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Desert songs and doctoral studies - highlights of November's Physics World

In this month's Physics World . . .

Disharmony in the desert

Most controversies in science focus on the big questions of our existence - like the nature of matter or the fate of the Universe. But passions can run just as deep in more down-to-earth subjects too. Physics World this month reveals the remarkable story of physicists battling to understand the puzzle of "singing sand dunes" - the strange low-frequency sounds emitted by nothing more than piles of sand in the desert. The two physicists at the heart of the dispute have both come up with different explanations for the sounds, which were first reported by Marco Polo and other travellers some 700 years ago. But their rivalry has become so intense they can no longer bear to work in the same laboratory. (p25).

The doctorate in transition

The PhD used to be seen as the gold standard of scientific education, in which bright young students mastered the art of research through an intensive, three-year project. But the once-vaunted degree is now under pressure as universities - keen to draw in hefty fees and secure lucrative grants - seek to churn out to churn out ever more numbers of doctorates. Even the financial field is desperate for PhD physicists to carry out advanced data analysis and modelling tasks. John McInerney - head of physics at University College Cork - calls for the PhD to be revamped. He wants it to be extended to a minimum of four years so that students have time for a solid piece of research and can also be pick up essential project-management, business and financial skills. (p. 14)

Also in this issue:

- Phil Anderson: against reductionism
- Physics legends
- Cleaning up dark matter
- Smart lenses
- Drawing conclusions from graphene
- Back to the envelope: the joy of simple calculations

Dianne Stilwell | alfa
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