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PWOct09cover 21/9/09 12:58 Page 1 Volume 22 No 10 October 2009

The energy puzzle

A question of science, politics and communication

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Untitled-1 1 18/9/09 09:56:21

PWOct09contents 22/9/09 16:26 Page 1 Contents: October 2009

Quanta 3
UK Meteorological Office/Science Photo Library

Frontiers 4
News & Analysis 6
New proposal to detect gravitational waves ● World’s quietest building opens
● CERN boss targets future accelerator ● China’s first space-based science mission
delayed ● Panel reviews NASA’s Moon and Mars plans ● Indian lunar mission fails
● Teething troubles at US energy agency ● Spain powers ahead in solar-thermal
energy ● Germany seeks to boost university research ● Bribe allegations rock German
science ● New telescope array to shed light on early universe ● Australia launches
astronomy centre ● Survey reveals risk of medical scans

A question of – science 33–35 Feedback 15

Tony McConnell/Science Photo Library

The energy puzzle

Challenges in tackling climate change 20
Bold decisions are needed to halve greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 to limit global
warming. Lord Browne argues that the biggest barriers to a low-carbon economy are
not scientific or technological but political

Publicize or perish 22
With the Copenhagen climate-change conference looming, Joseph Romm warns
that scientists must do a much better job of alerting the world to the dangers of
global warming

A question of – politics 20–21 The road to sustainability 24

Sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels do exist, but materials-science breakthroughs
are needed to make some of the most promising technologies viable and

cost-effective on a large scale, as George Crabtree and John Sarrao explain

Wrong but useful 33

Gavin Schmidt describes how progress in modelling is leading to better predictions of
the world’s climate that will be more useful for policymakers and politicians

Extreme energy makeover 37

Paul Michael Grant outlines an ambitious proposal for a network of underground
pipes carrying nuclear-power-produced hydrogen that serves both as a fuel and as
a coolant for superconducting cables

Does nanotechnology have the energy? 40

From new materials for wind turbines and supercapacitors to novel “third generation”
A question of – communication 22–23 solar cells, nanotechnology could play a major role in future energy sources,
as Alan Smith and David Tolfree explain
On the cover
The energy puzzle (Photolibrary) 19–45 Reviews 46
A physicist tackles sustainable energy ● Genius and persecution ● Web life: Clim’City
Physics World is published monthly as 12 issues per annual
volume by IOP Publishing Ltd, Dirac House, Temple Back,
Bristol BS1 6BE, UK Careers 50
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Of time and tide Stephen Taylor ● Once a physicist: Kathryn Jackson
Physics World (ISSN 0953-8585) is published monthly by
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Physics World October 2009 1

PhyWrld Vac Sup Ad.qxd 4/10/06 10:30 AM Page 1
PWOct09quanta 18/9/09 08:41 Page 3

