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Much ado about boffins, radon spa in the Alps, collider-inspired Halloween costumes – Physics World


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Earlier this year, the Institute of Physics (IOP), which publishes Physics World, launched a campaign to persuade journalists to stop using the outdated slang term “boffin” when referring to scientists. The initiative was aimed at the red-top tabloids such as The Sun as well as The Daily Star, who have a particular soft spot for the word.

The IOP says that using the term in their coverage has a negative impact and puts people off from studying science. This is because boffin conjures up the image of a scientist being a slightly dishevelled, elderly white man.  In this new video from Sixty Symbols, physicist Philip Moriarty at the University of Nottingham, broadly agrees as he discusses the pros and cons of the campaign. You can watch the video above.

Winter is approaching in Austria, and soon the country’s famous alpine resorts will be thronging with skiers and snowboarders. But in the alpine spa town of Bad Gastein, some visitors are going deep under the mountains rather than up on ski lifts. Guests of the Gasteiner Heilstollen spa can don their swimsuits and hop on a small train that takes them more than 2 km underground to caverns where they can “bathe” in radiation given off by naturally occurring radon gas.

No proven benefits

According to an article in The Guardian  by Colin Nicholson, radon bathers receive a radiation dose that’s about 25% of a medical X-ray. Although Nicholson points out that there are no proven health benefits from the radiation, he says that some Austrians have their visits covered by their health insurance.

In the interest of balance, here is what the World Health Organization says about radon.

Nine years ago Symmetry published a list of ten physics themed Halloween costumes. And now, just as physicist trick-or-treaters have exhausted those ideas, the magazine’s Aspen Stuart-Cunningham has come up with ten more. The latest suggestions include going as a neutrino by continuously changing between three different costumes – to mimic how the subatomic particles oscillate between three different flavours.

Or maybe you fancy brightening up a party by dressing up as the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider – which should come on line at CERN in 2029. Stuart-Cunningham’s suggests wrapping yourself with a hula hoop and just about every portable source of illumination you have around the house including Christmas lights and bike lights.

Duelling dark sector

I think my favourite suggestion is teaming up with a friend to be dark matter and dark energy. You could pretend to be in conflict all evening, with dark energy expanding the universe and dark matter’s gravity trying to pull it in the opposite direction.


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