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Tag archives: industry

Grabbing a slice of the pie in the sky

(Courtesy: NASA)

(Courtesy: NASA)

By Margaret Harris at the European Planetary Science Congress in Riga, Latvia

If you wanted to mine an asteroid, what would you need? Right now, it’s a hypothetical question: only a handful of spacecraft have ever visited an asteroid, and fewer still have studied one in detail. As commercial ventures go, it’s not exactly a sure thing. But put that aside for a moment. If you wanted to create an asteroid-mining industry from scratch, how would you do it?

Well, for starters, you’d need to know which asteroids to target. “Not every mountain is a gold mine, and that’s true for asteroids too,” astrophysicist Martin Elvis told audience members at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) yesterday. For every platinum-rich asteroid sending dollar signs into investors’ eyes, Elvis explained there are perhaps 100 commercially useless chunks of carbon whizzing around out there, and the odds for water-rich asteroids aren’t much better. Moreover, some of those valuable asteroids will be impractical to mine, either because of their speed and location or because they’re too small to give a good return on investment. “Smaller asteroids aren’t even worth a billion dollars,” Elvis scoffed. “Who’d get out of bed for that?”

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A spotlight on accelerators in industry – sort of

Robert Kephart of Fermilab speaking about the "beam business" at IPAC17.

Robert Kephart of Fermilab speaking about the “beam business” at IPAC17.

By Margaret Harris at the International Particle Accelerator Conference in Copenhagen

Normally, you’d expect a particle-accelerator conference to focus on research – either the fundamental research done at accelerator facilities around the world, or the applied research required to get such facilities up and running in the first place. And for the most part, that has been absolutely true of the 8th International Particle Accelerator Conference (IPAC), which is taking place this week on the outskirts of Copenhagen, Denmark.

On Tuesday, however, the conference organizers dedicated a session to the ways that accelerator science engages with industry. In a two-hour series of talks, audience members heard from speakers as varied as Bjerne Clausen, CEO of the Danish chemical technologies firm Haldor Topsoe; Bob Kephart, director of the Fermilab-affiliated Illinois Accelerator Research Center (IARC); and Giovanni Anelli, who leads the Knowledge Transfer group at CERN.

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Following the ups and downs of nuclear energy

PWFocus-Nuclear17-cover-200By Margaret Harris

If you’re finding the pace of geopolitical news a bit too rapid at the moment, spare a thought for physicists and engineers working in the nuclear energy sector.

Towards the end of last month, the venerable energy firm Westinghouse Electric issued a press release in which it proudly announced that its AP1000 reactor – a relatively new “passively safe” design in which the reactor core is kept cool without the need for powered pumps or other “active” equipment – had passed a major UK regulatory review. Ordinarily, this would be cause for celebration. The so-called “Generic Design Assessment” process takes years, and completing it helps pave the way for building AP1000s within the UK. An international partnership called NuGen has long hoped to do just that, on a site near Sellafield in north-west England, so in normal times, you might expect it to be celebrating, too.

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The STAR of the show

Tokamak design from Applied Fusion Systems

Grand designs. (courtesy: Applied Fusion Systems)

By Michael Banks

You may remember in 2014 when we reported that entrepreneur Richard Dinan – a former star of the UK reality-TV programme Made in Chelsea – was venturing into fusion energy.

He founded the firm Applied Fusion Systems with the aim of building a prototype fusion reactor. The 30 year old, who doesn’t have a university degree, claims to have taught himself tokamak design and employs a small team of scientists who are working on a design.

Well, the firm has now released its first blueprint for a spherical fusion tokamak and is seeking £200m in investment to build not one, but two of the machines.

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US immigration and trade policies provoke debate at Photonics West

Photo of the Golden Gate Bridge against a clear blue sky

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge welcomes scientific visitors to Photonics West – except for those banned from travelling to the US.

By Margaret Harris at Photonics West in San Francisco

“I’m an immigrant. I stole one American job. I helped create hundreds of thousands of others.”

