Whether it’s because of Homer Simpson or the Soviet Union, chances are you have heard of nuclear reactors. You might also think that nuclear reactors are too dangerous and should not exist in today’s world, possibly due to the incompetency of our favourite doughnut-loving cartoon or the historic tragedy that occurred over half a century ago. Many scientists will argue, however, that nuclear energy is one of many energy sources that are much more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels, and could seriously aid in the ongoing climate crisis. It’s because of this that news of a nuclear reactor construction can strike heated debates regarding the safety and wellbeing of the general population, often stalling the construction entirely.

So, who’s right? Personally, I’m siding with the scientists, and I’ll tell you why.

Homer SimpsonUSSR Flag

Sources of nuclear fear and confusiona,b

A brief overview of nuclear fission

First, let’s actually understand what nuclear fission is. To put it simply, fission is the release of energy due to an atom absorbing an incoming neutron. For certain materials, neutrons that are also released as a result of fission may be absorbed by another atom, causing further fission. This is known as a chain reaction, and materials that can sustain this reaction are called fissile. In a nuclear reactor, fissile material (usually Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239) is bombarded with neutrons to induce a chain reaction to release energy, which is absorbed by a coolant (usually water) to produce steam to power a turbine. To maintain the rate of fission and prevent a nuclear explosion, control rods are used to absorb any unwanted excess of neutrons. If done properly, this process is entirely safe. The radiation caused by fission poses no threat as nuclear reactors are typically lined with radiation-blocking lead, and the control rods can be used to completely control the rate of fission.

Nuclear fission

Nuclear fission of Uranium-235c

The Good

Last year saw the highest global emission of carbon dioxide in recorded history at 36.3 billion tonnes.1 Given that the production of nuclear energy releases absolutely no greenhouse gases, switching coal plants and oil wells with nuclear reactors would significantly reduce our emissions and fight the ongoing climate crisis.

Nuclear energy is by far the most efficient energy source available. The capacity factor is the ratio of actual electricity output to the theoretical maximum electricity output over a given period, and is used to determine the efficiency of an energy source. In 2021, the capacity factor for nuclear energy in the U.S. was a whopping 92.7%, compared to the next highest capacity factor of 71% for geothermal energy.2

Nuclear energy is also far less deadly than any fossil fuel. Per TWh of energy produced, nuclear energy contributes to 0.07 deaths, as opposed to fossil fuel’s 78.59 deaths per TWh.3

The Bad

Like with any other energy source, there are some unique disadvantages to nuclear energy, perhaps the biggest of which being nuclear waste. Not much waste tends to be generated from nuclear reactors, however a portion of this can be highly radioactive. Most countries around the world repurpose used fuel rods into fresh fuel, disposing of the radioactive remains in repositories buried deep underground. Although nuclear energy does result in the need to directly dispose waste, this is still a much better scenario than the current refuse produced by fossil fuels.

Radioactive waste

Radioactive waste storaged

The Ugly

Of course, when discussing the pros and cons of nuclear energy, we must address the tragedies that have occurred throughout the history due to nuclear reactors. Perhaps the most notable of these happened on 26 April 1986 in the USSR, where inherent design flaws of the reactors at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant resulted in an uncontrollable chain reaction, leading to an explosion. The UN estimates that 50 people died as a direct result of the emitted radiation,4 however we will never know the exact impact of the disaster. Another disaster of similar proportions occurred on 11 March 2011 in Japan, when the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami caused a nuclear meltdown of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. There were no reported cases of radiation sickness as a result of this meltdown.5

Chernobyl Nuclear Power PlantFukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chernobyl and Fukushima reactors after metldowne,f

The Chernobyl disaster was caused due to cost-cutting measures and disregard for human life, which could have easily been prevented under proper regulation that is currently in place, and the lives lost during the Fukushima disaster were solely due to the earthquake and tsunami. Rather than thinking of these losses and injuries, I think it is more pressing to consider the hundreds and thousands of lives we have already lost due to fossil fuels,6 and the millions more we will lose if we don’t start taking nuclear energy more seriously.

 

References

[1] International Energy Agency, Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2021, March 2022. https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-co2-emissions-in-2021-2

[2] Statistica, Capacity factors for selected energy sources in the United States in 2021, May 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/183680/us-average-capacity-factors-by-selected-energy-source-since-1998

[3] Our World in Data, What are the safest and cleanest sources of energy?, February 2020. https://ourworldindata.org/safest-sources-of-energy

[4] United Nations, Chernobyl: The True Scale of the Accident, September 2005. https://www.un.org/press/en/2005/dev2539.doc.htm

[5] World Nuclear Association, Fukushima Daiichi Accident, April 2021. https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/fukushima-daiichi-accident.aspx

[6] Global Burden of Disease-Major Air Pollution Sources, accessed May 2022. https://costofairpollution.shinyapps.io/gbd_map_global_source_shinyapp

Featured image: Britannica, nuclear reactor, September 2019. https://www.britannica.com/technology/nuclear-reactor

(a) ©2006 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Homer_Simpson_2006.png

(b) Wikimedia user HugeMackerel. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_the_Soviet_Union.svg

(c) Wikimedia user Ravenpuff. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nuclear_fission_reaction.svg

