Philip Ball

Photo of Philip Ball

Philip Ball is a freelance science writer in London and author of Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen (University of Chicago Press, 2015).


Soft Matter

Focus: How to Make Soft, Wavy Structures

A process for making wavy tubes in a controlled way could lead to the predictable fabrication of complex shapes. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Unexpected Turbulence in a Splash

Some droplets throw out a fine spray as they hit a liquid surface because of a hidden pattern of fluid flow. Read More »

Interdisciplinary Physics

Focus: Some Communities Dependent upon Few Species

Some ecological communities may be acutely sensitive to the survival of certain key species, thanks to the details of the species’ interdependence, according to simulations. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: How Cytoplasm Generates its Own Smooth Flow

Orderly flow in fluid extracted from a living cell results from the spontaneous organization of randomly-oriented, microscopic forces. Read More »

Biological Physics

Focus: DNA Flexibility at the Atomic Scale

The flexibility of a DNA strand affects its activities in cells and depends on its length. Atomic-scale computer simulations begin to explain why the length matters. Read More »

Biological Physics

Focus: Leaf Size Fixed by Tree Physics

The near-uniform leaf size of the tallest trees is set by the requirements of their vascular network. Read More »

Optics

Focus: Rainbow Pattern May Allow Laser Damage Monitoring

Intense light pulses that can precisely sculpt solid materials also generate dazzling rainbow patterns that reveal information about the surface. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Dripping Honey Explained

New theory and experiments explain why the lengthy strands that dangle from a spoon of honey can get so long without breaking up. Read More »

Electronics

Focus: Wireless Power for Tiny Medical Devices

A new technique for powering medical implants wirelessly could allow them to shrink to sub-millimeter sizes in the future, according to theory and simulations. Read More »

Quantum Information

Focus: Maxwell’s Refrigerator, Powered by Information

A proposed device can act like Maxwell’s famous demon and as a tiny refrigerator “powered” by the entropy contained in information, rather than by an external source of energy. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: How Spinning Coils Swim through Gloopy Liquids

Navigation of gel-like liquids requires an optimal balance between fluid properties and the geometry of helical propellers. Read More »

Soft Matter

Focus: Boomerangs Diffuse Differently than Spheres

Bent particles have a preferred direction of Brownian motion. Read More »

Physical Chemistry

Focus: Why Red Paint Darkens over the Centuries

Experiments and calculations reveal the chemical reactions that cause the brilliant red in ancient paintings to turn dark over time, as well as potential preservation measures. Read More »

Soft Matter

Focus: Particle Clustering Phenomena Inspire Multiple Explanations

Tiny particles that actively move through a fluid exhibit various modes of organization that are still not fully understood. Read More »

Plasma Physics

Focus: First Spectrum of Ball Lightning

Researchers measured a spectrum of light emitted by the rare and elusive ball lightning. Read More »

Materials Science

Focus: How Rocks Break

A new computational model of porous materials like sandstone shows what happens microscopically when the material is stressed to the breaking point. Read More »

Plasma Physics

Focus: The Smallest Shock Wave

Researchers create shock waves in a nanosized ball of plasma. Read More »

Electronics

Focus: Thermodynamics Confronts Quantum Mechanics

Heat flow carried by electrons in a thermoelectric device requires a surprisingly wide “pipe”—a rare case where quantum effects have macroscopic consequences. Read More »

Interdisciplinary Physics

Focus: Why We Can’t Remember the Future

The basic laws of physics don’t obviously prohibit it, but the criteria for a genuine “memory” do. Read More »

Biological Physics

Focus: How Bacteria Keep Track of their Size

A new theory suggests that bacterial cells regulate their size by directly measuring their increase in volume during growth. Read More »

Astrophysics

Focus: Universal Formula for Cosmic Voids

A simple equation can describe the large-scale bubbles that appear in the dark matter distributed throughout the Universe, and it applies to voids of a wide range of sizes and ages. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: What Makes a Droplet Splash?

Whether a droplet hitting a solid surface flattens smoothly or forms a ragged splash depends on the gas surrounding it. Read More »

Atomic and Molecular Physics

Focus: High-Precision Measurements Using Lots of Cold Atoms

A new technique uses up to 30 Bose-Einstein condensates simultaneously to make ultraprecise measurements. Read More »

Nanophysics

Focus: Single Molecule Microphone

A single molecule can work as a vibration sensor that can detect displacements nearly as small as a proton. Read More »

Metamaterials

Focus: Holey Rubber Slab Has Controllable Stiffness

Squeezing a holey rubber slab changes its stiffness over a wide range in the direction perpendicular to the squeeze. Read More »

Atomic and Molecular Physics

Focus: First Direct Measurement of Gravity’s Curvature

By measuring gravity with cold atoms at three different heights simultaneously, a team determined a new property of a gravitational field. Read More »

Biological Physics

Focus: Model Demonstrates Cause of Heart Arrhythmia

A simple model of heart tissue that represents the architecture of cell-cell communication more realistically than previous models spontaneously develops faulty electrical waves that mimic a dangerous heart condition. Read More »

Quantum Information

Focus: Quantum Mechanics Could Improve Radar

A proposed device would extend a quantum entanglement scheme previously demonstrated for visible photons into the microwave regime, where it could boost radar performance. Read More »

Metamaterials

Focus: Acoustic Structure Could Evade Sonar

A proposed acoustic version of a material that conducts electricity along its surface could lead to an improved way to hide submarines from sonar. Read More »

Particles and Fields

Focus: Cosmic Rays as Thunderstorm Probes

Radio waves generated by cosmic rays provide an unprecedented view of the elusive electric fields in thunderstorms. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: In a Race, Ice Balls Beat Steel Balls

An ice coating can halve the drag of an object moving in water by reducing the turbulent wake behind it. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Self-Removing Droplets

Liquid droplets that gather on a fine, water-repelling fiber kick themselves off the fiber as they coalesce. Read More »

Biological Physics

Focus: How Anesthesia Switches Off Consciousness

A computer model of a network of neurons shows that a sudden breakdown in the net's ability to transmit information mimics the brain wave changes that accompany anesthesia. Read More »

Fluid Dynamics

Focus: Explaining the Periodicity of Snow Spikes

A new model explains the fixed periodicity of a rare snow formation that appears at high altitudes. Read More »

Particles and Fields

Focus: Nobel Prize—Neutrinos Oscillate

The 2015 physics Nobel Prize goes to the discoverers of the strange ability of neutrinos to transform among three “flavors.” Read More »

Mechanics

Focus: Two Modes of Balloon Bursting Revealed

A balloon with low internal pressure bursts through the growth of a single crack, but above a critical pressure, it breaks apart from multiple cracks. Read More »

Atomic and Molecular Physics

Focus: Diode for Single Photons

A proof-of-principle experiment allows single photons to travel in only one direction through an optical fiber. Read More »

Condensed Matter Physics

Focus: New Crystal Type is Always in Motion

Theorists define a new kind of crystal, where the symmetry is not based on the static locations of objects but instead on the relationship between their periodic motions, as in a group of satellites. Read More »