SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne of Belgium, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk (L-R) pose for a photograph at the Star City space centre outside Moscow. The crew is due to take off to the International Space Station on May 27.
European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne of Belgium, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk (L-R) pose for a photograph at the Star City space centre outside Moscow. The crew is due to take off to the International Space Station on May 27. — Reuters photo

Creating artificial sun
Dwindling fossil fuel supplies and global warming have compelled scientists to explore alternative and clean energy sources. In such a scenario, the process of nuclear fusion seems to be the appropriate answer. Unlike nuclear fission reactions in which nuclei of heavy elements split apart to produce energy, in fusion process, the lighter nuclei such as hydrogen fuse toghther under tremendous pressure and temperature, releasing huge amount of energy.

Trends
WHO to weigh flu vaccine switch next week
Scientists find 200 new frog species
Bullying may make kids psychotic
Three genes help breast cancer spread to brain
US Air Force eyes way to help space industry

Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE 
PROF YASH PAL
We say that the Universe is expanding, but what is it expanding into? Is there any place where it is expanding?
When we talk of the Universe it is assumed that this also includes the space associated with it. Space-time is an entity that was also created at the time of creation of the Universe! This seems strange, but it seems impossible to think of space that lies outside the Universe.

 


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Creating artificial sun
Paul Singh

Dwindling fossil fuel supplies and global warming have compelled scientists to explore alternative and clean energy sources. In such a scenario, the process of nuclear fusion seems to be the appropriate answer. Unlike nuclear fission reactions in which nuclei of heavy elements split apart to produce energy, in fusion process, the lighter nuclei such as hydrogen fuse toghther under tremendous pressure and temperature, releasing huge amount of energy.

Hydrogen, the ingradient for fusion reactions, is among the most abundant elements available in the universe. Since its existence, the earth has been receiving this power from the fusion reaction taking place at the heart of the sun.

Scientists all over the world have been trying hard to harness nuclear fusion in laboratory since 1905, the year Albert Einstein derived the famous mass-energy equivalence equation E= mc². It means that the mass can be converted into energy and vice-versa. According to the equation, the fusion or combination of tiny atoms together could release tremendous amounts of energy.

Under Einstein’s theory, the amount of energy released from one gram of matter is enough to power 28,500 bulbs each of 100-watt for a year. Until now, the fusion reaction has only been possible inside nuclear weapons for destruction and highly unstable plasmas created in incredibly strong magnetic fields.

The work at National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California would pave the way to use fusion energy not for destruction rather for constructive energy use. Scientists at NIF are attempting to create an artificial sun on earth. For the past 100 years, this goal seemed impossible, but with the astronomical strides in science and technology, scientists believe that they are at the edge of cracking one of the biggest problems in physics, i.e., harnessing the power of nuclear fusion in the laboratory.

The project work on the £1.2-billion nuclear fusion experiment is going to be completed very soon. The stage is set to ignite a tiny man-made star inside a laboratory and trigger a thermonuclear to generate a temperature greater than 100 million °C and a pressure billions times higher than those found on earth.

The amount of fuel used in the process would be little bigger than a pinhead. The success of the project would mark the first step towards building a practical nuclear fusion power station, which would be a source of safe, secure and carbon-free limitless energy.

Researchers at NIF will fire 192 separate laser beams capable of producing 500 trillion watts of power into a billionth of a second, which is 1,000 times the electric generating power of the US. The result would be an explosion in a 32ft wide reaction chamber producing at least 10 times the amount of energy used to create it. According to Ed Moses, director of the facility, it is like creating the conditions that exist inside the sun and tapping into the real solar energy as fusion is the source of all energy in the world.

The structure used in the experiment covers an area the size of three football pitches. A single infrared laser will be directed through almost a mile distance consisting of lenses, mirrors and amplifiers to create a beam more than 10 billion times more powerful than a household light bulb.

