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On fusion, the isotope program, the HIFU, the cosmic web, particle beam imaging, and more

Free content from this month's issue of Physics Today now available online

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WASHINGTON D.C., Oct. 2, 2015 -- The following articles are freely available online from Physics Today, the world's most influential and closely followed magazine devoted to physics and the physical science community. You are invited to read, share, blog about, link to, or otherwise enjoy

1) PROTOGALAXY CAUGHT IN A COSMIC WEB

By using a new instrument called the Cosmic Web Imager and a far-flung quasar as a flashlight, researchers at Caltech have probed a recently found filament of the cosmic web -- the extremely faint network of matter spindling across the universe -- and uncovered a giant protogalactic disk 400,000 light-years across. Physics Today's Sung Chang reports.

"The newly found filament [was] a perfect target for the [Cosmic Web Imager]. '[Cantalupo and I] knew it would be interesting and bright enough to say a lot about,' says [Caltech's Christopher] Martin."

MORE: http://bit.ly/1jAD3By

2) NEW ROLE FOR THE U.S. ISOTOPE PROGRAM

As recently recounted in a report by the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee Isotopes Subcommittee (NSACI), the U.S. isotope program -- essential to the production of isotopes used in medicine, energy, border monitoring, fundamental nuclear physics, archaeology, and more -- is undergoing many key changes, including the development of a research component and expanding collaborations with universities. Toni Feder of Physics Today reports.

"The report, Meeting Isotope Needs and Capturing Opportunities for the Future, recommends doubling annual federal funding for the program to nearly $40 million to cover the research and infrastructure needs the NSACI sets out for 2016-25. The program also brings in roughly $35 million a year.... The isotopes program was 'pure production, but it's difficult to meet the needs of the community if you don't have a means to invest in R&D,' says DOE's Jehanne Gillo, who directs the program. She and her team have turned it 'upside down,' she says."

MORE: http://bit.ly/1O75cLV

3) FUSION ON THE RISE FROM UNDER THE RADAR

In this brief report, Physics Today's David Kramer discusses a surprise recent breakthrough in fusion energy -- the experimental creation of a stable plasma of superheated ions trapped inside an unusually configured bottle of magnetic fields -- by Tri Alpha Energy, a small, private company in southern California.

"'What they have achieved is rather remarkable and is a demonstrated mastery of FRC (field-reverse configuration),' says Steven Koonin, now director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University. The FRC technique has generally been regarded by fusion scientists as a less-promising route to fusion than the mainstream approach."

MORE: http://bit.ly/1L7Vhoo

4) IMAGING PARTICLE BEAM PATHS FOR IMPROVED CANCER TREATMENT

Particle beams work as a cancer treatment by damaging tumor cells through atomic and nuclear interactions, but errors in predicting the location of the Bragg peak -- the localized, sharp deposition of energy just before the beam stops -- can result in harmful energy spilling over into healthy tissues. In this feature article, Jerimy Polf, an assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Katia Parodi, professor and chair of medical physics at Ludwig-Maximilians University, discuss potential approaches to mitigate this risk and improve treatment.

"Particle radiation interacts with matter to produce low-pressure acoustic signals and high-energy gamma rays. Detecting and imaging those secondary emissions outside the patient can provide a real-time visualization of the treatment beams inside the patient."

MORE: http://bit.ly/1hf2kPV

5) FREESTANDING NANOWIRES FOREVER UNDER TENSION

Physics Today's Johanna Miller reports on the serendipitous discovery by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Tsinghua University Graduate School that allowed them to create freestanding solids that can sustain constant negative pressure, or isotropic tension -- a property long thought to be impossible except in liquids.

"The researchers synthesized lead titanate nanowires in the material's so-called PX phase -- a low-density, metastable crystal structure -- and induced them to transform into the denser, stable perovskite phase.... Because of the dynamics of that transformation, the perovskite nanowires form with the surfaces under positive pressure and their cores under negative pressure. The pressures proved to be stable for more than two years."

MORE: http://bit.ly/1M5b03V

6) THE ORIGINS OF HIGH-INTENSITY FOCUSED ULTRASOUND

In this feature, Bill O'Brien, director of the Bioacoustics Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Floyd Dunn (1924-2015), who was an emeritus professor at the university, discuss the circumstances at the University of Illinois that led to the creation of high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), a now ubiquitous medical tool.

"Human ultrasonic neurosurgery was the result of a truly synergistic effort that began with the Fry brothers' arrival at Illinois in 1946. The Frys [Bill and Frank] and their colleagues faced scientific and technical challenges, but they overcame them, and quite successfully. By the end of the 1950s, HIFU therapy had been born and clinically validated. The Frys had accomplished their original goal of developing ultrasonic surgery for affecting the mammalian brain."

MORE: http://bit.ly/1ObpTrw

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