Materials Today

A drop in the river of time

Some things in science are worth waiting for.

Sometime towards the end of this year, one of the rarest events in science is expected to occur. In a display case in the lobby of the physics department at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, a small drop of black tar distillate known as pitch will detach itself from the stem of a funnel and fall into a waiting beaker below. It will be the first time a drop has fallen in 13 years, and only the ninth such drop since the experiment was set up 86 years ago.

Thomas Parnell, the university’s first professor of physics, set up the pitch drop experiment to show his students that pitch, which is brittle enough to shatter if hit with a hammer, can flow like a liquid if left to its own devices long enough. Over the course of almost a century, the experiment has survived the relocation of the university campus, extensive renovations to the physics building where it is housed and innumerable changes in university administration and staff. But it serenely carries on, despite the turmoil of the world all around it. Read more in Materials Today.

On the record

The open science movement is just the latest development in the long history of scholarly communication.

The essence of science has always been communication. Nothing gets entered into the scientific record until it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal so that it can be explained to the scientific community at large, allowing them to examine and critique the work. And the roots of those journals go back to the letters that the first natural philosophers of the enlightenment wrote to one another to share their ideas and the results of their experiments.

So it is fitting that as new communications technologies are developed, scientists are among the first to adopt them and make use of them in their work. Read more in Materials Today.

Brace for impact

With public finances tight, governments around the world are demanding a return on their investment in science. Researchers should get used to it.

When the financial crisis hit in 2008 it became clear that the good times of the previous decade were not going to last. Researchers, who had gotten used to 10 years of steadily increasing budgets, immediately began making the case that investment in science and technology was the best way to ensure economic recovery.

In many countries, it worked. Despite plunging national revenues, governments around the world included extra funding for science and technology in their stimulus budgets.

But often the money came with strings attached. Read more in Materials Today.

Open Sesame

A synchrotron under construction in the Middle East brings hope for both science and peace.

“It’s like a parallel universe,” says Eliezer Rabinovici, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, of the complex of buildings in the Jordanian desert near Amman. Rabinovici is a string theorist, so he knows a thing or two about parallel universes.

The Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (Sesame) project, modeled on the Cern particle physics lab in Switzerland, is a unique scientific collaboration in the middle of a politically fraught region. The nine members—Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey—are not natural allies, indeed this is the only organization outside of the UN that can count both Israel and Iran as members. Read more in Materials Today.

Industry and academics square off over future of Framework

The negotiations on Framework 8, the EU’s research funding programme scheduled to begin in 2014, are now well and truly underway.

With the mid-term review of Framework 7 now out of the way, attention will quickly turn to its successor. The European Commission will present its first communication on Framework 8 in early 2011, and an impact assessment next summer.

Already the debate has broadly divided into two camps, those who favour support for near-market research and innovation, and those who want European funding to concentrate on scientific excellence. Read more in Materials Today.