mass X-ray binaries with a neutron star component. A recent study of a small sample of X-ray binaries (XRBs) suggests a significant softening of spectra of neutron star binaries as compared to black hole binaries in the luminosity range ~1034–1037 erg/s. This softening is quantified as an anticorrelation between the spectral index (Γ) and the 0.5-10 keV X-ray luminosity. We propose to extend the study to much lower luminosities (~1030–1034 erg/s).

- Many thanks!
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...Till next month.

College dining hall, Cambridge University
(from my photoblog Blossom City Hotel)
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