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    Everything Everywhere All At Once review: Multiverse sci-fi adventure

    By Robyn Chowdhury
    Everything Everywhere All At Once
    Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
    Now playing in cinemasAdvertisement
    CHAOTIC sci-fi adventure is the heart of Everything Everywhere All At Once, a movie as touching as it is thrilling. It follows Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) as she takes on the burden of saving the multiverse. On her journey, she meets, fights and loves the many different versions of those closest to her, showing us that family isn’t just one-dimensional.
    We are introduced quickly to the mania of Evelyn’s life: her damaged relationships with daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), not to mention the pile of receipts she must get audited. But Evelyn’s balancing act between family and business is only a fraction of the chaos to come.
    Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who wrote, directed and produced the film, waste no time before throwing us into a host of absurd scenarios.
    Warned she may be in grave danger during a trip to declare her taxes, Evelyn flees into another dimension, while tax auditor Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis) tries in vain to keep her attention. We discover that quirky supervillain Jobu Tupaki has created a sort of “black hole” that threatens the multiverse – and she is hunting Evelyn down.
    This film catapults you so quickly between universes that you barely have time to be confused. It flirts with existentialism and Chinese culture in a bizarre Rick and Morty/ The Matrix hybrid.
    Kwan uses his experience as the son of immigrants to create a family that feels real. The chaos in Evelyn’s life and mind represents attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which Kwan was diagnosed with as an adult. The film portrays neurodiversity with nuance, showing Evelyn as someone who really is feeling everything, everywhere, all at once.
    The cinematography is beautiful, and the music is cleverly used to add humour, tension and sentimentality. Though the film mostly centres on the Wang family and Beaubeirdra, there are so many versions of each character that you never get bored – and the cast have the perfect chance to demonstrate their range.
    Everything Everywhere All At Once grounds a cosmic plot about interdimensional travel with its story of a broken family trying their best to love each other. The film is simultaneously poignant and playful – with more fight scenes involving sex toys than you would expect. It is one to watch for anyone who enjoys laughing and crying in equal measure.

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    Claims that girls have a 'natural' aversion to physics are harmful

    Girls are just as capable as boys in science and mathematics, but ingrained attitudes are stopping female students from engaging, says Maria Rossini


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    18 May 2022

    By Maria Rossini
    Simone Rotella
    FROM Katherine Johnson, known for her pioneering work at NASA, to Nobel prizewinning physicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell and epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta, women have contributed hugely to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). But that contribution often remains undervalued, and in the UK a false narrative persists that science is a boys’ subject and that girls lack the aptitude for study or work in STEM disciplines.
    These long-standing negative assumptions were displayed recently at an inquiry on diversity in STEM by the UK parliament’s Science and Technology Committee. Katharine Birbalsingh, head of Michaela Community School in London and chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said that girls in her school have a “natural” aversion to physics and that it involves “hard maths”, which girls would “rather not do”.
    Contrary to Birbalsingh’s comments, evidence shows that girls are just as capable as boys: girls outperform their male peers in GCSE maths and science qualifications, taken from age 14, with 68 per cent getting grades A*-C in 2015 versus 65 per cent for boys.Advertisement
    Yet despite this, only around 23 per cent of entrants for the A level qualification in physics, taken from age 16, are girls. There are clearly underlying reasons behind these statistics, but Birbalsingh’s comments highlight exactly the kind of harmful stereotypes that have led many young women to disengage from these subjects.
    Research has found that, despite being very capable, many girls lack proportionate confidence in their maths and physics abilities because they feel they aren’t “naturally” clever enough.
    This is partly due to a notion within popular culture of the “effortlessly clever physicist” (whereby physics is presented as something that comes naturally, rather than something to work at), as well as the view that physics is “masculine and hard”: the very same troubling narrative that Birbalsingh was espousing.
    It is also much harder for girls to aspire to STEM careers if there are no female role models for them to look up to in their studies. Representation of inspiring female scientists could be a crucial part of raising aspirations and dismantling harmful stereotypes. However, in an analysis of double science GCSE specifications from major exam boards, only Rosalind Franklin and Mary Leakey are mentioned. By contrast, 40 male scientists’ names can be found.
    It is clear that the design of exam specifications, ingrained societal attitudes and potential gatekeeping practices in some of the UK’s schools need to be re- evaluated and addressed.
    As research from Julie Moote at University College London has highlighted, greater support for teachers is needed so that they can better understand the complex and invisible ways in which gender, class and racial inequalities are reinforced through teaching.
    Some studies also suggest that girls place a greater value on seeing the social relevance of the work they do, and engage better with a project-based approach to STEM. I can identify with this. Despite my A grades, I dropped physics and maths after GCSE. I later went on to be part of a team doing a physics-based project, where I had the opportunity to work on a real-life physics challenge. This sparked a new-found love of the subject, sadly too late to study it further.
    If ingrained attitudes about science and misplaced cultural gender stereotypes lead to systemic barriers that dissuade girls from engaging, then, as a community, we need to examine our own attitudes and failings. It is time to call out opinions like Birbalsingh’s, and create a learning environment that actively breaks down stereotypes, in order to support girls and other under-represented groups to thrive in STEM subjects.
    Maria Rossini is head of education at the British Science Association. @MariaTKRossini

