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The most popular Physics Today articles of 2023.

The most popular Physics Today articles of 2023

15 December 2023

A famed physicist, a massive textbook, and an archaic-looking physics website captured readers’ attention this year.

Collage of 2023 Physics Today covers.
The year in Physics Today covers. Credit: Freddie Pagani, Donna Padian, Lorien Williams, and Cynthia Cummings

Oppenheimer was the year’s highest-grossing R-rated movie in the US. So it should come as no surprise that Physics Today’s coverage of the Manhattan Project physicist accounted for several of the magazine’s most popular stories of 2023. The list below includes the most-read pieces of the year and the most-shared ones via social media, news sites, and other outlets, as measured by Altmetric score.

Most read

  1. Oppenheimer in the PT archives (21 July); Oppenheimer’s science beyond the Manhattan Project (2 August); Commentary: Why the fascination with Oppenheimer? (17 August). The cover of Physics Today’s inaugural issue 75 years ago featured J. Robert Oppenheimer’s porkpie hat—a key indicator that there was no shortage of relevant Physics Today material to share when Christopher Nolan’s biopic opened in theaters. Among the magazine pieces we chronicle are the remembrances published in Physics Today after Oppenheimer’s death, debates over his leadership qualities, and the revocation of his security clearance. To complement the archival material, Los Alamos physicist Mark Paris reviews Oppenheimer’s research achievements and Physics Today’s Ryan Dahn investigates why Oppenheimer has attracted the interest that other weapons developers have not.
  2. What’s underneath Hawaii’s volcanoes just got a whole lot clearer (23 February). Using machine learning, a team of researchers analyzed nearly half a million earthquakes measured on the island of Hawaii to develop a map of the magmatic plumbing beneath the geologic hot spot. The map should help researchers determine how the magma works its away from mantle to surface, Physics Today’s Alex Lopatka reports.
  3. Helium prices surge to record levels as shortage continues (September issue). Though always subject to ups and downs, the helium market has been on an especially wild roller-coaster ride since the start of the pandemic. In his latest report about the availability of the precious gas, Physics Today’s David Kramer finds that helium users are still suffering from the effects of supply interruptions that took place in 2021 and 2022. Although most experimenters haven’t been forced to shut down their ultracold instruments, they are paying more and exploring options for helium recycling.

    A food scale holding the textbook Gravitation gives a measurement of 2.575 kilograms.
    A massive general-relativity textbook turned 50 this year. Credit: Ryan Dahn
  4. Gravitation’s attraction, 50 years later (10 March). At 1279 pages, the general-relativity tome published a half-century ago by Charles Misner, Kip Thorne, and John Wheeler curves spacetime more severely than do most textbooks. After marveling at the volume’s heft, Physics Today’s Ryan Dahn chronicles how the famed 1973 book came together and explores what has kept it so beloved in the years since.
  5. ITER appears unstoppable despite recent setbacks (August issue). The life of the international nuclear fusion experiment ITER began during a 1985 summit of US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Nearly four decades later, the giant reactor taking shape in France is beset by delays and cost increases. Despite the project’s recent problems—including material defects, supply-chain issues, and regulatory concerns—support from the US and other partner countries remains strong, Physics Today’s David Kramer reports.

Most shared

  1. Accelerating astrophysics with the SpaceX Starship (February issue). NASA’s grand plans for deploying space observatories to follow in the footsteps of Hubble and JWST and their telescopic siblings are limited by the costs and capabilities of launch vehicles. That’s why Martin Elvis, Charles Lawrence, and Sara Seager are paying close attention to the ongoing tests of SpaceX’s Starship launch system. In their February article, the three astrophysicists describe how, assuming SpaceX delivers on the promised launch cost and payload size and mass capabilities, Starship could enable simplified telescope designs and accelerated timelines for mission development.
  2. DOE plans bomb-grade uranium fuel for Idaho reactor (17 May). Physics Today’s David Kramer broke the news of a Department of Energy plan to fuel a research reactor at Idaho National Laboratory with 600 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium. Nonproliferation advocates have expressed concerns over the proposal because it seems to contradict the agency’s long-standing practice of avoiding the use of highly enriched uranium for civilian reactors. DOE has continued to signal support for the project in recent months.
  3. HyperPhysics, the popular online physics resource, turns 25 (7 February). If you’ve conducted an internet search for the definition of a physics term, then you probably have stumbled upon a website called HyperPhysics. Don’t let the site’s simple design deter you: Since its launch in 1998, the venerable resource has been read by tens of millions of people around the world to learn about everything from absorption to the Zeeman effect. Sarah Wild’s February story details the history and the future of the website.
  4. Global movement to reform researcher assessment gains traction (October issue). Evaluations of researchers tend to focus on a small set of metrics: How many studies in high-impact journals? How many citations? How much grant money? Efforts are underway across the world to reform evaluations so that they also consider such contributions as public outreach and societal impact, Physics Today’s Toni Feder reports. The hope, reform advocates say, is to move away from the publish-or-perish culture that has developed in recent decades.
  5. Q&A: Jessica Wade is passionate about chirality and inclusivity (10 January). When she is not designing materials for quantum technology applications, Jessica Wade is working to create a more welcoming culture in the physics community. Wade talked to Physics Today about her efforts in and out of the lab, including her publication of some 2000 Wikipedia articles about people in groups that have historically been excluded from science and engineering.
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