(d) Wikemedia user ShinRyu Forgers. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TINT_Radioactive_wastes%27_barrel.jpg

(e) Wikemedia user ChNPP. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IAEA_02790015_(5613115146).jpg

(f) Wikemedia user HJ Mitchell. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fukushima_I_by_Digital_Globe.jpg

Nanotechnology is still an emerging science and alongside this has uncountable opportunities, discoveries, and advancement ready to be uncovered. So far it is predicted to contribute significantly to economic growth in the upcoming decades. In the modern age scientist have predicted that there are four distinct generations of advancement. Currently for nanotechnology we are slowly emerging into the second said generation as we have thoroughly examined material science with the incorporation of nanostructures (coatings/ carbon nanotubes for example) for strengthening/ improvement of a material. The second generation incorporates active nanostructures such as drug development. Onwards from here it is unclear what exactly is the next advancements maybe combining these individual researched structures into a system. This could be where things become tricky and intertwining with other sciences such as a combination of nanorobotics or the regrowth of organs or potentially limbs. The possibilities are endless with new ideas prompted regularly and with years to come up with ideas it does appear limitless.

There are various barriers however to progressing in this fields such as the impact on the research in benefitting industry. As modern technology is seen as very advanced already the research must have high expectations and promises to meet the demand and the economic rate to be adapted into the system. This scaling factor from lab to industry is difficult alone without including the various trial and errors that comes in to play. Yet nanotechnology has seemed to earn the interest of many already, as the subject to many scientific speculations including  focus in non-scientific pop culture leading to dramatized events by the unknowns of the new discoveries. This trend reoccurs in the science world with most new age advances such as the renowned terminator franchise surfacing from the robotics advancements in the 1940s and 1950s. By this comparison maybe it can be said that nanotechnology is seen as something that has large potential it has sparked interest in pop culture, possibly sparking interest in the larger public. Which of course pop culture is not a valid source of truthful facts and expectations of the science, but it does make one wonder where the limitations lie in these newer sciences. This assists somehow in escaping the barrier as if the progression is seen as limitless and ideas can be stemmed from the over the top fiction it will always be worthwhile investigating.

Futuristic nanotech has been seen to use the nano-particle within the body via both diagnostic and medical uses (which of course pop culture finds a way to make this into fiction with highly unplausible outcomes like growing scales or mind-control etc.). There are extremes to what people envision both realistic and unrealistic but more, so the current uses are much more mundane and focus instead on improving life one step at a time. Currently refining the plastics of our bikes, clothes which are stain resistant, drug delivery, cosmetics and so much more. Nanotechnology is helping use improve inventions that we already possess but were stumped on how to fix errors and improve them further. It truly is an evolutionary science that people have tried to define or place as its true purpose for a while.

Many roles set forward for nanotechnology such as the differentiations  set imposed by certain authors describe nanotech as either incremental, evolutionary or radicle. The deciding differences in these are for example incremental being the reinforcement of previous known structures and materials, essentially improvements of what we have. Evolutionary takes it a step forward in using nanostructures to explore the world and see how their interactions -possibly by chance- can be adapted into useful roles. Finally, radicle nanotechnology, the most far-reaching version, being the construction of machines, whose mechanical components are molecule sized or rather <100nm in diameter.

 

The far stretched versions of nanotech can be traced to Eric Drexler where he writes that the anticipation of this great science is that we will end up on nanoscale robots and vehicles – for the robots or people is uncertain- being an everyday normality. Unfortunately, this rather cool idea forgets the scaling factor in terms of how this would essentially work, so although the idea of robots the size of atoms sounds rather cool this is one thing that will probably always remain apart of pop culture and the centre of fiction rather than on the side of science. The laws of physics must still be obeyed. Of course, Drexler discussed many more possibilities of nanotechnology is his book, (Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology), it is still an amusing idea that people have once thought plausible is now known as unrealistic. Yet in saying this modern science has surprised us yet as once it was seen as absurd to fly or even land on the moon, yet it was completed. I am not saying that we will have tiny robots that will build all our phones and chips for us, but we still do not know the extent on nanotechnology and where it will lead us in 10, 20 or 100 years.

References 

[1] The Royal Society, ‘Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties’, Nanomanufacturing and the industrial application of nanotechnologies, Chapter 4, 4.6 Barriers to progress, pages 32-33

[2] O’Reilly, Introduction to Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Chapter 7, Radicle Nanotechnology

Back to the Future 2 made many predictions about what the world would be like in 2015, from flying cars to a holographic 19th Jaws movie. While many of these predictions seem outlandish now, there are several technologies that the movie did get right, at least partially. While fingerprint technology is not generally used to secure people’s homes, it is used as a security feature in one way or another on most smart devices that we use almost every day. This, however, is not the most outlandish prediction that the movie got right, that honor goes to the hoverboard that Marty McFly uses throughout the movie, at least in theory.

Many attempts have been made to create a functional hoverboard, including using the same designs as hoverboats by placing fans on the bottom of the board, but the design that most resembles the hoverboard in the movie uses something called quantum locking. While the word quantum preceding anything is enough to make some people apprehensive, in practice this term simply refers to how a superconductor will hover in place above a source of magnetic field.

