Physical Sciences

  • A dozen not-to-be-missed 2020 stories

    Tuesday, Jan 12, 2021
    by John Greenwald, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

    Breakthroughs ranging from improved control of efforts to bring the fusion energy that powers the sun and stars to Earth to advanced modeling of the formation of heavenly bodies highlighted research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) in 2020.

  • Rabitz Group links control and variational quantum algorithms

    Thursday, Jan 7, 2021
    by Wendy Plump, Department of Chemistry

    There are many steps on the road to scientific advances, an axiom that is especially true for quantum technologies. Although progress over the past decade has put quantum computing firmly on the horizon, large scale, fault-tolerant quantum computing devices are currently just that – on the horizon.

  • What caused the ice ages? Tiny ocean fossils offer key evidence

    Thursday, Dec 10, 2020
    by Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications

    The last million years of Earth history have been characterized by frequent “glacial-interglacial cycles,” large swings in climate that are linked to the growing and shrinking of massive, continent-spanning ice sheets. These cycles are triggered by subtle oscillations in Earth’s orbit and rotation, but the orbital oscillations are too subtle to explain the large changes in climate.

  • How plants compete for underground real estate affects climate change and food production

    Thursday, Dec 3, 2020
    by Liana Wait, graduate student, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

    You might have observed plants competing for sunlight — the way they stretch upwards and outwards to block each other’s access to the sun’s rays — but out of sight, another type of competition is happening underground. In the same way that you might change the way you forage for free snacks in the break room when your colleagues are present, plants change their use of underground resources when they’re planted alongside other plants.

  • Math enables custom arrangements of liquid “nesting dolls”

    Tuesday, Dec 1, 2020

    While the mesmerizing blobs in a classic lava lamp may appear magical, the colorful shapes move in response to temperature-induced changes in density and surface tension. This process, known as liquid-liquid phase separation, is critical to many functions in living cells, and plays a part in making products like medicines and cosmetics.

  • Massive underground instrument finds final secret of our sun’s fusion

    Tuesday, Dec 1, 2020
    by Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications

    A hyper-sensitive instrument, deep underground in Italy, has finally succeeded at the nearly impossible task of detecting CNO neutrinos (tiny particles pointing to the presence of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen) from our sun’s core. These little-known particles reveal the last missing detail of the fusion cycle powering our sun and other stars.

  • Social bacteria build shelters using the physics of fingerprint patterns

    Monday, Nov 23, 2020
    by Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research

    Forest-dwelling bacteria known for forming slimy swarms that prey on other microbes can also cooperate to construct mushroom-like survival shelters known as fruiting bodies when food is scarce. Now a team at Princeton University has discovered the physics behind how these rod-shaped bacteria, which align in patterns like those on fingerprint whorls and liquid crystal displays, build the layers of these fruiting bodies. The study was published online Nov. 23 in Nature Physics.

  • In the mysterious Blue Ring Nebula, scientists see the fate of binary stars

    Wednesday, Nov 18, 2020
    by The Office of Communications

    Scientists have discovered a rare object called the Blue Ring Nebula, a ring of hydrogen gas with a star at its center. The properties of this system suggest it is the remnant of two stars meeting their ultimate demise: an inward orbital dance that resulted in the two stars merging. The result offers a new window into the fate of many tightly orbiting binary star systems.

  • Everybody’s got a hungry heart

    Tuesday, Nov 17, 2020
    by Wendy Plump, Department of Chemistry

    Considering how hard the human heart works, it’s not surprising that it needs a continuous supply of fuel to run efficiently over the human lifespan. What is surprising, however, is its fuel preference and the rate at which it consumes these fuels.


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