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Friday, December 30, 2022

The Year in Physics from Quanta Mag

Physics, like AI,  is increasingly important to understand and apply ... 

The Year in Physics

In a year filled with sweet new observations in astronomy and tantalizing breakthroughs in condensed matter physics, the brand-new space telescope takes the cake.

Myriam Wares for Quanta Magazine  By Natalie Wolchover, Senior Editor, December 22, 2022


The year began right as the James Webb Space Telescope was unfurling its sunshield — the giant, nail-bitingly thin and delicate blanket that, once open, would plunge the observatory into frigid shade and open up its view of the infrared universe. Within hours of the ball dropping here in New York City, the sunshield could have caught on a snag, ruining the new telescope and tossing billions of dollars and decades of work into the void. Instead, the sunshield opened perfectly, getting the new year in physics off to an excellent start.

JWST soon started to glimpse gorgeous new faces of the cosmos. On July 11, President Biden unveiled the telescope’s first public image — a panoramic view of thousands of galaxies various distances away in space and time. Four more instantly iconic images were released the next day. Since then, the telescope’s data has been distributed among hundreds of astronomers and cosmologists, and cosmic discoveries and papers are pouring forth.

Astronomy is swimming in fresh data of all kinds. In May, for instance, the Event Horizon Telescope released the first-ever photo of the supermassive black hole in the heart of our galaxy — one of several recent observations that are helping astrophysicists figure out how galaxies operate. Other telescopes are mapping the locations of millions of galaxies, an effort that recently yielded surprising evidence of an asymmetry in galaxy distribution.

Breakthroughs are coming fast in condensed matter physics, too. An experiment published in September all but proved the origin of high-temperature superconductivity, which could help in the field’s perennial quest for an even warmer version of the phenomenon that could work at room temperature. That’s also a goal of research on two-dimensional materials. This year, a kind of flat crystal that once helped lubricate skis has emerged as a powerful platform for exotic, potentially useful quantum phenomena.

Particle physicists, who seek new fundamental ingredients of the universe, have been less lucky. They’ve continued to unravel features of particles we already know of — including the proton, the subject of a wonderful visual project we published this fall. But theorists have few if any concrete clues about how to go beyond the Standard Model of particle physics, the stiflingly comprehensive set of equations for the quantum world that’s been the theory to beat for half a century. Hope is a virtue, though, and at least one possible crack in the Standard Model did open up this year. Let’s start the 2022 greatest-hits list there.   .... ' 

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