For the record Seen and heard
To boldly go where no-one has gone

before does not require coming bubble would burst, Sornette went on to
make the bold prediction that the index
home again would crash between 17–27 July. So did
Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins traders flock to take money out of the
Initiative at Arizona State University, quoted in the exchange? Well, on 28 July the index stood
New York Times at 3438 points before climbing slightly to
Krauss was proposing the idea of a one-way ticket 3471 on 4 August. But by 31 August it had
to Mars without the need to bring astronauts back tumbled to 2667 points – a fall of more
to Earth. than 20%. As Physics World went to press,
the index had recovered somewhat and
My expectation was that researchers was nearing 3000. Green shoots of
recovery, perhaps?
would propose risky ideas that were
completely new. Disappointingly, we Wood you believe it? Bolt out of the blue
got rather little of that “With the compliments of the Few would doubt that Jamaican sprinter
Ambassador of the United States Of Usain Bolt is now the fastest man on the
Outgoing president of the International America, J. William Middendorf II, to planet after yet again breaking the world
Astronomical Union Catherine Cesarsky quoted commemorate the visit to the Netherlands record for the 100 m sprint at the World
in Science of the Apollo 11 astronauts.” So reads a Athletics Championships held in Berlin in
Cesarsky, who was director-general of the plaque below one of the Rijksmuseum’s August. But, of course, we all knew that he
European Southern Observatory from 1999 to most prized possessions – a small sample could run that fast. After his previous
2007, says that she tried to encourage innovative of Moon rock that was acquired by the record-setting time of 9.69 s at the Beijing
projects under the director’s discretionary Amsterdam-based museum in 1988 after Olympics last year, astrophysicists at the
time-allocation programme, but most of the the death of former Dutch prime minister University of Oslo in Norway worked out
resources were instead used to get quick results Willem Drees. The brown-coloured rock that Bolt could have run even faster if he
and publications. was a gift to Dress from Middendorf, who had gone flat out rather than slowing down
apparently received it via the US State in the last 20 m of the race to celebrate his
The first thing a freshman should Department. Yet tests carried out recently Olympic win. And they got it pretty much
on behalf of the museum have revealed spot on. The physicists calculated that Bolt
know is that college is never what that the “rock” is in fact nothing more than could have covered the 100 m in 9.55 s
one expects a piece of petrified wood. Geologist (±0.04 s) if he had maintained his
Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg quoted in the Frank Beunk from Vriije University in pre-celebration acceleration. The time he
New York Times Amsterdam took a slice of the object with clocked in Berlin? 9.58 s exactly. “The
Weinberg was talking about his time at Cornell permission of the museum and, using a agreement could almost not have been
University, where he graduated in 1954. Although scanning electron microscope, found that better,” says Hans Kristian Kamfjord
he says he found it difficult at first, he was left with it was entirely composed of quartz, which Eriksen from the University of Oslo.
memories of inspiring professors and a love of is abundant on Earth but not present on
music and Shakespeare. the Moon. “It may have originated from Space, not-so-rockin
the Petrified Forest National Park in “To my ear all these songs
While my body was sleeping, I think Arizona,” Beunk told Physics World. are universally awful”
Despite the mundane origin of the “rock”, was the response of
my spirit flew on a triangular-shaped which was last shown to the public in 2006 astronomer Sir Patrick
UFO to Venus. It was an extremely at the museum’s “Fly Me to the Moon” Moore in an interview
beautiful place and was very green exhibition, the museum is still planning with – a
to keep the piece. But if you see it, don’t rock music and pop-culture website – when
Miyuki Hatoyama, actress and wife of Japan’s be fooled. forced to listen to 10 songs with either a
newly elected prime minister Yukio Hatoyama cosmic or scientific theme. So what did he
Hatoyama wrote about her surreal space trip in a Bubble trouble think of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”?
book published last year entitled Most Bizarre You do not usually get stock-market “I wonder if any of these people could sing,
Things I’ve Encountered. commentators predicting exactly to the even if someone showed them how to do
day when a stock or index will crash or it.” And what of Muse’s “Supermassive
Perhaps astrophysics stories should depreciate heavily in value. In early July, Black Hole”? “Dreadful.” As for the rather
however, Didier Sornette of the more mainstream “No Matter What Sign
come with a health warning Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in You Are” by Diana Ross & the Supremes, it
Journalist Charlie Brooker quoted in the Guardian Zurich and colleagues predicted that did not impress Moore either. “All these
Brooker was commenting on a BBC story last China’s Shanghai Composite Index on the songs are nasty noises.” Maybe the
month about the discovery that Andromeda is Shanghai stock exchange would collapse as interviewer should have got the hint with
expanding by digesting stars from other galaxies. it was showing “bubble-like” behaviour by the first song played to Moore – “Out of
He says the human brain is not equipped to deal growing faster than an exponential rate Space” by hardcore rave outfit The Prodigy.
with thoughts of this “humbling enormity”. (arXiv:0907.1827). But rather than just “I must be quite honest with you, this isn’t
saying that at some point in the future the my type of music,” he complained.

Physics World October 2009 3

PWOct09frontiers 18/9/09 09:02 Page 4

In brief
Lasers probe teeth for minerals
Molecules revealed in their full glory
ical structure of a single molecule. The main