A superconductor is a material that allows an electric current to pass through it with no electrical resistance whatsoever. Resistance in a conductor such as a metal arises from the collision of electrons in the metal. If the temperature of this conductor is lowered, these collsions happen less frequently, and the resistance of the conductor also lowers. At a certain temperature, these collisions will stop altogether, and the electrons can carry the current through the material without any resistance. This temperature is called the critical temperature, when the material changes from a conductor to a superconductor.

Superconductors display several interesting properties, but the one most relevant here is something called the Meissner effect. When a superconductor is placed in a magnetic field, it will repel all of the magnetic field from within it, so that it effectively bends around the superconductor. Due to this repulsion, the superconductor will float above the magnet at an exact height, as the repulsion has to work against gravity. The levitation is not very stable, however, as the superconductor will repel the magnetic field no matter which orientation it is in. This is where quantum locking comes into play.

When a superconductor becomes thin enough, the magnetic field will be able to go through the superconductor at certain points, called flux tubes. The superconductor will still repel the magnetic field through these tubes, trapping the magnetic field in these areas. This causes the superconductor to be locked in place, as it will oppose the movement of these field lines. The superconductor will then hover in place above the magnet in whatever orientation it was placed in the magnetic field. It will also hold this orientation if it is moved along a magnetic track.

The main problems with using this type of levitation in hoverboards or even flying cars is that, firstly, the superconductor has to be above a magnet to levitate. To make this a viable way to travel anywhere, first magnetic tracks would have to be built, which would be costly and time-consuming. The second problem is that the critical temperature of most known superconducting materials is very low, close to absolute zero in some cases. Work is being done to make materials whose critical temperature is relatively high. Until such a material is discovered, attaching a cooling system capable of maintaining these low temperatures to a hoverboard would be extremely difficult to do efficiently. Unfortunately this means that it is highly unlikely that we will see hoverboards in public anytime soon, but it is a possibilty in the future.

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.thoughtco.com/quantum-levitation-and-how-does-it-work-2699356#toc-quantum-locking, accessed 12/05/2022
  2. https://www.britannica.com/science/Meissner-effect, accessed 12/05/2022
  3. https://www.livescience.com/superconductor, accessed 12/05/2022

The standard light microscope is ubiquitous, from children’s science kits to industry labs. They are very useful instruments but that have their limitations. Standard light microscopes typically magnify by 5, 10 and 20 times. The use of a combination of these lenses gives a larger magnifying ability. The world’s most powerful light microscope can see objects down to 500 nm [1], but due to the wavelength of light this is the limit.

This is where electron microscopes come in, instead of using the light reflecting off the sample, electron microscopes fire a beam of electrons. The wavelength of the electrons are significantly smaller than the wavelengths of visible light, this allows gives the microscope a much higher resolving power. There are different types of electron microscopes, the ones I will be talking about are scanning electron microscopes (SEM) and transmission electron microscopes (TEM), these differ as the electrons reflect from the sample in the SEM and they transmit through the sample in the TEM. These are used in a number of different industries and can be used for both biological and non-biological.

The electron microscopes only provide visual information of the sample, although different components are being added for increased functionality. Electron energy  loss spectroscopy (EELs) and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy are good examples of this as they both provide elemental analysis of the sample.

Electron microscopes are incredibly sensitive pieces of equipment and a number of different factors can warp and distort the results. Fluctuating magnetic fields and vibrations are the main issues. Since the objects they are viewing can be about a angstrom in length, the smallest fields and vibrations can be seen. Therefore, electron microscopes are typically surrounded by a Faraday cage, which acts similar as noise cancelling but for electromagnetic fields. Fluctuating electromagnetic fields (from overhead wires) can cause large disturbances and ruin the imaging. Similarly, any vibrations will distort the images. This means that it is the important the electron microscope is situated away from events such as heavy traffic.

It is a lot more simple to have the electron microscopes situated in quite areas rather than creating the the equipment to compensate, so smart planning is required. There are examples of the issues above seen within Trinity college; there are two areas with electron microscopes, the advanced microscopy lab (AML) and the CRANN research institute. The CRANN building is located in a busy area within Dublin, with the DART constantly crossing overhead, plenty of traffic and electrical wiring. This causes a lot of interference, to try reduce this, the microscopes were built on a separate foundation to rest of the building, which  travelled all the way down to bedrock. This was an attempt to reduce the impact of the vibrations. There are also Faraday cages around them, but despite this there are still issues using the instruments as the DART passes over head. Compared to CRANN, there are a lot more electron microscopes situated at the AML. It is a quieter area, which is a lot better suited to housing the microscopes.

Electron microscopes are probably some of the most sensitive instruments there are, and as we look at smaller and smaller objects more and more things that were once negligible become significant issues. There will never be the perfect place to escape all the issues so all that can be done is to come up with new ideas to compensate and dampen these external influences.

 

References

[1]  Lynn Charles Rathbun (2013); “World’s most powerful microscope” [online]

Accessed from: https://www.nanooze.org/worlds-most-powerful-microcope/#:~:text=The%20smallest%20thing%20that%20we,about%201000%20nanometers%20in%20size.

The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, are stunning luminous phenomena visible in the north pole region of the planet. In the south pole, they are called southern lights or aurora australis. The colorful dance of these lights in the night sky has fascinated humans for millennia. If once thought of as spiritual entities, today, the physics behind these magical events can be explained.

