Sourdough tips from Fermilab, anti-5G USB stick does nothing, tracing a message in a bottle – Physics World


Science project: was this baked by a materials scientist or a biochemist? (Courtesy: M Johnston)

One curious result of the COVID-19 lockdown is an explosion of interest in making sourdough bread. My wife and my eldest daughter are using their skills as a materials scientist and a biochemist respectively to see who can make the best sourdough (top tip from the biochemist, try baking yours in a covered Dutch oven).

So, it is not surprising that physicists are also getting into the act. There is a fantastic article in Symmetry about a sourdough starter at Fermilab that was brought to the accelerator facility in 2017 – when Ryan Mueller arrived from Texas A&M University with a jar of microbes.

As well as giving a bit of sourdough lore, the article as has several recipes and some fantastic photos of bread baked by Fermilab staff. It is by Jerald Pinson and called “The sourdough starter physics family”.

And if that doesn’t sate your appetite, check out “The physics of bread” by Bob Crease.

Expensive nonsense

The BBC is reporting that trading standards officers in the UK have come to the not-so-surprising conclusion that a £339 USB stick claimed to offer protection from 5G cellular networks is expensive nonsense. They are seeking a court order to take down the website offering the 5GBioShield, which they describe as being no more than a basic USB memory. Never mind that there is no evidence that 5G is harmful in the first place.

The device claims to use a “holographic nano-layer catalyser” to protect against 5G and apparently has been endorsed by a member of the town of Glastonbury’s 5G Advisory Committee. Perhaps the nano-layer catalyser was too small to be spotted by the officers, who probably don’t have access to an electron microscope.

What puzzles me is that surely anyone who believes that 5G signals are harmful would also be wary of USB technology.

Finally, some serious science. Researchers at ETH Zurich and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a new algorithm that predicts how objects drift on the sea as a result of currents. This could be useful for speeding up search and rescue operations at sea and cleaning up spilled materials. And of course, you could use it to send a message-in-a-bottle to a friend. You can read more in “Search and rescue at sea aided by hidden flow structures”.

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