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    High-energy neutrinos may come from black holes ripping apart stars

    When a star gets too close to a black hole, sparks fly. And, potentially, so do subatomic particles called neutrinos.

    A dramatic light show results when a supermassive black hole rips apart a wayward star. Now, for the second time, a high-energy neutrino has been spotted that may have come from one of these “tidal disruption events,” researchers report in a study accepted in Physical Review Letters.

    These lightweight particles, which have no electric charge, careen across the cosmos and can be detected upon their arrival at Earth. The origins of such zippy neutrinos are a big mystery in physics. To create them, conditions must be just right to drastically accelerate charged particles, which would then produce neutrinos. Scientists have begun lining up likely candidates for cosmic particle accelerators. In 2020, researchers reported the first neutrino linked to a tidal disruption event (SN: 5/26/20). Other neutrinos have been tied to active galactic nuclei, bright regions at the centers of some galaxies (SN: 7/12/18).

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    Discovered in 2019, the tidal disruption event reported in the new study stood out. “It was extraordinarily bright; it’s really one of the brightest transients ever seen,” says astroparticle physicist Marek Kowalski of Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, or DESY, in Zeuthen, Germany.

    Transients are short-lived flares in the sky, such as tidal disruption events and exploding stars called supernovas. Further observations of the brilliant outburst revealed that it shone in infrared, X-rays and other wavelengths of light.

    Roughly a year after the flare’s discovery, the Antarctic neutrino observatory IceCube spotted a high-energy neutrino. By tracing the particle’s path backward, researchers determined that the neutrino came from the flare’s vicinity.

    The matchup between the two events could be a coincidence. But when combined with the previous neutrino that was tied to a tidal disruption event, the case gets stronger. The probability of finding two such associations by chance is only about 0.034 percent, the researchers say.

    It’s still not clear how tidal disruption events would produce high-energy neutrinos. In one proposed scenario, a jet of particles flung away from the black hole could accelerate protons, which could interact with surrounding radiation to produce the speedy neutrinos.

    ‘We need more data … in order to say that these are real neutrino sources or not,” says astrophysicist Kohta Murase of Penn State University, a coauthor of the new study. If the link between the neutrinos and tidal disruption events is real, he’s optimistic that researchers won’t have to wait too long. “If this is the case, we will see more.”

    But scientists don’t all agree that the flare was a tidal disruption event. Instead, it could have been an especially bright type of supernova, astrophysicist Irene Tamborra and colleagues suggest in the April 20 Astrophysical Journal.