IBM Research, Zurich

Researchers in Australia and Taiwan have invented
a new technique for assessing dental health that practical challenge was to find a way of ed-
may no longer require dentists to prod and poke in ging the AFM tip close enough to the sam-
the mouths of patients. The technique involves ple without it being laterally displaced or
shining a laser at a tooth in order to trigger even adsorbed owing to van der Waals
ultrasonic surface acoustic waves (SAW) along the forces. Realizing that it is the atom or mole-
tooth’s outer enamel coating. The velocity of a cule at the very tip of the AFM probe that
SAW is governed by the elasticity of the material governs the contrast and resolution of the
through which it is propagating, and in healthy Top tip A single molecule of carbon monoxide brought technique, Gross’s team replaced the metal
teeth a high mineral content leads to high the five interlocking rings of benzene into view. tip of a conventional AFM with a single
elasticity. Therefore, measuring the speed of the molecule of carbon monoxide (CO). CO is
SAW vibration in a tooth should indicate how Physicists in the Netherlands and Switzer- chemically highly stable and is subject to sig-
healthy it is (Optics Express 17 15592). land have designed a new type of atomic nificantly weaker van der Waals forces.
force microscope (AFM) that can identify As a demonstration of their device, the
Bespoke optical lattices created individual atoms within a molecule for the researchers turned their AFM tip to a well-
Researchers in Germany have designed a first time. The technique could also shine studied hydrocarbon known as pentacene
technique for creating customized optical lattices. new light on the nature of chemical reactions. (C22H14), which consists of five fused benzene
Standard optical lattices are periodic potentials Invented some 20 years ago, AFMs give rings and measures just 1.4 nm in length.
made by criss-crossing laser beams, in which scientists the best view of atoms on the sur- They produced an image showing all five car-
ultracold atoms can be held in a symmetric grid. faces of both insulators and conductors. The bon rings as well as the individual carbon and
Because the atoms can be manipulated, optical basic process involves scanning the sharp hydrogen atoms within the molecule. The
lattices are often used as an analogue of metal tip of the AFM across a sample to gen- observed spacing between individual atoms
quantum systems, which are otherwise difficult to erate images based on the balance of tiny was only 0.14 nm – the best resolution yet for
study directly. The new technique involves first forces between the tip and the sample. On- an AFM.
ionizing individual atoms with an electron beam going improvements to the technique have Gross and his team now intend to build up
and then removing these ions from selected revealed surfaces in unprecedented detail, a catalogue of chemical signatures so that
lattice sites with an electric field (Phys. Rev. Lett. including the breakthrough in 2007 when eventually the CO-tipped AFM could pro-
103 080404). isolated atoms on a material’s surface were vide a quick and easy way of identifying mo-
imaged for the first time. lecules in chemical analysis. The researchers
Breath test for cancer The new technique, developed by Leo believe that, in the longer term, the tech-
Researchers in Israel have invented a new type of Gross of IBM Research in Zurich and col- nique could be applied to the study of chem-
breath test for detecting lung cancer that uses leagues, improves the resolution of AFMs ical reactions and catalysis at the atomic level
carbon-based sensors. When a patient breathes still further by revealing the detailed chem- (Science 325 1110).
into the device, particulates from the lungs are
attracted to the carbon layers. This makes the
sensor swell, thus altering the resistance of the
device. The presence of volatile organic
Magnetic ‘monopoles’ spotted in spin ices
compounds linked with specific forms of cancer Ever since magnetic monopoles were first magnet, but instead take the form of a knot-
has a characteristic effect on the resistance. So, by predicted by Paul Dirac in 1931, physicists ted mess of flux lines, called “Dirac strings”,
applying a potential difference across the sensor, have searched in vain for these elusive enti- connected by magnetic monopoles. The
the presence of the particles can be inferred from ties in everything from particle accelerators team confirmed a prediction that at about 1 K
fluctuations in the current (Nature Nanotech. to Moon rocks. Now, two independent re- the heat capacity of a spin ice should re-
10.1038/nnano.2009.235). search groups claim to have finally caught semble that of a gas of magnetic monopoles
sight of monopoles – essentially magnets (Science 10.1126/science.1178868).
Earth-like nature of exoplanet confirmed with only one pole – in magnetic materials Meanwhile, researchers at the Institute
Astronomers have obtained the best evidence yet called “spin ices”. Although these spin-ice Laue-Langevin in France, along with phy-
that a planet orbiting a star 400 light-years from monopoles have very different origins from sicists in the UK, used a beam of spin-polar-
Earth is a solid, rocky world just like our own. The those predicted by Dirac’s original work, fur- ized neutrons to study a similar spin ice –
extrasolar planet, known as CoRoT-7b, was ther observation could still help with the Ho2Ti2O7. They were particularly interested
discovered earlier this year and found to have a development of magnetic memories and in studying the ground states of the spin
radius less than twice that of the Earth. By other spintronic devices. ice to establish if these states can support
observing the “wobble” it induces in its parent star, One team of researchers, based at the monopole excitations.
CoRoT-7b has been found to have a mass about Helmholtz Centre in Berlin and working in At low temperatures and zero magnetic
five times that of the Earth, which implies a similar collaboration with scientists in Argentina, field, physicists had predicted that, in order
density and rocky composition (Astron. Astrophys. Germany and the UK, studied the crystalline to have monopoles, this knotty mess of a state
at press). material Dy2Ti2O7, which is termed a spin ice must be a “magnetic coulomb phase” – which
because the arrangement of spins is similar the Anglo-French team was able to confirm
Read these articles in full and sign up for free to that of hydrogen atoms in frozen water. through the observation of “pinch points” in
e-mail news alerts at Dirac predicted that the spins in this kind of its neutron-scattering data (Science 10.1126/
magnetic material do not line up like a ferro- science.1177582).