Figure 1: The Northern Lights, Alaska, night of Feb. 16, 2017. Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach. [1]

The name aurora borealis was coined by the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1916 after Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, and Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind. The earliest reliable account of the aurora borealis comes from Babylon, in an astronomical notebook dated 567 B.C. The babylonian recorded to have seen a “red glow” on the night of 12/13 March. This observation, which is part of a series of astronomical events, occurred when the geomagnetic latitude of Babylon was about 41°N compared with the present value of 27.5°N, giving reasons to believe in a higher auroral occurence in 567 BC than at present on the territory. In the 20th century, the Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland theorized a scientific explanation for this phenomenon. The display of coloured lights is a consequence of the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere.

The Earth is considered to be approximately a magnetic dipole, with a magnetic South pole (geographic North pole) and a magnetic North pole (geographic South pole) [Fig. 2 ]. The Earth’s magnetic field forms an envelope around our planet, the magnetosphere, and its strength varies roughly between 25,000 – 65,0 nT (0.25 – 0.65 Gauss) depending on its direction and distance from the Earth’s surface. The magnetosphere protects the planet from high-energy particles coming from solar winds.

Figure 2: Earth’s magnetic field. [2]

The solar wind is produced from plasma material escaping from the Sun’s corona (outermost atmosphere). The plasma at the Sun’s surface is heated continuously, up to a point where the Sun’s gravity can no longer hold it down. Strong solar eruptions, called solar flares, and coronal mass ejections produce streams of high energy particles which flow through the solar system reaching the Earth. Here, electrons and protons are drawn into the magnetic field, moving along its field lines towards the poles. Since the Earth’s magnetic field enters and exits the planet from the poles, the protection from high energy particles at the North and South poles is reduced. High energy particles are hence able to penetrate within the atmosphere. In the region between 100 and 500 km above the ground, the aurora forms.

Figure 3: Interaction between solar wind and Earth’s magnetic field. (Credit: NASA). [3]

Electrons from solar winds collide with oxygen and nitrogen gas in the ionosphere and knock electrons out of their shells, forming excited ions. The oxygen and nitrogen ions will release energy in the form of light to regain a stable condition. The aurora colors depend on the wavelength of the light emitted and hence on the type of gas that is excited. For instance, atomic oxygen (O), which is present in the higher layers of the atmosphere, is responsible for the red color, whereas molecular oxygen (O2), present in lower atmosphere layers, is responsible for the most commonly seen green color. Nitrogen is hit more rarely and produces pink and dark red light.

Figure 4: Colorful aurora taken in Delta Junction, Alaska, on April 10, 2015.
Credit: Image courtesy of Sebastian Saarloos. [4]

Reference:

[1] https://climate.nasa.gov/news/3105/earths-magnetosphere-protecting-our-planet-from-harmful-space-energy/

[2] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Earths_Magnetic_Field_Confusion.svg

[3] LAGRANGIAN COHERENT STRUCTURES IN IONOSPHERIC-THERMOSPHERIC FLOWS – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Solar-wind-magnetic-field-interacts-the-Earths-magnetic-field-Credit-NASA_fig6_326622449 [accessed 12 May, 2022]

[4] https://climate.nasa.gov/news/3105/earths-magnetosphere-protecting-our-planet-from-harmful-space-energy/

[5] https://www.britannica.com/science/aurora-atmospheric-phenomenon

[6] https://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/astronomy/northern-lights/default.asp

 

Carbon nanotubes are very tiny lightweight cylinders made up of carbon atoms, usually measuring on the nanometre scale. On the molecular level, carbon nanotubes (often abbreviated to CNT) are 100 times stronger than steel, as well as being 1/6th the weight of steel. Along with these mechanical properties, CNTs are also some of, if not the best conducting materials for heat and electricity. Due to these many properties, these CNTs have been on the minds of many physical and chemical scientists (known as nanoscientists) very recently, as they could help in the creation of many new types of technology, including longer lasting electric car batteries, which would help in reducing climate change.

The first recorded use of carbon nanotubes may surprise some, as they were first used in mediaeval times, although unbeknownst to their creators. Swords from this time have been examined, and some of them have been shown to contain CNTs, with each tube only being slightly larger than half a nanometer in thickness. Marianne Reibold and colleagues from the University of Dresden looked at ‘Damascus steel’ swords, where they found they had a content of around 1.5% carbon. This should have made the swords brittle, however these swords were very malleable and had a terrific hardness, this is why these swords have gone down as something from legends.

In 1952 Scientists L. V. Radushkevich and V. M. Lukyanovich reported clear photographs of 50-nanometer diameter carbon tubes in the Soviet Journal of Physical Chemistry. However, as the study was published in Russian, and Western scientists’ access to Soviet press and studies were restricted at this time, due the Cold War, this finding went virtually ignored. Carbon nanotubes were most certainly created before this date, but the inventions of the transmission electron microscope allowed scientists to finally see what they created.

Then in 1958, the physicist Roger Bacon was examining carbon at a temperature and pressure that would allow the solid, liquid, and gaseous phases of carbon to coexist at the same time, known as the triple point in thermodynamics. However when examining the carbon, he discovered a new carbon fibre that would change the course of nanoscience forever. These carbon fibres were hollow in the middle,being around a few micrometres in width, and almost 3cm in length. While not technically CNTs, these carbon fibres were the first stepping stones towards the creation of CNTs.

