Michael Schirber

Photo of Michael Schirber

Michael Schirber is a freelance science writer in Lyon, France.


Nonlinear Dynamics

Focus: Hiding Secrets in Spontaneous Patterns

A new, secure way to send messages camouflages them inside the same kind of self-organizing patterns that appear in vegetation patterns and the stripes on animal coats. Read More »

Quantum Physics

Focus: Another Step Back for Wave-Particle Duality

A new thought experiment makes it clearer than ever that photons aren’t simply particles or waves. Read More »

Atomic and Molecular Physics

Focus: Carbon Dating with Lasers

Infrared spectroscopy can detect trace gases and potentially provide an alternative carbon dating technique. Read More »

Soft Matter

Focus: Particles Sorted by Entropy

A proposed device improves on past designs and would sort small particles from large ones to a purity of over 99 percent, without any moving parts. Read More »

Particles and Fields

Focus: Landmarks—Millikan Measures the Electron’s Charge

The Millikan oil drop experiment, published in final form in 1913, demonstrated that charge comes in discrete chunks and was a bridge between classical electromagnetism and modern quantum physics. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Why Salt Clusters Form on Basement Walls

Salt crystallizing on walls or old artifacts forms in discrete bunches, rather than coating the surface, because of an unexpected feedback effect, according to experiments and simulations. Read More »

Graphene

Focus: Graphyne May Be Better than Graphene

Sheets of single-layer carbon with a variety of bonding patterns may have properties similar to the wonder material graphene, according to new computer simulations. Read More »

Nuclear Physics

Focus: Nuclei Emit Paired-up Neutrons

A neutron-rich nucleus can emit a neutron pair as a single unit as a product of nuclear decay. Read More »

Mesoscopics

Focus: Cooling with a Warm Glow

Incoherent light from the sun or from an LED could cool a small object, according to two theory papers. Read More »

Nonlinear Dynamics

Focus: Curling Physics Unraveled

Experiments and simulations lead to a new model for the curling of a thin strip, which could be useful for plant growth and micromechanics. Read More »

Quantum Information

Focus: Electron Spin Influences Nanotube Motion

The oscillations of a carbon nanotube can strongly affect the spin of an electron trapped on the tube, and the tube can also be affected by the spin, according to theory. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Plugging Leaks in Seal Models

Gaskets and other seals can stop leaks even if the leak-preventing surfaces have just 42 percent of their area in contact at the microscopic scale, according to computer simulations. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Measuring the Smallest Trickle

Researchers used a nanoscale tunnel in a silicon chip to measure a flow rate of a few picoliters per minute, which is smaller than any previous observation. Read More »

Atomic and Molecular Physics

Focus: First Frame from 3D Molecular Movie

In a step toward 3D movies, researchers have combined short laser pulses with electron diffraction methods to rapidly map the structure of a simple molecule in three dimensions. Read More »

Atomic and Molecular Physics

Focus: Nobel Prize—Tools for Quantum Tinkering

David Wineland and Serge Haroche, who studied photons and atoms in new ways, have won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Model of Tumbling Sand Castles

Two-dimensional simulations provide the first element-by-element accounting of the fluid and grain flow in an underwater avalanche. Read More »

Mechanics

Focus: Fractal Structures Do More with Less

Calculations show that the weight of large support structures can be dramatically reduced if their design consists of patterns that are the same at large scales as at the tiniest scales. Read More »

Soft Matter

Focus: Subterranean Sound Waves from Projectile Impact

A projectile striking granular material generates a series of acoustic pulses that propagate down from the impact site. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Tuning the Flow through a Soap Film

An electric field applied to a soap film induces fluid flow through the film and causes its thickness to increase—a phenomenon that could be useful in microfluidic systems. Read More »

Atomic and Molecular Physics

Focus: Atoms Organize Themselves

A theoretical model finds that atoms can organize themselves into a regularly spaced row when trapped between a pair of nanosized optical fibers. Read More »

Acoustics

Focus: Ultrasound Signal Reveals Microstructure

A model for analyzing materials using ultrasound shows that the seemingly random fluctuations in the data may contain information about the microscopic structure. Read More »

Materials Science

Focus: Windshield Cracks Hold Secrets of Impact

Firing projectiles at plates of glass or plastic shows that the number of resulting cracks is an indicator of the impact velocity and of material properties. Read More »

Soft Matter

Focus: Controlling Persistent Stress in Glass

Internal stress in a glass material is an important source of strength. Theory and experiments provide a new molecular-scale understanding of the process by which such stress develops. Read More »

Materials Science

Focus: Designing Better Materials for LEDs

Researchers designed and synthesized an organic molecule whose electronic structure helps funnel energy into fluorescent emission. Read More »