4 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09frontiers 18/9/09 09:03 Page 5

T A Rector Frontiers

Birds inspire new
ultra-strong fastener
Now found in all manner of places from clothing to
industry, Velcro was invented in the 1940s by
Swiss inventor George de Mestral, who drew
inspiration from the difficulty he experienced
removing burrs from the fur of his dog. De Mestral
named his product Velcro from the French for
velvet (velours) and hook (crochet) on account of
its underlying mechanism – a piece of fabric
covered in tiny hooks fastening to a second piece
of fabric covered in tiny hairy loops.
The real beauty of this “wonder material”, writes
James Dacey, is that it can seal with a relatively
tight grip but still be released with minimal effort.
However, the drawback with these fasteners is that
Galactic tussle will engulf Milky Way their gripping mechanism tends to break down
when exposed to high temperatures, aggressive
An international team of astrophysicists has mapped the borders between two of our neighbouring galaxies cleaning chemicals, and harsh conditions.
to reveal an ongoing galactic jostle that will eventually result in the formation of one super-galaxy Now, a team at the Technical University of
incorporating the Milky Way. The finding has been made by Alan McConnachie of the Herzberg Institute of Munich led by Josef Mair, working with industrial
Astrophysics in Canada, together with colleagues in Australia, Europe and the US. Using the Canada- firms based in Germany, may have created a
France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) in Hawaii, the researchers carried out the most extensive survey to date of product that overcomes this problem. “Metaklett”,
Andromeda – the closest large galaxy to the Milky Way – mapping stars over an area more than 100 times or “metal burr”, is a hook-and-loop fastener made
larger than its well-photographed central disc. Next, the researchers turned their attention to one of using steel, which is chosen for its high resistance
Andromeda’s smaller satellites, Triangulum – a densely packed galaxy about one-tenth the size of its spiral to mechanical loads and chemical corrosion. The
neighbour. What they observed was an extended, stream-like structure protruding from Triangulum in the product is being developed with two separate hook
direction of Andromeda. Using computer simulations (see image), the researchers have estimated that the designs, both of which are resistant to chemicals
limb of stars was “ripped” from Triangulum roughly two billion years ago when the galaxies passed within and remain fastened in temperatures of up to
100 000 light-years of each other. The simulations predict that the next time that the two galaxies come 800°C, the researchers claim.
into close contact, within the next two billion years, Triangulum will be completely engulfed by its larger The first hook mechanism is based on the
neighbour. What is more, by the time Triangulum approaches Andromeda again, the Milky Way and shape of a flamingo, and it has been chosen for its
Andromeda will have moved much closer together, which will probably result in a three-way merger and the strength. Depending on the direction of the
formation of a new, larger galaxy (Nature 461 66). applied force, the fastener can withstand loads of
up to 35 tonnes per square metre. The second

Acoustic tweezers pinch living cells type of hook, which resembles a “duck’s head”,
cannot support the same loads as the flamingo,
but it is more flexible because it can remain
Optical tweezers are a useful device for ers, the researchers arranged a series of fastened while subjected to stresses from a
manipulating tiny objects using the mo- fluorescent polystyrene beads about 1.9 µm variety of directions. Mair and his team are now
mentum of light. Now, physicists can also in diameter into a grid pattern. They then did working on a third design – the “hybrid” model –
add another set of tweezers to their toolkit – the same thing using the red blood cells of a which combines the strength of the flamingo with
“acoustic tweezers” that can manoeuvre cow and the bacteria E. coli. the flexibility of the duck.
microscopic objects using sound. The researchers say that the new device The researchers have also been collaborating
The new device was developed by re- offers several advantages over optical tweez- with their industrial partners to create bespoke
searchers at Pennsylvania State University ers. One is that the acoustic tweezers can be metal fasteners for a range of applications. “I can
by combining two surface acoustic waves used to manipulate living cells without dam- imagine Metaklett being used in hospitals – for
(SAWs) on a chip. When a microscopic ob- aging or killing them. Another potential ad- example as a means of fastening curtains that
ject is placed in the resulting standing wave, vantage, according to the researchers, is that does not get damaged when exposed to hospital
it moves along a pressure gradient until it the tweezers could cost just $20 per set, com- cleaning,” says Mair. He also told Physics World
reaches a node – that is, a point where the pared with $100 000 for optical tweezers. that he can envisage his new metal fastener being
two waves cancel – when the object then The hope is that the optical tweezers can used both as a shield covering car exhaust pipes
comes to a complete standstill. By combining be integrated into a single chip that can per- and as a means of holding panels together in
several standing waves along the surface of form individual or multiple functions in a planes. “A car parked in direct sunlight can reach
the piezoelectric chip, the researchers say so-called lab-on-a-chip. Such a device could temperatures of 80°C, while temperatures of
they can manoeuvre tiny objects by varying be used for medical applications, including several hundred degrees can arise around the
the frequency of the sound. blood analysis, cell studies and tissue engin- exhaust manifold,” he said.
To demonstrate their new acoustic tweez- eering (Lab on a Chip 10.1039/b910595f).