However, most scientists are of the consensus that the first proper creation of these CNT were first done by the Japanese scientist Sumio Iijima. Iijima made these CNTs using a method known as the ‘arc discharge evaporation method’. This is where a material, in Iijima’s case carbon, is vaporised between two electrodes. This vapourized material is then condensed out to grow nanoparticulate materials. The CNTs discovered here have become the main format of what CNTs look and act like to this day. Due to this, Suono Iijima is now known as the godfather of modern carbon nanotubes.

The applications of CNTs are endless. One current use of them is for a product known as ‘Gecko tape’. Sold commercially, gecko tape is able to stick and hold lightweight materials to smooth surfaces, almost like double sided tape. It was given its name as it was modelled after how gecko’s feet are able to stick to materials, even just one toe at a time, using van der waals forces. This tape is made of a polymer embedded with synthetic setae, kind of like needles, made of CNTs. These CNTs allow the tape to stick and come off from smooth materials quite easily, leaving no residue. They are even able to work at the most extreme of temperatures.

A potential use for these CNTs that has been heavily looked at is for drug delivery within the body. The nanotube would allow for medicine doses to be reduced by localising delivery, as well as considerably lowering the cost for customers. The medication would be carried by the nanotube in one of two ways: it can be connected to the side or trailed behind the tube, or it can be inserted directly inside the tube. Both of these approaches are effective for medication delivery and distribution inside the body.

Carbon nanotubes have only started to change the world, but already their effects can be seen all over. It is incredible to see how they have evolved, from humble beginnings being used in swords of mediaeval times, to potentially being used as a drug delivery system, it is fair to say that Carbon nanotubes are ‘the’ future of technology.

A discussion on the responsibility of the scientific community.

 

Since the dawn of time man has sought solutions to problems of all kinds. This is a fundamental aspect of human nature, to seek solutions to problems. We humans are an inquisitive group as beings go. Using facts and figures, rigorous theoretical and experimental methods to help us understand the world and its issues. Often in the hopes of being able to use this understanding, to combat problems in our world.

One such issue which is plaguing our life as humans in the modern day is the energy crisis. Global warming, overpopulation, what have you. There are dozens of different ways and permutations of speaking on the same issue. The issue is to simply put, that we have too many people in this world, and this causes issues of not enough food to go around or other factors. However, one of the major issues is that to keep so many people alive and in a decent lifestyle requires quite a large amount of energy. Now of course one may suggest the obvious albeit very immoral solution of culling the herd. Lowering the population or what have you. However, one of the most common things which is brought back to you is that simply the way in which we generate energy in this world is not efficient enough. We are using non-renewable sources, we are burning fossil fuels which is causing an enhanced greenhouse gas effect causing, well I wish I could say, untold damage but unfortunately recent studies by the UN have shown us exactly how telling and dire the results of our current global energy consumption is.

Because of this, we hope to do better. We wish to make a world in which we can survive, and we don’t cause too much damage and with this. We see people focusing on plastics the trash islands in the sea. We see many people scramble and scrape to have individual power sources in their house wind turbines to power themselves so they may be “off the grid” in the hopes of making actual personal changes to help combat this issue, when any scientist worth their salt would tell you that having a larger production plant with more people to manage and more ways to deal with the issues and inefficiencies would be far more environmentally.

Additionally, people talk about non-renewable resources as if they are the devil. Something to be absolutely avoided and although certain non-renewable resources are certainly not great with many being fossil fuels which contribute to the enhanced greenhouse gas effect to say that non-renewable energy sources are inherently bad, or evil is simply untrue.

An excellent example this is the fact that people seem to forget that renewable resources aren’t entirely eco-friendly. Their carbon footprint certainly isn’t a 0 because the simple construction of anything. Involves, for example, the refining and machining of raw materials. Even the breaking down and replacement of certain pieces in the machinery. This all has a carbon footprint this, it has an effect.

It is clear to see that this is a simple example of what would be unfair to call misinformation, but certainly an oversimplification of the issue at large. A great example of the dangers of a misleading oversimplification of this topic. Would be for example that nuclear energy is demonized as it is a non-renewable source.

Which by this simplification should be terrible, however, nuclear energy is clean, although like all things there is an inherent carbon footprint required to create nuclear power plants. But instead let us talk about the dangers, the lack of safety which this source of energy generation poses.

When this topic is raised people will talk for days on end about the dangers of nuclear energy. Speaking of Chernobyl, a truly terrible incident. However, I implore any individual who is truly scared of such things, to look into the current safety of nuclear power plants. They are, for all intents and purposes, highly unlikely to ever meltdown if they’re built to the legal specifications which day are required by in the modern day.

Now historians who may be aware of such things may turn to me and say, “That’s an excellent point however Chernobyl was not build to the specifications they required they took short cuts and in turn it melted down”. I would call this an excellent case of what-about-ism. If you were to assume that nothing in this world was built to the safety specifications given? Well then on ships should be imminent the dangerous all cars be imminently dangerous. Things in this world if they’re not built to specification may well be extraordinarily dangerous.