    In such a supernova, it’s clear how energetic neutrinos could be produced, says Tamborra, of the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen. Protons accelerated by the supernova’s shock wave could collide with protons in the medium that surrounds the star, producing other particles that could decay to make neutrinos.

    It’s only recently that observations of high-energy neutrinos and transients have improved enough to enable scientists to find potential links between the two. “It’s exciting,” Tamborra says. But as the debate over the newly detected neutrino’s origin shows, “at the same time, it’s uncovering many things that we don’t know.” More

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    Why some words become funnier when paired together

    A study looking at more than 55,000 pairs of words has found why word pairings like “funk fungus” and “gnome bone” seem to be more amusing than their constituent parts


    13 May 2022

    By Jesse Staniforth
    Some pairs of words are funnier than othersShutterstock / fizkes
    On their own there is nothing particularly funny about the words “gnome” and “bone”, but put them together and it is a different story. Pairings like “gnome bone” seem to make people chuckle, at least according to a study that looked at the funniness of thousands of pairs of words.
    Cynthia S. Q. Siew at the National University of Singapore and her colleagues generated random word pairings using a list of around 5000 words previously studied for their humour or lack thereof. … More

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    'Funk fungus' is a funny phrase and scientists now know why

    A study looking at more than 55,000 pairs of words has found why word pairings like “gnome bone” and “spam scrotum” seem to be more amusing than their constituent parts


    13 May 2022

    By Jesse Staniforth
    Some pairs of words are funnier than othersShutterstock / fizkes
    On their own there is nothing particularly funny about the words “gnome” and “bone”, but put them together and it is a different story. Pairings like “gnome bone” seem to make people chuckle, at least according to a study that looked at the funniness of thousands of pairs of words.
    Cynthia S. Q. Siew at the National University of Singapore and her colleagues generated random word pairings using a list of around 5000 words previously studied for their humour or lack thereof. … More

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    We finally have an image of the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way

    There’s a new addition to astronomers’ portrait gallery of black holes. 

    Astronomers announced May 12 that they have finally assembled an image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. 

    “This image shows a bright ring surrounding the darkness, the telltale sign of the shadow of the black hole,” astrophysicist Feryal Özel of the University of Arizona in Tucson said at a news conference announcing the result.

    The black hole, known as Sagittarius A*, appears as a faint silhouette amidst the glowing material that surrounds it. The image reveals the turbulent, twisting region immediately surrounding the black hole in new detail. The findings also were published May 12 in 6 studies in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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    A planet-spanning network of radio telescopes, known as the Event Horizon Telescope, worked together to create this much-anticipated look at the Milky Way’s giant. Three years ago, the same team released the first-ever image of a supermassive black hole (SN: 4/10/19). That object sits at the center of the galaxy M87, about 55 million light-years from Earth. 

    But Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A* for short, is “humanity’s black hole,” says astrophysicist Sera Markoff of the University of Amsterdam, and a member of the EHT collaboration. 

    At 27,000 light-years away, the behemoth is the closest giant black hole to Earth. That proximity means that Sgr A* is the most-studied supermassive black hole in the universe. Yet Sgr A* and others like it remain some of the most mysterious objects ever found. 

    That’s because, like all black holes, Sgr A* is an object so dense that its gravitational pull won’t let light escape. Black holes are “natural keepers of their own secrets,” says physicist Lena Murchikova of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., who is not part of the EHT team. Their gravity traps light that falls within a border called the event horizon. EHT’s images of Sgr A* and the M87 black hole skirt up to that inescapable edge.

    [embedded content]
    This sonification is a translation into sound of the Event Horizon Telescope’s image of the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*. The sonification sweeps clockwise around the black hole image. Material closer to the black hole orbits faster than material farther away. Here, the faster-moving material is heard at higher frequencies. Very low tones represent material outside the black hole’s main ring. Louder volume indicates brighter spots in the image.