Deepak Kamra’s words caused a stir among listeners at Photonics West, the massive industry trade show and scientific conference that descends on San Francisco, California each winter. Speaking at a panel discussion on “Brexit, US Policy, EU and China,” the Delhi-born veteran of the Silicon Valley venture capital scene said that he expected the new US administration – which recently imposed a travel ban on visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries – to target Asian and South Asian technology workers next. Restrictions on the number of foreign-born students studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) at US universities could follow. Ultimately, Kamra concluded, “We are going to lose a lot of qualified people.”

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To the stars, through adversity

pwastro16-cover-500By Margaret Harris

Space is, famously, “the final frontier”. It is also – almost as famously – “hard”. We saw this most recently in October, when the Schiaparelli lander crashed onto the surface of Mars, but throughout humanity’s nearly 60-year history as a spacefaring species, our hopes of exploring and observing the cosmos have repeatedly come up against the stiff challenge of building vessels that can survive the journey. Arguably, no other industry on Earth (or indeed off it) has rejoiced in such high “highs”, or agonized through such low “lows”.

That mix of heady dreams and harsh realities is one reason why the latest Physics World focus issue on astronomy and space science carries the tag line “To the stars, through adversity” (I’ll come to the other reason at the end of this blog post). The articles in the issue – which you can read free of charge – pay tribute to the ingenuity of the scientists and engineers involved in the challenging and rewarding practical work of exploring and observing the cosmos. Here, you can learn about the latest advances in astronomical instrumentation, get up to speed with future space missions, and familiarize yourself with recent developments in the entrepreneurial “new space” industry.

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Quantum technology 2.0

Niki Haines from Insight Technologies

Niki Haines from Insight Technologies predicts the future of quantum computing.

By Michael Banks

Are we on the verge of a “quantum 2.0” revolution?

That was a question raised yesterday at an event that I attended at HP Labs in north Bristol, which was organized by the University of Bristol.

The day-long meeting featured a series of talks from industry about how quantum technologies are affecting business.

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Physics of food – the November 2016 issue of Physics World is now out

 

By Matin Durrani

If you love crisps – and frankly who doesn’t? – you’ll relish the cover feature of the latest issue of Physics World, in which features editor Louise Mayor tours the world’s biggest crisp factory at Leicester in the UK to see how physics is improving production of this yummy salty snack. The issue is now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop and will also be made available on physicsworld.com later this month.

Elsewhere in this special issue on physics and food, you can find out how electric fields could help to cut the fact from chocolate and discover why sound holds the key to our appreciation of what we eat.

You can also see how physicists – being masters of data-gathering, modelling and simulation – are ideally placed to develop products that are healthier, more nutritious and make more of our resources. Find out too how soft-matter physicists are crafting “functional” foods that promote feelings of fullness and satisfaction.

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Physics World 2016 Focus on Vacuum Technology is out now

PWVAC16cover-200By Matin Durrani

I’m pleased to say that the latest focus issue of Physics World, which explores the many fascinating applications of vacuum science and technology, is now out.

Plasma processing is a strong theme this year, as we discover why tools and techniques developed as part of the boom in semiconductor fabrication are now benefiting biomaterials. Elsewhere, we reflect on the strengths of the vacuum community with outgoing IUVSTA president Mariano Anderle.

And, as always, this vacuum focus issue provides a great chance to catch up with major industry players, including Pfeiffer Vacuum, Agilent, Honeywell and Edwards, to examine the latest instrument upgrades and trends across the sector.

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IBM wants you to use its quantum computer

 

By Hamish Johnston

Starting today, members of the public will be able to run programs on IBM’s quantum processor. Users can access the device – which comprises five superconducting quantum bits (qubits) – via the US-based company’s “IBM Quantum Experience” website.

Described as a “cloud-enabled quantum computing platform”, IBM says that users will be able to run algorithms and experiments on IBM’s quantum processor, manipulate individual qubits, as well as access quantum-computing tutorials and simulations.

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