It is housed in a hanger-sized room, cleared of dust particles to prevent any impurity getting into the beam. Then the laser will be splitted into 192 separate beams and further converted into ultraviolet light. The ultraviolet light is focused onto a capsule at the centre of an aluminium and concrete-coated target chamber. The laser beams hitting the inside of the capsule should generate high-energy X-rays that, within a few billionths of a second, compress the fuel pellet inside until its outer shell blows off.

This explosion of the shell produces an equal and opposite reaction that compresses the fuel together until nuclear fusion reaction begins, thus, releasing a vast amount of energy.

It is not the only experiment conducted on nuclear fusion reaction. In France, work has already begun on building the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) at a cost of £8 billion. The ITER would use magnetic fields to create the conditions for fusion. However, ITER’s first “burn” or reaction is not expected until 2022. In all the experiments attempted to create the conditions needed for nuclear fusion, lasers are seen as the most likely technique to be able to provide a viable electricity supply.


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Trends

WHO to weigh flu vaccine switch next week

A researcher works on a vaccine for H1N1 flu virus at the Infectious Disease Laboratory at the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday.
A researcher works on a vaccine for H1N1 flu virus at the Infectious Disease Laboratory at the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday. — Reuters Photo

GENEVA: World Health Organisation experts will meet next week to consider whether drug makers should switch from seasonal to pandemic flu production in response to the new H1N1 strain, an official said on Wednesday. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research, told reporters that an expert committee would discuss a potential switch on May 14 in response to the flu outbreak that has raised fears of a pandemic.



Scientists find 200 new frog species

PORT LOUIS: Scientists have found more than 200 new species of frogs in Madagascar but a political crisis is hurting conservation of the Indian Ocean island's unique wildlife, a study shows. The discovery, which almost doubles the number of known amphibians in Madagascar, illustrates an underestimation of the natural riches that have helped spawn a $390-million-a-year tourism industry.

Bullying may make kids psychotic

CHICAGO: People who are bullied as children have twice the risk of having delusions, hallucinations or other psychotic symptoms as pre-teens as those who have not been bullied, British researchers said on Monday. They said bullying, especially when it is severe or chronic, can have serious consequences for some children, and may even act as a trigger for people who are genetically predisposed to schizophrenia.

Three genes help breast cancer spread to brain

CHICAGO: Three genes in mice may help explain how breast cancer cells overcome a natural barrier to get into the brain, scientists said on Wednesday. Two of the genes, COX2 and HB-EGF, have already been found to help cancer spread to the lungs, the team reported in the journal Nature.

US Air Force eyes way to help space industry

WASHINGTON: The US Air Force is exploring ways to shore up a declining US space industrial base, including working with other government agencies to aggregate orders for space-related equipment, Gen. Robert Kehler, head of Air Force Space Command, said on Wednesday. Kehler said a new strategic plan being finalised by his command has concluded that the US defence industrial base is declining, and particularly the space industrial base. — Reuters


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THIS UNIVERSE 
PROF YASH PAL

We say that the Universe is expanding, but what is it expanding into? Is there any place where it is expanding?

When we talk of the Universe it is assumed that this also includes the space associated with it. Space-time is an entity that was also created at the time of creation of the Universe! This seems strange, but it seems impossible to think of space that lies outside the Universe. Therefore, the strange but true answer to your question would be to say that it is expanding into space that it is creating during this expansion. We do not give such privilege to our suitcase when we have to fit in lot of new things we have purchased during our visit to a foreign country. If our suitcase were a universe, things would be simple!

We can transfer one form of energy to another. Is it possible to transform sound energy into mechanical energy, so that we can have an ultimate source of energy?

I do not understand why you call sound as an ultimate source of energy. You have been probably intimidated by the volume of the noisy music that keeps emanating from various cell phones that keep ringing with ring tones of that music, or perhaps the noisy election rallies of today. Sound energy coming out in sound is only a fraction of the input energy used by various sources, whether they are throats of slogan shouting by excited people in rallies or ringing cell phones. Therefore, capturing the energy of the noise we make cannot be a valid new source of energy.


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