    Sgr A* feeds on hot material pushed off of massive stars at the galactic center. That gas, drawn toward Sgr A* by its gravitational pull, flows into a surrounding disk of glowing material, called an accretion disk. The disk, the stars and an outer bubble of X-ray light “are like an ecosystem,” says astrophysicist Daryl Haggard of McGill University in Montreal and a member of the EHT collaboration. “They’re completely tied together.”

    That accretion disk is where the action is — as the gas moves within immensely strong magnetic fields — so astronomers want to know more about how the disk works.

    Like the majority of supermassive black holes,  Sgr A* is quiet and faint (SN: 6/5/19 ). The black hole eats only a few morsels fed to it by its accretion disk. Still, “it’s always been a little bit of a puzzle why it’s so, so faint,” says astrophysicist Meg Urry of Yale University, who is not part of the EHT collaboration. M87’s black hole, in comparison, is a monster gorging on nearby material and shooting out enormous, powerful jets (SN: 11/10/21). But that doesn’t mean Sgr A* isn’t producing light. Astrophysicists have seen its region feebly glowing in radio waves, jittering in infrared and burping in X-rays.

    In fact, the accretion disk around Sgr A* seems to constantly flicker and simmer. This variability, the constant flickering, is like a froth on top of ocean waves, Markoff says. “​​And so we’re seeing this froth that is coming up from all this activity, and we’re trying to understand the waves underneath the froth.” 

    The big question, she adds, has been if astronomers would be able to see something changing in those waves with EHT. In the new work, they’ve seen hints of those changes below the froth, but the full analysis is still ongoing.

    By combining about 3.5 petabytes of data, or the equivalent of about 100 million TikTok videos, captured in April 2017, researchers could begin to piece together the picture. To tease out an image from the initial massive jumble of data, the EHT team needed years of work, complicated computer simulations and observations in various types of light from other telescopes. 

    [embedded content]
    Scientists created a vast library of computer simulations of Sagittarius A* (one shown) to explore the turbulent flow of hot gas that rings the black hole. That rapid flow causes the ring’s appearance to vary in brightness on timescales of minutes. Scientists compared these simulations with the newly released observations of the black hole to better understand its true properties.

    Those “multiwavelength” data from the other telescopes were crucial to assembling the image. “By looking at these things simultaneously and all together, we’re able to come up with a complete picture,” says theorist Gibwa Musoke of the University of Amsterdam. 

    Sgr A*’s variability, the constant simmering, complicated the analysis because the black hole changes on timescales of just a few minutes, changing as the researchers were imaging it. “It was like trying to take a clear picture of a running child at night,” astronomer José L. Gómez of Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Granada, Spain, said at a news conference announcing the result. M87 was easier to analyze because it changed over the course of weeks.

    Ultimately, a better understanding of what is happening in the disk so close to Sgr A* could help scientists learn how many other similar supermassive black holes work. 

    The new EHT observations also confirm the mass of Sgr A* at 4 million times that of the sun. If the black hole replaced our sun, the shadow EHT imaged would sit within Mercury’s orbit. 

    The researchers also used the image of Sgr A* to put general relativity to the test (SN: 2/3/21). Einstein’s steadfast theory of gravity passed: The size of the shadow matched the predictions of general relativity. By testing the theory in extreme conditions — like those around black holes — scientists hope to pinpoint any hidden weaknesses.

    Scientists have previously tested general relativity by following the motions of stars that orbit very close to Sgr A* — work that also helped confirm that the object truly is a black hole (SN: 7/26/18). For that discovery, researchers Andrea Ghez and Reinhard Genzel won a share of the Nobel Prize in physics in 2020 (SN: 10/6/20).

    The two types of tests of general relativity are complementary,  says astrophysicist Tuan Do of UCLA. “With these big physics tests, you don’t want to use just one method.” If one test appears to contradict general relativity, scientists can check for a corresponding discrepancy in the other.