But if we are to assume that’s safety specifications will be upheld for every single instance of an object’s construction in this world except for one well that’s a very simple way of identifying bias to put it frankly.

But if one were to discuss the benefits of nuclear energy, is it truly making a difference? I would ask for you to look at a very practical and tangible example. Since the unfortunate war which has begun in Europe, people have been talking about the rise in gas prices in Ireland specifically. People have been discussing that in Ireland petrol has increased in price a shocking amount. However, I would ask for you to compare this to perhaps another country which has utilized different energy sources for power generation, specifically nuclear energy. For this example, I chose France.

France is a country which unlike Ireland generates a large degree of it’s energy via alternative means to gas. Notably nuclear energy. One could argue that since Ireland does not import natural gas from Russia that this would not be an issue for Ireland, however Electric Ireland, one of Ireland’s larges gas and electricity supplier’s “plans to increase residential electricity prices by 23.4 per cent and gas prices by 24.8 per cent with effect from 1 May 2022” tell a different story. This is not a large an issue in France once again due to a lesser dependence on natural gas to produce energy compared to nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy which notably unlike oil doesn’t have a primary supplier who is currently going to war and thus for moral reasons people will not purchase oil off of.

 

Graph for representation of point

Figure [1] Energy Generation by fuel source in France

 

Graph for representation of poin

Figure [2] Energy Generation by fuel source in Ireland

 

However, from this example an interesting question arises. Why do we have situations where we as scientists have for lack of better phrasing the correct way to go about things aren’t listened to? Why do we know of the safety and benefits of nuclear energy to the point where there are organizations across the world and Irish example being 18for0, who are essentially campaigning against people such as the Irish Green Party in an attempt to make progress in nuclear energy being introduced in Ireland?

Why do we have it that are Green Party, those who focus on having less fossil fuels, less a carbon emission and a better environmental impact on the world. Why are they against a solution which is entirely viable it is simply because there is a large contingent within that party who are not sufficiently educated on the topic.

In the scientific community today, it would be unfair to say we haven’t made great strides and ideas for the betterment of the world. We have found ways to do good.

However, it appears as though even items as comprehensive and accessible as the UN climate report is not being taken seriously. These things are not being seriously considered and we must ask why.

Why? Why do we have situations where the answers are clear and yet people will not take them. A very recent example of this is the large contingent of anti-mask anti-vax people who refuse to wear masks or take vaccinations for the coronavirus.

This unequivocally caused damage and further spread of this virus. This ignorance killed people. We had individuals, we had scientists, members of our community who went out and attempted to sway the masses attempted to prove to them that these solutions that we knew worked, actually did something to help.

I understand that it is deeply frustrating to know what the right choice is and see many people not make it. That is deeply frustrating, and, in that frustration, it is very simple to throw off your hands and say “I give up because we tried our best and they just wouldn’t listen to us, so it’s their fault not mine that we are in the bad situation we are”. That the misinformation the “Facebook facts”, if you pardon the phrasing, are too much and we cannot seem to go a day without seeing. We have done studies we are aware that false information spreads faster than correct information.

Does false information spread easier because it is more eye-catching, because it is easier to understand because it is not phrased in complicated scientific language.  The answer is simple.

It does not matter.

The answer does not matter because the simple fact is that we are not getting through to a large amount of people. That there will be a contingent who do not listen. We pushed hard for vaccinations and mask wearing during Covid but how many other issues are there which are just as complicated and have been oversimplified, such as renewable energy good non-renewable energy bad, or have not been simplified enough to be understood. How many issues do we have which we have the solutions for? Problems with answers which we just say, “people won’t listen we do not have a way to get them to listen” and now we can stand on the side-lines and continue to complain and shake our fists as the world constitutes to worsen.

I am a deeply practical person and because of that I will use a practical example here.

Imagine your individual with a group of friends are going camping. You have a manual for how to set up a tent you all must sleep in. You have read it and you know exactly how to set it up.

However, it is the large tent, and you cannot put it up by yourself. Each year you go, each year you ask people to read the manual but it’s too complicated and they don’t have time.

Each year you continue to complain that nobody is reading your manual. That’s excellent, you’re right. But when you go to bed at night when you are camping the fact that you were right doesn’t stop the water from spilling in on top of you. It doesn’t stop your clothes from being soaked, your camping ruined.

So, when you continue, each year, sitting there, being correct, with the same unfortunate result. Are you going to just keep being right? Or would you attempt to teach your friends have put up the tent, try make a manual with diagrams which are easier to understand. You might do something else entirely. But you certainly wouldn’t go back each year using the same strategy knowing that it doesn’t work.

We as scientists, as a community, as a people, we want to solve problems, we want, to discover things.

However, it is clear that we won’t make the necessary change we need to change the world for the better unless have everybody else come in and contribute. We need everyone else to work with us to make a difference.

Say, for example, the entire scientific community comes together and makes a master document which solves of all problems in the world in 50-years. It’s complicated but it will work. This miracle solution does not matter if we cannot get others to read and implement it. Or if we do not accommodate for those who will not read it. If we cannot get them to, we must at least find a way for them to do their part, by understanding the benefits of this miracle plan and the benefits of the parts that they are contributing to said plan.

What is the solution to this? I wish I knew. As if I knew I could put in an overly complicated document that nobody would read.