Physics World October 2009 5

PWOct09news 21/9/09 17:01 Page 6

News & Analysis

Galactic-scale observatory planned
Physicists have drawn up ambitious Telescope in West Virginia, US, as

plans to detect very low-frequency well as developing advanced software
gravitational waves – ripples in the to process the huge amounts of data
fabric of space–time that general re- involved. It estimates this would cost
lativity predicts ought to pervade the a few tens of millions of dollars over
universe. But rather than looking for the next 10 years, in addition to the
them using existing facilities like the money spent by their European and
LIGO detectors in the US, which are Australian collaborators.
designed to detect tiny changes in the This is small fry compared with the
interference patterns of laser beams hundreds of millions of dollars being
sent down pairs of kilometre-long spent on gravitational-wave interfer-
pipes positioned at right angles to one ometers. Indeed, NANOGrav mem-
another, the idea is instead to use ber Fredrick Jenet of the University
radio telescopes on Earth. The tele- of Texas at Brownsville says it is possi-
scopes would measure tiny variations ble that the pulsar network could de-
in the output of pulsars spread thou- tect gravitational waves before the
sands of light-years apart. interferometers, although he points
The galactic observatory, proposed not been technically feasible until Listening in out that having different approaches
by the North American Nanohertz now. The NANOGrav team says that The Green Bank not only expands the astrophysics that
Observatory for Gravitational Waves it should be possible to correlate the Telescope in West can be studied, but also improves the
(NANOGrav), would rely on minute output of 40 pulsars, each with a ti- Virginia, US, could be chances of detecting gravitational
changes in the relative timing of emis- ming precision better than 100 ns, used to study the waves in the first place.
sions from different pulsars – rapidly within the next decade. This would emissions of pulsars Jim Hough, a gravitational-wave
rotating neutron stars that emit very allow astronomers to observe gravita- to detect signs of researcher at the University of Glas-
regular pulses of radio waves. A gra- tional waves with wavelengths of sev- gravitational waves. gow and a member of the GEO-600
vitational wave passing between a eral light-years coming from sources gravitational-wave observatory based
pulsar and a radio telescope affects such as the black-hole binaries that in Germany, says that pulsar timing
the time it takes for the emissions to form when galaxies merge, as well as “looks a very good way” to search for
arrive, and so an array of pulsars with early-universe phenomena such as gravitational waves at extremely low
different lines of sight to the Earth cosmic strings or inflation. frequencies. He believes that by ob-
would reveal the presence of any wave The NANOGrav consortium says serving 20 pulsars with a timing pre-
as well as its direction of propagation that this could be achieved by ex- cision of better than 100 ns for five
and polarization. panding the time currently devoted to years, Jenet and colleagues “have a
This idea was first put forward in pulsar observations on existing facil- very good possibility of observing
the late 1970s but requires such high- ities such as the Arecibo Observatory gravitational-wave signals”.
precision measurements that it has in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank Edwin Cartlidge


Scientists welcome world’s ‘quietest’ building

Michael Banks

The University of Bristol in the UK ground under the building consists of measurements. Each lab in the base-
has opened what it claims is the solid rock. Engineers excavated a one- ment also sits inside a Faraday cage,
quietest building in the world. The storey deep hole in the rock and filled and the temperature, air flow and
£11.5m Bristol Centre for Nano- it with concrete to make a solid foun- acoustic noise in the room can also be
science and Quantum Information dation upon which the building was strictly controlled.
(NSQI) will be a hub of interdisci- constructed. “The centre is the right The centre incorporates two clean-
plinary research involving groups from building, in the right place,” says Fred rooms, a wet lab, a sound-proof lab,
the university’s biology, physics, chem- Hale, building manager of the NSQI. eight low-noise labs and two cell-cul-
istry and engineering departments. The four-storey building has a ture labs. The NSQI is also home to
Staff will use the new facility for a number of “quiet rooms” in the base- one of the UK’s newly launched doc-
range of experiments in condensed- Quiet, please! ment, where most of the experiments toral training centres. Funded by the
matter physics to biochemistry. The Bristol Centre for are housed. Each experiment sits on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Construction of the NSQI facility Nanoscience and an additional 24 tonne block of con- Research Council, the centre for func-
has taken over two years to complete Quantum Information crete separated from the floor by tional nanomaterials will train up to
and the site in Bristol is well suited to features eight rubber bearings to dampen vibrations 10 PhD students every year.
hosting such a “quiet” lab since the low-noise labs. that could interfere with sensitive Michael Banks

6 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09news 21/9/09 17:01 Page 7 News & Analysis

Particle physics

CERN director-general set his sights on linear collider

The director-general of CERN wants what the LHC discovers.