    The Event Horizon Telescope, however, tests general relativity much nearer to the black hole’s edge, which could highlight subtle effects of physics beyond general relativity. “The closer you get, the better you are in terms of being able to look for these effects,” says physicist Clifford Will of the University of Florida in Gainesville.

    However, some researchers have criticized a similar test of general relativity made using the EHT image of M87’s black hole (SN: 10/1/20). That’s because the test relies on relatively shaky assumptions about the physics of how material swirls around a black hole, says physicist Sam Gralla of the University of Arizona in Tucson. Testing general relativity in this way “would only make sense if general relativity were the weakest link,” but scientists’ confidence in general relativity is stronger than the assumptions that went into the test, he says.

    The observations of Sgr A* provide more evidence that the object is in fact a black hole, says physicist Nicolas Yunes of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “It’s really exciting to have the first image of a black hole that is in our own Milky Way. It’s fantastic.” It sparks the imagination, like early pictures astronauts took of Earth from the moon, he says.

    This won’t be the last eye-catching image of Sgr A* from EHT. Additional observations, made in 2018, 2021 and 2022, are still waiting to be analyzed. 

    “This is our closest supermassive black hole,” Haggard says. “It is like our closest friend and neighbor. And we’ve been studying it for years as a community. [This image is a] really profound addition to this exciting black hole we’ve all kind of fallen in love with in our careers.” More

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    'World-leading' research not confined to elite universities, says REF

    The Research Excellence Framework, an assessment of UK universities’ research output, has found that “world-leading” research is distributed across the country rather than concentrated in a few elite institutions


    12 May 2022

    By Jason Arunn Murugesu
    Research around the UK has been called “world-leading”Muhammet Camdereli/Getty Images
    The UK’s “world-leading” research isn’t just limited to a select few elite universities, but rather is distributed across the country, according to the latest UK government analysis of the country’s academic output.
    The analysis by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) team is based on seven years’ worth of work conducted by universities. It assesses the quality of a university’s research output in terms of how highly cited it is and the impact it has had in both academia and the wider world. Unlike in 2014, the last time this analysis was conducted, the REF team put a greater emphasis on the wider long-term impact that a piece of research has had on the UK’s economy, environment and quality of life.
    The results will help UK government funding bodies decide how to allocate £2 billion worth of grant money between universities each year.Advertisement
    “There’s lots of myths about where our research excellence is, but the truth is that it is more broadly distributed, as the results from this exercise show,” says Steven Hill at Research England, chair of the REF steering group.
    More than 185,000 pieces of research were submitted by 157 universities to the REF team, which were reviewed by 34 expert panels. The panels were split into four main categories: life and medical sciences, physical sciences, social sciences and arts and humanities.

    The team found that 41 per cent of the research submitted was considered of the highest quality, which the REF team termed “world-leading”. Meanwhile, 43 per cent of the research was ranked “internationally excellent”. More than 80 per cent of the research assessed at both these levels of quality was found in every region and nation in the UK.
    Nearly all universities who submitted research to the REF team were found to have at least some of their activity judged as “world-leading”. “There’s a really even distribution of research excellence across the UK,” says Hill.
    Comparisons with previous analyses made by REF are difficult to make due to methodological changes, but the 2014 REF report found that only 30 per cent of research submitted was “world-leading”.
    “Universities play a key role in providing the ideas and skills to fuel the regional economy that surrounds them,” says Brian Walker at Newcastle University, UK. “In less prosperous regions, these contributions from universities are disproportionately important.”

