Best of Last Week – World record for tabletop accelerator, mystery of Earth's water source and roller coaster strokes

World record for compact particle accelerator
A 9 cm-long capillary discharge waveguide used in BELLA experiments to generate multi-GeV electron beams. The plasma plume has been made more prominent with the use of HDR photography. Credit: Roy Kaltschmidt

It was a good week for physics as one team of researchers set a world record for a compact 'tabletop' particle accelerator—they used one of the most powerful lasers in existence to accelerate subatomic particles to the highest energies ever recorded for such a device, setting a new benchmark for what can be accomplished on them. Meanwhile, a team of physicists attempted to explain why some composite subatomic structures created at the Large Hadron Collider fell apart in unexpected ways during collisions, by reconsidering the math behind the underlying physics. Also, another team of researchers found a way to use real data rather than theory to measure the cosmos—they used data from astronomical surveys to measure a standard distance, suggesting that some current methods for measuring distance in the universe may be more complicated than they need to be.

In other interesting news, a study illuminated some possible reasons for gay marriage gaining voter acceptance—researchers showed that conventional wisdom suggesting that it's extremely difficult to change voter views on divisive issues may be wrong. Turns out, simply putting someone in direct contact with a person impacted by an issue can cause reconsideration of previous views.

Another groundbreaking study has revealed evidence that supports the theory that "men are idiots" or at least engage in riskier behavior than women. Also, a large-scale analysis by a team of researchers has found that brain inflammation is a hallmark of autism—they haven't found any new clues about the cause of the disorder, but their findings show that those afflicted have one more thing in common—a type of related to an overzealous immune response. There was also news from the research team looking at data from the Rosetta probe—they found that water on a comet is different from that on Earth, deepening the mystery of water source—many have been betting that water arrived here on our planet via comets, but that idea may have to be shelved. Also underwater excavators in Israel revealed a lost Levantine village—offering new clues about Neolithic society.

And finally, for those looking forward to spring and summer and fun at an amusement park, a team of researchers has found that roller coaster rides can trigger pediatric stroke—likely due to a small tear in the carotid artery. Parents may want to reconsider letting kids under ten get on those rides.

© 2014

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World record for compact 'tabletop' particle accelerator


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