the next big experiment in particle Heuer also confirmed the timetable
physics after the Large Hadron Col- for switching the LHC back on fol-
lider (LHC) to be built at the Geneva lowing the electrical fault that oc-
lab. Speaking in an exclusive video curred on 19 September last year and
interview with Physics World, Rolf- led to 53 magnets having to be re-
Dieter Heuer says that CERN should paired or replaced (Physics World
host the experiment, which would September p7). Beams will be in-
collide electrons and positrons in a jected into the 27 km circumference
linear accelerator. Although a design circular accelerator in mid-Novem-
for the machine has not been finalized ber, with collisions taking place a few
by the international particle-physics weeks later. “I am pretty confident
community, Heuer is keen to bring that we will have the first collisions
the collider to CERN. this year,” says the CERN boss.
“I would be a bad director-general CERN engineers will begin by col-
if I did not push for CERN at least liding protons at an energy of 450 GeV
bidding for the next global project,” per beam, before attempting collisions
Heuer told Physics World. “CERN is Planning ahead US have already helped to build the at 3.5 TeV per beam. “We will stay [at
a fantastic place. [It] has proven that CERN boss Rolf- LHC and its detectors, and Heuer is that energy] for several months, de-
it can host such a project and there- Dieter Heuer hopes keen for links with non-European pending on what experiments find and
fore I think CERN should do it.” to land the next nations to become more permanent. on running experience,” says Heuer.
However, Heuer is aware that it is far big experiment in “Why not involve some of the na- “Then in the course of the next year we
from certain that the Geneva lab will particle physics – tions from the Americas or Asia as will go up to 10 TeV in the centre of
host the facility – Fermilab in the US an electron–positron members [of CERN]?” he asks. “This mass [i.e. 5 TeV per beam].” The LHC
is likely to be a contender – and the linear collider – for would enable us to start the next will be kept online until the end of
CERN chief is looking forward to bids the lab. global project as a global project from 2010 before it is shut down to prepare
from rival labs. “Competition is al- the very beginning – be it at CERN or the way for collisions at a maximum
ways welcome,” he says. elsewhere.” CERN is already devel- energy of 14 TeV (i.e. 7 TeV per beam)
Heuer’s desire to host the linear col- oping a blue-print for a future linear at some point during 2011. “But if we
lider is part of his plan to make CERN collider, known as CLIC, while a rival find something interesting at 10 TeV,
a much more global laboratory. Al- design known as the International then we will continue running at
though CERN was set up in 1954 as a Linear Collider is being drawn up by 10 TeV,” Heuer adds.
European facility, its convention does a team led by Barry Barish of the Ca- Matin Durrani
not prevent countries from outside lifornia Institute of Technology. The ● Watch the Heuer interview in full
Europe from becoming members. precise energy at which such a collider at
Several thousand physicists from the should operate will depend in part on multimedia


Cash shortfall spells trouble for Chinese space probe

The launch of China’s first satellite needed as X-rays emitted from space China’s space “China’s space technologies are said
designed for astronomy has been delayed cannot reach the Earth’s surface as they to be world leading, but the space-based
because money for the project, promised are absorbed by the atmosphere.
technologies scientific discoveries are shamefully
by the government, has not been The HXMT was selected in 2000 as a are said to be zero,” says Chen Xuelei, a scientist at the
allocated. The 1-billion-yuan ($147m) civil science satellite project for the world leading, CAS’s National Astronomical
Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT) 11th five-year (2006–2010) Space but the space- Observatories. Chen explains that the
was due to be launched in 2010, but will Science Plan. Li complains that disputes Chinese space programme is dominated
now be delayed until 2012 at the earliest. between the Ministry of Finance, the
based scientific by military officials, who do not give
“As a scientist, I feel ashamed, as the State Administration of Science discoveries are attention to civil space science.
plan has been widely announced by the Technology and Industry, which governs shamefully zero Meanwhile, Li Xueyong, vice-science
Chinese government,” HXMT’s chief the country’s space industry, and the minister, announced on 17 September
scientist Li Xipei told the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) are that China will increase its investment in
magazine Science News Bi-weekly. The the main reason for the funding delay. space science and technologies,
HXMT satellite aims to study the physical However, he says that if the budget can be particularly manned space programmes.
characteristics of areas surrounding allotted within this year, then the launch Yuan Yue and Jia Hepeng
black holes. A space-based probe is could take place by 2012. Beijing

Physics World October 2009 7

PWOct09news 21/9/09 17:58 Page 8

News & Analysis

Space port, “the ultimate destination for

human exploration”.

Panel slams NASA’s lunar vision Kip Hodges, director of Earth and
Space Exploration at Arizona State
University, welcomes the committee’s
recognition that manned missions
The US manned spaceflight pro- are useful in exploring the solar sys-