Now I am being a bit coarse. This is a deeply complicated matter as all matters of people are. Especially people on a large scale and a perfect solution is not known. At the very least not known by me. However, there are several things which can be done. If politics is what changes the world, perhaps more scientists should go into politics. Or at the very least be someone who would inform and attempt to educate not only politicians but the masses and the people around them.

Try to teach them try to help instead of simply assuming that everybody has had the privilege of the long-standing education and the choice of education which we as a community have chosen.

Will it be difficult? For sure. Will it be slow? Absolutely. Will it be worth it? There is no doubt, if we truly want to begin changing the world.

I believe the great minds of the scientific community may well be able to figure out how to change the world. But that means nothing if we do not first strive to add the rest of the world into our community. To educate and help them so they know what is going on, what we are striving for. To have an idea of what must be done so they may help us, and we may all help each other towards the better tomorrow, and a better world.

 

REFERENCES

[1]Our World in Data. 2022. Electricity production by source. [online] Available at: <https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/electricity-production-by-source?country=~FRA> [Accessed 12 May 2022].

[2]

Our World in Data. 2022. Electricity production by source. [online] Available at: <https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/electricity-production-by-source?country=~IRL> [Accessed 12 May 2022].

Fig 1: LHC (Large Hadron Collider) located in Cern, Switzerland. Source: [1] Brice, Maximilien, Cern Accelerating science 2019-04-30.

Introduction

You may ask yourself the very normal, real question when you wake up of, what am I? what am I made up of on the smallest scale? how different is the stuff that makes up me from the bed I wake up on? When we get to the smallest scale, everything around us is made up of the exact same stuff called atoms and really they are only differentiated by their atomic number or how many protons they contain which can be seen by on any periodic table of elements. We find that even these atoms can be made up of constituent particles called quarks and you may question what other particles are there and how do all of these coincide to create the building blocks to our universe?

The First discovered fundamental particle:

The year was 1897, the first elementary subatomic particle, the electron, had been discovered by J.J Thomson through the cathode ray experiment. With the discovery of the first fundamental particle, this had marked the beginning of this journey to discover the fundamental nature to reality. These experiments began to attempt to answer questions such as:  What is our universe made up of? Is the matter indivisible or can we get smaller? How do these subatomic particles interact?  The universe can be viewed analogously like a board of a chess game with the particles being the pieces and the corresponding rules of how they move or act are the laws that govern the universe that we try to discover through verifiable experiments. Can we discern the rules of how these particles interact with each other and our universe? Our current most successful Theory Of Everything, The Standard Model, attempts to explain this.

Fig:2 The Standard Model of Physics. Source: [2] Wikipedia Contributers, Wikimedia Foundation 19 May 2021. Author: MissMJ

The Guage Bosons and the forces of the Universe:

Currently, there are more than over 150 discovered particles and this extensive list of particles is colloquially called “The Particle Zoo”. Just as the species of animals in a zoo can be grouped together based on their natural habitat, we can group together particles with similar properties and categorize them. Particles interact with each other via other particles acting as force mediators that transfer forces between particles. According to The Standard Model there are 4 fundamental forces to our universe. In order of increasing strength we have: Gravity, The weak nuclear force, Electromagnetism and The strong nuclear force. The range of gravity and electromagnetism is infinite while the nuclear forces have very short range. The weak nuclear force is of order magnitude 10^(-18)m and the strong nuclear force of order 10^(-15)m which is why we don’t see the effects in everyday life and only on the quantum scale. These interact with the particles through force mediators called Guage Bosons. Bosons are categorized as any particle with an integer spin such as 1 or 0. Just think of spin as an intrinsic property which is either spin up or spin down that we can measure just like charge of an electron. Trying to conceptualize what spin exactly is runs into the fallacy of trying to think of these particles just as spinning balls of charge except they’re not balls due to them being point like and they’re not spinning.  The force mediator particles for each of the forces are given by: Electromagnetism is mediated by the photon which is the constituent particle of light, for Strong nuclear force is mediated by the gluon, the weak nuclear force is mediated by the W and Z bosons and finally gravity is mediated by the hypothetical graviton. Also there is a Higgs field that permeates all of space and the excitation of this field gives us the Higgs boson which is the final Guage Boson. This field and it’s interactions is what results in the mass of all these particles which was recently discovered in 2012 at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) in Switzerland.

Fig 3: Fundamental forces to Our Universe. Source: [3] Weebly, Particle Zoo.

Leptons, Fermions, Quarks and Hadrons:

The electron, along with the muon and tau and their corresponding neutrinos make up what are known as Leptons. These are categorized as so due to certain intrinsic characterisitics such as not being able to  interact with matter via the strong nuclear force and only through the weak nuclear force. The first three have negative charge of -1 while the neutrinos have no charge and these are all spin 1/2 particles unlike bosons with spin 1 so they are also categorized as fermions. Leptons are fundamental particles and can’t be broken down to anything smaller. We have a more complex family called Hadrons which are strong interacting particles made up of quarks.  These are broken down into Baryons made up of 3 quarks which are like supermassive nucleons and Mesons made up of 2 quarks. All Mesons are Fermions and all Baryons are Bosons. Quarks are also leptons with spin 1/2 and consist of 6 types called flavours named up, down, top, bottom, strange and charm. The proton consists of up, up and down quark (uud) and the neutron is down, down and up (ddu). Up quarks have charge 2/3 and down has charge -1/3 which is why protons have charge +1 and neutrons have no charge.  These quarks that form protons and neutrons are binded together via the strong nuclear force and thus by mediating gluons as mentioned earlier. Another quantity that is intrinsic to note is strangeness and can just be thought as property just like charge.

