Tag archives: industry
By Matin Durrani
As Physics World editor, I spend most of my time covering science that I have never been involved in. I might write articles about astrophysicists, interview atomic physicists or edit features by particle physicists, but it doesn’t mean I’ve ever done any research in those fields.
It was therefore a pleasant change last Friday to attend a summit organized by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World, on physics in food manufacturing. Back in the 1990s, I did a PhD with Athene Donald at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge on the physical properties of mixtures of gel-forming biopolymers – materials that apart from being interesting from a fundamental point of view are also relevant to the food industry.
Many foods, after all, are complex, multicomponent mixtures – and if you can understand how they behave, then you can create foods that are healthier, cheaper and perhaps even tastier too.
By Hamish Johnston at the BQIT:16 conference in Bristol
Today I have made the short trip from the office to the University of Bristol, which is hosting the BQIT:16 conference on quantum information. I had been looking forward to the “Industry Perspective” session, which was headlined by Steve Adachi of the US defence supplier Lockheed Martin. Several years ago the firm was the first commercial buyer of what some consider to be the world’s first commercial quantum computer – a device made by Canada’s D-Wave Systems – and I wanted to know what Lockheed Martin was doing with it.
To say that D-Wave and its products are controversial is an understatement. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if some delegates to this conference are brought to fisticuffs over D-Wave’s quantum annealing protocols later this evening in Bristol’s cider pubs.
By Matin Durrani in Baltimore, Maryland, US
The exhibition hall at this year’s APS March meeting is so big that it can be hard to know who or what to see among the many companies displaying their wares or services. Fortunately, my colleague Joe Breck from IOP Publishing’s office in Philadelphia tipped me off about a great little story featuring Kepco Power Supplies, which is based in Flushing, New York.
I spoke to Mark Kupferberg, executive vice-president for power solutions at the firm, which was founded by his father and his two brothers in 1946 shortly afer the three had finished work on the Manhattan atomic-bomb project. Kepco mainly makes power supplies that convert mains AC into DC electricity, and has recently played a small but vital role in the discovery of gravitational waves, which were first predicted by Einstein 100 years ago.
By Margaret Harris
I have a mental block about Carlton House Terrace. This elegant little street in central London is home to several of the UK’s national academies, including the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), and I’m sure I’ve visited it at least half a dozen times. Yet somehow, whenever I emerge from Charing Cross underground station in the middle of Trafalgar Square, I never know which way to go next.
Fortunately, this is the 21st century, so when the usual disorientation struck me yesterday on my way to an “Innovation in Space” event at the RAEng, I simply pulled out my smartphone. Within seconds, an app told me exactly where I was (plus or minus a few metres) and how to walk from there to 3 Carlton House Terrace. Minutes later, I was safely ensconced in the seminar room, nodding in agreement as the event’s chair, Sir Martin Sweeting, explained how space-related innovations – including, ahem, the network of satellites that make up the Global Positioning System (GPS) – have become an integral part of our daily lives.
By Susan Curtis
At a time when the UK steel industry is close to meltdown, it felt quite humbling to be standing inside a disused steelworks on the outskirts of Rotherham. In its heyday in the 1970s the colossal plant employed 3000 people and housed six electric arc furnaces that set new records for steel production. Since closing in 1993, the facility has forged a new identity as the Magna Science Adventure Centre, which offers visitors an insight into the steel-making process and its heritage in the area around Sheffield.
Recently, I was at Magna for the annual TRAM conference, which showcases the latest technology advances in the aerospace industry. Organized by the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), one of the UK’s Catapult centres based at the University of Sheffield and supported by Boeing, TRAM highlights how aircraft makers and their suppliers are improving materials and manufacturing processes to reduce cost and enhance performance. But among the talk of powder metallurgy, high-performance machining and the factories of the future, a presentation by Nick English from the UK-based watchmaker Bremont highlighted manufacturing innovation at a much smaller scale.
Comic book fusion, Nathan Myhrvold on innovation, and picking winners of the Global Physics Photowalk
By Hamish Johnston
The comic book artist Frank Espinosa and Princeton University’s Sajan Saini have joined forces to create a comic book called A Star For Us. The book begins with a brief history of our understanding of nuclear fusion in the Sun and goes on to chronicle the challenges of creating a mini-Sun here on Earth.