gramme is on an “unsustainable tra- tem. “There are many things we can
jectory” according to a committee do with robotic assets,” he says. “But
reviewing the country’s ambitious there are many things that humans
plans to send astronauts to the Moon can do that robots can not do – and
and Mars. The committee, chaired by may not be able to do.” Hodges also
former Lockheed Martin chief exe- hopes that any flexible option will in-
cutive Norman Augustine, asserts in clude manned landings on the Moon
a report issued last month that send- and also the Martian moons, where
ing astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit astronauts could command robotic
will require NASA’s budget to be in- instruments on the Martian surface in
creased by $3bn a year. The Augus- real time. “There is a great tactical
tine report adds that even with extra advantage to exploring the surface of
funding, NASA should try to colla- Mars from a moon,” he says.
borate with other countries and ex- The committee will soon present a
ploit commercial launch services. final report to the Obama Adminis-
The report puts forward five op- Guided tour by the mid-2020s, but one would de- tration’s Office of Science and Tech-
tions for future US manned space- The Augustine orbit the ISS, while the other would nology Policy (OSTP) and NASA.
flight. Two involve holding the space committee examine let it remain in position until 2020. With the Administration due to make
agency’s annual budget at the cur- NASA’s Michoud The final option is a “flexible path” its request to Congress in February for
rently proposed limits. These would Assembly Facility in that would start with sending astro- the 2011 financial year, both parties
force NASA to either deorbit the New Orleans. nauts on manned lunar and Martian will have to react fast to the recom-
International Space Station in 2016 fly-bys by 2020 and the option to visit mendations. NASA Administrator
and wait for a manned lunar lander Lagrange points and asteroids. The Charles Bolden has said the agency
until the 2030s, or abandon plans for a path would also include possible will work with the OSTP to review and
Moon lander and instead develop rendezvous with Mars’s two moons evaluate the options put forth by the
commercial services to take crews into Phobos and Deimos or a human re- committee. “Ultimately, of course,
low-Earth orbit. turn to the Moon by the late 2020s. the president will make the final de-
The other three options all require All these three options would be a cision,” says Bolden.
an extra $3bn in annual funding. Two preparation for a manned mission to Peter Gwynne
would return astronauts to the Moon Mars, which is, according to the re- Boston, MA

India analyses loss of lunar orbiter higher orbit meant a loss of resolution
in imaging but an increased speed of
data collection. The final, abrupt, loss
of radio contact on 29 August may
After a flawless launch last year, have been due to the failure of the

Down and out

Chandrayaan-1, India’s first lunar Chandrayaan-1 – back-up control unit, Alex speculates.
orbiter, has come to a disappointing India’s first mission On 20 August, Chandrayaan-1 at-
end. In the early hours of 29 August, to the Moon – has tempted a first-ever coordinated
the tracking network of the Indian failed halfway “bistatic radar” experiment with
Space Research Organization (ISRO) through its two- NASA’s recently launched Lunar Re-
lost its link with the satellite, just year programme. connaissance Orbiter (LRO). The
312 days into a planned two-year mis- plan was for the radars on both sat-
sion. However, ISRO scientists have ellites to point simultaneously at the
concluded that the 11 onboard ex- Moon’s permanently shadowed Er-
periments had “largely met their ob- langer Crater and receive reflected
jectives of studying the Moon from radio waves from different angles
different perspectives”. but according to T K Alex, head of the and reveal the presence of ice near
A failure-analysis committee is ex- ISRO Satellite Centre, one of the the lunar north pole. But ISRO and
pected to focus on various anomalies, computers in the control unit failed NASA scientists disagree over why
including temperature swings owing soon afterwards. the attempt failed, with NASA ascri-
to the harsh lunar environment, that A sequence of malfunctions fol- bing it to the inability of the Indian
may have contributed to a series of lowed, including a device used to fix craft’s radar to point accurately at the
minor failures prior to the communi- the spacecraft’s direction by locking crater because of more-than-anti-
cation loss. Each instrument on the the orientation of the on-board gyro- cipated gyroscopic drift. The ISRO
orbiter had its own characteristic op- scope with respect to a distant star. An scientists, however, say that the tricky
erating temperature, varying from improvized substitute technique to manoeuvres were achieved as plan-
–17 to 40 °C, but in November 2008, determine the spacecraft’s attitude ned but that the LRO had signal-
the satellite’s temperature soared to required frequent orbit corrections, reception problems.
50 °C. Mission specialists solved the so the satellite was raised to a higher, Ramaseshan Ramachandran
problem by re-orienting the satellite, more stable orbit on 19 May. This New Delhi

8 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09news 21/9/09 17:02 Page 9 News & Analysis

Spain powers ahead with solar-thermal Physicist advises UK on energy
The Cambridge University physicist
Spain is rapidly becoming a world leader David MacKay has been appointed chief