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    The lab coat and lone genius – science's most infuriating stereotypes

    Television often portrays researchers as lab coat-wearing weirdos who hate social interactions, but the name of the game is collaboration plus hoodies. We need to get better at showing the public what we do, says Chanda Prescod-Weinstein


    | Columnist

    11 May 2022

    By Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
    Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images
    I AM a person who likes things to be specific and accurate. In some ways, this is antithetical to being a communicator of science to general audiences. This requires helping non-experts understand complex ideas – like the idea of quantum fields – while deploying only a small fraction of the language we professionals use to talk among ourselves. It means glossing over details that can feel fundamentally important. Which is to say that I regularly have to grapple with what it means to talk to people about something when I know I’m not going to give them the full story.
    I find it easier to be successful in writing. Here, I can choose my words carefully, and the “optics” of the work I am trying to get across are what I manage to evoke in the reader’s mind.
    By contrast, one of my biggest frustrations is with how science is portrayed on television. There, it seems like a production mandate to have flashy graphics and representations of “what scientists do” that align with public expectations. The result? We get a lot of representation of people (often white men) in white lab coats, even though many (perhaps most?) scientists don’t wear a lab coat of any kind, ever.Advertisement
    For theoretical physicists, the expectation is that we will have a chalkboard filled with equations. For some people that is accurate, but I dislike the feel of chalk on my fingers. I much prefer writing with a fountain or gel pen in a high-quality, bound notebook.
    Part of what ends up being so off in popularisations of science is that we continue to get various versions of the lone genius: someone sitting at their desk or working at a chalkboard alone, thinking important thoughts.
    The reality is that – as an introvert – I wish I got more time alone. My days are filled with meetings. Every single member of my dark matter and neutron star research group has at least one per week with me that is centred on their main research question. There is a member of my team who sees me in a meeting between two and five times a week. One of those is my group meeting, where everyone comes together and shares what they have accomplished since the previous week. They take turns asking each other questions. This allows us all to learn more and hone our question-asking skills, which is important for scientists.
    I have other regular appointments that might seem peripheral and even boring – including to the participants – but that are quite important to the doing of science. These are the conversations in which we are planning for the future, navigating applying for grant money or lobbying for more grant money to be allocated so that our discipline is sustained in the future. Right now, I am spending a lot of time on the delayed Snowmass 2021 Particle Physics Community Planning Process.
    This occurs about once a decade, and involves the US particle physics community getting together to determine what science in this field is plausible in the coming years and what experiments – maybe a new particle collider, maybe a new telescope focused on dark matter – should be built. The lengthy report we produce will be read by a government-appointed group that will determine what can be funded for the next decade or so. Participating in this process is time-consuming and doesn’t immediately advance my research, but it is also a key part of my job.
    Ultimately, science is a collaborative enterprise, perhaps more so than any other area of academic endeavour. We depend on others to get our work done and interact a lot with other people, but, again, I don’t think this is well represented on television.
    Instead, we get stereotypes of weirdos who can’t handle social interactions, when in fact we are a collection of weirdos who navigate social interactions just fine because our jobs depend on it.
    Our work is also often messy. I don’t just mean that we argue, though we do. It is also the case that we often don’t think in pretty pictures. I wish we could show the public more often what our work actually looks like, so that we could help people understand what we actually do. At a time when anti-intellectualism passes for a mainstream political position, now more than ever, we need the public to be tuned into how our enterprise actually works.
    Plus, in my corner of science, hoodies are a more standard uniform than lab coats. Shifting stereotypes about how scientists look could help younger people see themselves in us, to realise that we are everyday people, just like them. I understand the desire to dress things up for a bit of Hollywood drama, but I don’t think we have to try so hard to make science seem exciting. What matters is making sure we are able to explain why it is exciting. That is the hard part, and I won’t always succeed, but I do enjoy trying.

    Chanda’s week
    What I’m readingI finished Sara Nović’s novel True Biz in one sitting, and learned a lot of deaf history, including why American Sign Language is so different from the British version.
    What I’m watchingBaseball season is back, and I bleed Dodger blue.
    What I’m working onWrapping up a paper with colleagues on the unique structures made by a hypothetical dark matter particle, the axion.

    This column appears monthly. Up next week: Graham Lawton More