Espinosa and Saini – who is a physicist turned professor of writing – spent time with physicists at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Espinosa says that he was impressed by the researchers enthusiasm for the future of fusion energy. “I was trying to channel that energy of hope,” he explains.
“The mood of the comic tries to really capture a sense of a vast cosmic scale being made palpable, being made into something that we can realize within our own hands,” says Saini. I agree and you can judge for yourself by downloading a PDF of the comic book free of charge.
The physicist and former chief technology officer at Microsoft, Nathan Myhrvold, has a nice essay in Scientific American about the roles of the private and public sectors in driving technological innovation. He explains that when Microsoft Research was created in 1991, the company was keen on not making the same mistakes as AT&T, IBM and Xerox – which were all in the process of winding down their world-famous research labs. The problem was that these firms funded research in areas that they were not immediately able to exploit commercially. Myhrvold points out that many of the technologies first developed in those labs – including the transistor and giant magnetoresistance data storage – made much more money for fast-moving competitors such as Microsoft than they did for the companies that did the basic research.
By Margaret Harris in Glasgow
If you’re the first speaker after lunch at a conference, how do you make sure your audience stays awake and engaged?
For Oliver Ambacher – who occupied the dreaded post-prandial slot during Wednesday’s applied photonics conference at Glasgow’s Technology and Innovation Centre (TIC) – the answer is simple. You pretend to jump off a cliff.
Ambacher, the director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics in Freiburg, Germany, made his leap (actually, several leaps of varying lengths) to illustrate one of the toughest challenges in applied physics: the yawning gap between what academic researchers can provide, and what industry scientists need to turn that research into innovative products. This gap is sometimes called the “valley of death”, and Ambacher’s point was that the risks of leaping across it are generally higher on the industry side. “If I, whose heart is still in physics, jump into the valley of death, I lose funding, maybe a project,” Ambacher explained. “But somebody from industry, they may lose their job. So they cannot jump so far.”
By Margaret Harris
Imagine you’re a veterinarian and a trainer asks you to take a look at a horse. The animal, a champion showjumper, is limping slightly but there is no obvious injury. Exploratory surgery would probably do more harm than good, and the alternative – magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – isn’t risk-free either. You’d need to put the horse under a general anaesthetic, and you know horses don’t react well to that; in fact, around 0.5% suffer serious injuries while coming round afterwards. And that’s assuming you can even find a scanner big enough to fit a horse. What do you do?
This might sound like a fairly niche dilemma, but for Hallmarq Veterinary Imaging it has become the basis for a thriving business – a business, moreover, that has just won an IOP Innovation Award for the successful application of physics in a commercial product.
At the awards ceremony – which took place last night in the Palace of Westminster, London, just down the hall from the House of Commons chamber – I caught up with Hallmarq’s operations and technical director, Steve Roberts. After sketching out the scenario of the veterinarian and the injured horse, Roberts, a physicist, explained that Hallmarq’s MRI scanner fits around the horse’s leg. This means that equine patients can simply be led into it, sedated but conscious. Sophisticated error-correction and image-processing software helps the scanner compensate for the horse’s movement, and in 15 years of operation, Roberts estimates that veterinarians have used Hallmarq’s machines to scan more than 60,000 horses.
By Hamish Johnston
Has D-Wave Systems built the world’s first commercial quantum computer? The Canada-based company says it has but some physicists in the quantum-information community beg to differ. Putting aside heady questions like “Does it work?”, I think everyone agrees that the Tardis-sized black boxes that house D-Wave’s processors look great. But what exactly is inside?
By Anna Demming
This year marks 20 years since Stephen Chou, Peter Krauss and Preston Renstrom first published their work showcasing a versatile approach for mass production of identical nanostructures for the electronics industry. This technique is called nanoimprint lithography and it involves pressing a nano-patterned structure into a hot molten polymer. As the polymer cools, the pattern stamped into it sets so that it can be used as a mould to make several identical replicas of the original structure.
Just as the printing press brought literature to the masses, it is easy to imagine how this nanofabrication technique could have a significant impact on the production of integrated circuits. To commemorate the development, Nanotechnology has published a perspective article on the technique, and I had a chance to talk to the author Qiangfei Xia of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst about the technique’s advantages, challenges and outlook for the future.