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Improvise! Shoestring solutions to big physics

作者:尤滋蚣    发布时间:2019-03-15 13:14:01    

By Richard Webb (Image: Getty) What do you do when the money’s too short to run your expensive experiment? Reach for the duct tape, ping pong balls and taco sauce In 1996, Andre Geim was a junior professor at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. His day job was teasing out the magnetic properties of superconductors, but he itched to investigate a more basic question: could you make water magnetic? The textbook answer was no. “But sometimes if something hasn’t been done before, you have to do something,” says Geim. “Sometimes something ridiculously simple.” For him, late one Friday evening, that something turned out to be pouring water into his lab’s mighty 20-Tesla electromagnet. It could all have gone disastrously wrong, but the dancing balls of levitating water that Geim saw in the electromagnet’s core provided all the answer he needed. In a dense enough field, water droplets were magnetic – and you could use that to counteract gravity. Geim later honed the technique to levitate a small frog using the magnetism of its bodily fluids, earning himself the dubious honour of an IgNobel prize for “improbable research” in 2000. Geim had the last laugh, though. In 2002, another Friday-night experiment – this time at the University of Manchester, UK – led to his most celebrated discovery: graphene. This material, with astounding conduction properties, is made from single layers of carbon atoms. When conventional methods of abrading atomic layers from a graphite block failed,

 

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