The year ahead
What are the key events that will shape physics in the coming year?
As a new year dawns, it’s time for me to predict the events over the next 12 months that will most affect the physics community. It’s a challenge I set myself each year but some predictions are, thankfully, easy because they centre on activities and efforts already in the calendar.
So I can declare with reasonable confidence that the European Space Agency will launch the BepiColombo mission to Mercury in October and that China intends to send the first ever spacecraft (Chang’e 4) to the far side of the Moon. In July NASA will send a craft – the Parker Solar Probe – closer to the Sun than any that’s gone before. And barring any disasters, two asteroid-sampling missions – Hayabusa 2 (Japan) and OSIRIS-Rex (NASA) – will reach their targets in July and August respectively.
Astronomers will make further exciting findings from the LIGO and VIRGO detectors, which last year revealed gravitational waves from colliding neutron stars and bagged the Physics World Breakthrough of the Year award (see “Multimessenger work bags award”). The detectors are now offline, but will switch back on in October after upgrades and – who knows? – may even see signals from a supernova. Meanwhile, data from the Event Horizon Telescope may yield the first direct image of a black hole.
In more mainstream physics, I see research into quantum technologies surging ahead with yet more money being channelled into quantum-computing start-ups. The debate about metallic hydrogen will rumble on. CERN will turn its Large Hadron Collider back on in May, while China will continue planning its own particle collider. And there will be a myriad of advances in the rest of physics, from atoms and optics to plasmas and biophysics.
Here at Physics World we’ll be busy too. Later this month, we’ll be relaunching our website (physicsworld.com) followed in February by our latest careers guide. We’ve got special issues lined up on plant physics, time and SI units. We’ll be boosting our industry coverage through Focus issues on the likes of computing, energy technologies and optics and photonics. And there will be two special reports on Japan and China, plus more Physics World Discovery mini-ebooks.
Sadly, I also foresee a few non-events. Donald Trump, foolishly, still won’t have appointed a presidential science adviser by year end. The Nobel Prize for Physics – yet again – won’t be given to a woman (only two female physicists have ever won the award). And physicists in the UK and EU will continue to worry about the impact of Brexit, with Britain’s role in the Horizon research programme remaining frustratingly unclear.
But I don’t want to end on a dud note so let’s look forward to the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World, moving this year to new – and very different – headquarters in London’s “knowledge quarter” at King’s Cross. Stay tuned for developments.