Interdisciplinary Physics

Focus: How to Learn a Language Quickly

Simulations show that you can learn the meaning of words rapidly if you assume that every object has only one word associated with it. Read More »

Nonlinear Dynamics

Focus: Modeling the Not-So-Steady Heart

Mimicking the stable but not perfectly periodic beating of the heart and similar biological systems requires a new kind of mathematical model. Read More »

Energy Research

Focus: Packing Heat to Store Energy

A theoretical analysis explores the efficiency limits of a method for storing electrical energy from a power plant by heating up a tank of fluid. Read More »

Particles and Fields

Focus: Nobel Prize—Why Particles Have Mass

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to two of the theorists who formulated the Higgs mechanism, which gives mass to fundamental particles. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Controlling Flow with a Roughness Knob

A new technique for controlling gas flow through microchannels involves adjusting the surface roughness of a thin film coating the walls. Read More »

Mesoscopics

Focus: Dragging Nanoparticles Reveals Extra-Low Friction

Experiments demonstrate the breakdown of one of the basic laws of friction at the atomic scale, where more slippery conditions prevail. Read More »

Biological Physics

Focus: Bleaching Cleans Up Cell Images

The resolution in a biomedical imaging method can be improved by over-exposing, or “photobleaching,” some of the signal-producing molecules. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Turbulence Can’t Stir Plankton

Turbulence causes certain swimming microorganisms to segregate into clusters, rather than spreading out evenly, according to experiments and simulations. Read More »

Particles and Fields

Focus: Neutrinos Are Brighter at Night

The solar neutrino signal from a Japanese detector is slightly stronger at night because neutrinos traveling through the Earth behave differently than those that reach us directly from the Sun. Read More »

Biological Physics

Focus: Plant Gas Valve under the Microscope

Precision measurements of plant microstructures provide new insights into how they prevent gas bubbles from disrupting water flow. Read More »

Optics

Focus: Light Nearly Stopped in a Waveguide

Calculations show how to excite extremely slow-moving light pulses in a nanosized waveguide. Read More »

Plasmonics

Focus: Cutting Losses for Surface Light

Light sent along metal surfaces—inside a future optical computer, for instance—may undergo reduced losses if the emitter is a thin slit or hole, experiments show. Read More »

Soft Matter

Focus: Electrons Not the Cause of Charged Grains

Experiments show that the buildup of charge in a collection of grains is not due to the transfer of electrons. Read More »

Plasma Physics

Focus: Plasma Extremes Seen through Gas Bubble

Sound-stimulated gas bubbles in liquid become tiny plasmas and may provide a test bed for plasma physics theories. Read More »

Nuclear Physics

Focus: Nuclear Monitoring with Antineutrinos

A system to monitor a nuclear reactor for possible diversion of weapons material would use an antineutrino detector parked close to the facility. Read More »

Quantum Physics

Focus: Curvy Photon Trajectories Could Be Detectable

Quantum mechanics permits particles to follow bizarre, looping and curving trajectories, usually with very low probability. But a calculation shows that in some cases, these paths can have significant and possibly measurable effects. Read More »

Optics

Focus: Nobel Prize—Seeing Single Molecules

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry recognizes the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy. Much of this field can be traced back to the first detection of single molecules in solids. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Fluid Jet Acquires Wings

A high-speed jet of certain fluids will form multiple wings, or archlike structures, when hitting a solid surface. Read More »

Astrophysics

Focus: Gamma-Ray Bursts Determine Potential Locations for Life

Powerful stellar explosions may have caused mass extinctions on Earth and could also have prevented life from appearing on other planets until 5 billion years ago—and then only in the outskirts of galaxies. Read More »

Interdisciplinary Physics

Focus: Why Language Exceptions Remain the Rule

Interaction among speakers of a language may explain why frequently used verbs tend to remain irregular even as language evolves over generations. Read More »

Optics

Focus: Laser Filaments Go through Phase Transition

A powerful laser beam separates into many smaller filaments that undergo a phase transition similar to fluid percolating through a porous material. Read More »

Metamaterials

Focus: Single-Frequency Mirror

A mirror made with metamaterials reflects at a selected angle and only responds to radiation of a specific frequency, while being transparent to other radiation. Read More »

Optics

Focus: How to Stop a Nanosphere

Combining two trapping techniques reduces the motion of a levitated bead close to the point where quantum effects should become observable. Read More »

Industrial Physics

Focus: Liquid Helium Brewed Locally

A new device for recycling the helium coolant in an MRI scanner or similar machine uses elevated pressure to dramatically increase the rate at which helium is liquefied. Read More »