Physicists rise to the climate challenge: the October 2021 issue of Physics World

Image of a globe on a leaf

“A code red for humanity” is how António Guterres, the United Nations’ secretary general, described the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which summarizes our current scientific understanding of the Earth’s climate and the potential impact that changes to it could have on the planet.

Without steep cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, the report reminds us, the world will warm by over 2 °C this century – triggering more frequent heat waves, greater flooding, higher sea levels and more extreme heavy rainfall and droughts.

It’s easy to ignore such warnings as distant, vague and alarmist, something only of concern to policymakers and politicians at gatherings like next month’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. But the challenges of climate change shouldn’t be “other people’s problems”; they concern all of us.

Thankfully, plenty of physicists are already doing their bit to tackle the climate crisis, as we report in the October issue of Physics World magazine. The cover feature by James Dacey includes interviews with many of the climate scientists speaking at IOP Publishing’s forthcoming Environmental Research 2021 online conference. And don’t forget that the Institute of Physics is also hosting a week-long series of events on physics and the green economy.

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For the record, here’s a run-down of what else is in the issue.

• Do high-energy neutrinos lurk in SN1987A? The SN1987A supernova event might be the source of four particles detected in Japan and the US – and so possibly explain the origin of the most energetic cosmic rays, as Edwin Cartlidge reports

• A life in China – Italian astrophysicist Roberto Soria talks to Ling Xin about the  opportunities and challenges of living in China and how that changed when the pandemic hit

• The challenge of change – James McKenzie believes the climate crisis offers opportunities to business – but warns that solutions will only be found with the help of governments and financial markets

• The nuclear fight – Robert P Crease talks to William D Magwood IV, director-general
of the Nuclear Energy Agency, about the battle to keep nuclear power on the agenda

• Why ‘net zero’ needs nuclear – Henry Preston and Saralyn Thomas say that nuclear energy must be part of the conversation during the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow next month

• Getting physical with the climate crisis – With world leaders set to gather in Glasgow next month for the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit, James Dacey examines four vital challenges where physicists can help the world to decarbonize and adapt to the reality of global warming

• Scanning the cosmos for signs of technology – Ever since planets beyond our solar system were first discovered, astronomers have been hunting life beyond our world. While biological signatures are crucial, the idea of scouring the skies for signs of  technosignatures from advanced civilizations is gaining momentum, as David Appell discovers

• Towards proton arc therapy Do we need proton arc therapy, and can we deliver it? At the recent European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO) 2021 congress, Tami Freeman heard from researchers describing the latest developments with the technique and its potential to improve cancer treatments

• Frames of reference and objectivity – Immanuel Adewumi reviews The Disordered  Cosmos: a Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

• Between the lines: Environment special

• Green jobs for physics graduates – With their mix of technical knowledge and problem-solving skills, physics graduates are ideally placed to tackle the world’s environmental
challenges. Laura Hiscott speaks to a range of physicists who are doing their bit to build a greener, more sustainable future

• The climate-change outsider: Guy Callendar

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