 

Fig 4: Particle Classifications.

Particle Accelerators and Detectors

How are physicists able to probe inside atomic nuclei on the smallest scale and discover all these particles? The answer lies in the usage of linear and circular accelerators. In the early days linear accelerators were used just as J.J Thomson used cathode-ray tubes to discover electrons. These take advantage of the magnetic and electric fields to accelerate particles from rest to very high speeds to collide with an object that’s called a target. Think of linear accelerators just  like a slingshot with a ball, the elastic potential energy when you pull back is like the electrical potential energy present in the accelerator when a current runs and builds electrical potential energy and letting go converts this potential energy to kinetic causing the ball or the particle to reach high speeds while passing through various electrodes and hitting the target. It’s linear since the path of the particle is a straight line. hitting the target can cause the constituent particles to split and these can be detected various way such as on a zinc sulphide screen. Circular accelerators come in the form of Cyclotrons and Synchrotons. These use magnets with uniform magnetic field to deflect the particles into circular paths. These particles accelerate to higher and higher speeds and eventually the particles coming in opposite circular paths cross and collide. Circular accelerators such as the LHC are much more useful as they can be confined to a smaller area and easily attain higher speeds in comparison to linear accelerators. Many detectors track the movement of charged particles moving through a gas, liquid or solid which show up as droplets in a cloud chamber. At the LHC they use solenoids to help identify these new particles.

Eightfold Way and Symmetry:

All of this discussion lays the groundwork for particle theory. Symmetry is a of huge importance in all of physics. Symmetries lead to conservation laws such as conservation of energy or momentum. For the particles we have conservation of charge and other quantities in their interactions. If we consider eight spin 1/2 baryons we can plot their value of strangeness versus value of charge and the result is a hexagonal pattern. We can likewise do the same for nine spin-0 mesons. These symmetries accumulate together to form the eightfold way.  Current research in this field is trying to unify all four fundamental force interactions is the basis of the Theory of everything. We have unified electromagnetism and the weak force and is thus called electroweak interactions. The strong force has also been proposed to be unified in grand unified theories but this is still speculative. however there is trouble incorporating gravity into the mix and that’s what current research is trying to accomplish with one such example being String Theory.

Fig 5: Plot of Strangeness(s) and Charge(q) for spin 1/2 Baryons showing the symmetry pattern in eightfold way.

 

References:

[1]https://home.cern/science/accelerators

[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Standard_Model_of_Elementary_Particles.svg

[3]Particle Zoo – Introduction (weebly.com)

 

It is no secret that Europe is trying to wean itself off Russian gas after the invasion of Ukraine. European citizens find themselves in the repulsive position of propping up the Russian regime through the purchasing of Russian gas to power our electrical grids. There is also a massive effort within the EU to divest from carbon producing means of energy production. The task of divesting from fossil fuels and untangling European economies from Russian gas is immense but what if Europe could pool its energy resources together to create one, large, pan-European grid? If this could happen wind farms off the west coast of Ireland could power factories in Germany or solar panels in Portugal could power homes in Italy. This way, when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine in one region of the continent, energy can be produced in and distributed from another. The problem with this idea is that it costs to transport electricity.  This cost is attributed to transmission losses due to heat as well as financial costs due to large transmission and collector stations needed to transmit power. This is where superconductivity comes in.

 

Superconductivity is a phenomenon in physics where certain materials display zero electrical resistance when cooled to temperatures of around 80 Kelvin (-1930C).  Superconductivity is a quantum effect best described by Cooper pairs. In a normal conductor, electrons flow freely throughout the lattice of atoms and are repelled by one another. Events such as scattering, the collision of an electron with an atom, diminish the flow of electrons and cause resistance. However, in a Cooper Pair, electrons are slightly attracted to each other. This attraction is due to electrons interacting with phonons which are waves of vibration in the lattice. When these electrons are paired up, they have a lower energy. This creates an energy gap between the energy of the electrons and the energy needed for events such as scattering, meaning scattering will not occur and resistance falls to zero. Superconductivity only works at low temperatures as the Cooper bond in an electron pair is very weak and thermal energy, the energy due to temperature, can break the bond in these Cooper pairs. The temperature below which a material exhibits superconductivity is called the critical temperature.

So, superconductivity allows the flow of electricity with zero resistance, and therefore zero power loss, if the conductor is below a certain temperature. An important temperature in superconductivity physics is 77K, the temperature Nitrogen boils at. This is because if a superconductor with a critical temperature above 77K is used, liquid Nitrogen can be used to cool it. Liquid Nitrogen is readily available and relatively easy to produce, making it the perfect cooling agent.

Superconductivity is going to play a massive part in the future of energy transportation in Europe and indeed in the world. It is an area where physicists can contribute to one of the biggest questions facing our generation with regards to energy security. “How do we keep the lights on?”