Acconia Energía
in solar-thermal power generation with scientific adviser to the UK government’s
the inauguration last month of a new Department of Energy and Climate
11 MW plant in Sanlúcar. It follows hot Change. MacKay, 42, who works on
on the heels of the opening in July of two machine learning and information theory,
50 MW similar plants in Guadix and is author of the book Sustainable Energy –
Badajoz. Costing 7300m, the Guadix Without the Hot Air, which offers no-
plant occupies an area of 2 km2 and will nonsense numerical estimates of the UK’s
produce enough electricity for an future energy production and consumption
estimated 15 000 homes; while the after fossil-fuels run out. Last month
7236m Badajoz plant has an area of MacKay described climate change and
1.3 km2 and will produce enough secure energy as “two of the most urgent
electricity for 28 000 homes. issues facing the UK and the global
According to Carlos Muñoz, head of the community” and added that “the solutions
thermoelectric section of the APPA, the The heat is on the liquid is placed in a container above a must be rooted firmly in science”. A review
Spanish association of producers of The 50 MW solar- tower and mirrors on the ground focus the of his book appears on pp46—47.
renewable energies, Spain has a further thermal plant at light onto it.
10 solar thermal plants in construction. Badajoz in Spain will Solar-thermal is especially attractive Aage Niels Bohr: 1922–2009
When complete, they would meet – and produce electricity for because heat can be stored before The Danish physicist and Nobel laureate
probably exceed – the Spanish 28 000 homes. converting it into electricity, thus allowing Aage Niels Bohr died on 8 September at
government’s objective to reach 500 MW the plant to produce energy when there is the age of 87. The fourth son of quantum-
from solar-thermal plants by 2010. no sunlight for up to seven hours. About physics pioneer Niels Bohr, he shared the
However, the country still lags behind the 35 projects for new thermo-solar plants 1975 Nobel Prize for Physics with
US, which currently generates 350 MW were presented to the Spanish Ministry Ben Mottelson and Leo Rainwater for their
from such facilities. of Industry between June and July. work on the structure of the nucleus. The
Solar-thermal plants work by focusing “If they are all approved, we expect trio combined the liquid-drop model of the
light through parabolic-shaped mirrors 2200–2500 MW installed in Spain by atomic nucleus, which pictures it as an
onto oil, molten salts or water. The heated 2011,” says Muñoz. This, he says, would incompressible fluid, with the “shell”
liquid is then used to produce steam that be about 5% of the country’s annual model to produce a “collective model” of
drives turbines. Another mode of energy consumption. the nucleus. Bohr studied physics at the
operation, as used at the new plant in Michele Catanzaro University of Copenhagen in 1940 before
Sanlúcar, involves a tower design. Here, Barcelona he and his family were forced to flee
Denmark because of their Jewish

High-risk energy plans yield low rewards background after the Nazis invaded the
country. Bohr later worked on the
Manhattan Project at Los Alamos with his
Scientists have complained that a new I had no idea sons for rejection is Martin Hoffert father, whom he also succeeded in 1963
research body run by the US Depart- what the from New York University. “I had no as head of the Institute for Theoretical
ment of Energy (DOE) is suffering idea what the referees had said or Physics in Copenhagen.
from management problems and is referees had the expertise of those involved in the
rejecting funding proposals without said or refereeing,” says Hoffert, whose team Alan Turing receives official apology
stating why. The DOE’s Advanced the expertise had proposed research on the feasi- UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has
Research Projects Agency–Energy bility of space-based solar-power tech- issued a posthumous apology to the
(ARPA-E) – created in 2007 – is de-
of those nology using diode lasers rather than mathematician Alan Turing over the
signed to fund high-risk, high-payoff involved in the microwaves as the transmission me- “appalling” way he was treated by the
research and development projects in refereeing dium. Even though NASA had pre- British government for being gay. In a letter
energy. However, the agency, which viously endorsed the concept, Hoffert to the Daily Telegraph, Brown said that he
received its first budget in April, has says he was treated like other research- was “very proud to say: we’re sorry. You
so far turned down almost 95% of ers who had “off-the-wall ideas”. deserved so much better.” The apology
proposals after the first round. The problem stems in part from came after thousands signed an online
ARPA-E is meant to fund new pro- ARPA-E not having a director – al- petition created by computer scientist
jects that could help to reduce emis- though Arun Majumdar from the John Graham Cumming. In addition to
sions of greenhouse gases and the Lawrence Berkeley National Labor- helping crack the codes of the German
US’s dependence on foreign sources atory is expected to be appointed soon Enigma machine during the Second World
of energy. Since April, the agency has – and too few programme managers. War, Turing pioneered modern computing
received 3500 eight-page “concept But the agency says that applicants and was a key thinker in artificial
proposals” asking for a share of the can submit full proposals even if they intelligence. In 1952 he was convicted of
$150m in research cash. However, all receive a “rejection” letter. “It is just a “gross indecency” for being gay. Faced
but 200 of the applicants received a different way of operating from what with the choice of incarceration or
letter stating that their proposals were scientists are used to,” a DOE spokes- “chemical castration”, Turing opted for the
“unlikely to be funded”. person told Physics World. latter, but committed suicide two years
One scientist to have complained Peter Gwynne later aged just 41.
that the letters did not state the rea- Boston, MA

Physics World October 2009 9

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News & Analysis

Clusters propel German universities cipating universities are given all the
cash, which it distributes to the other
partners. Although there are two clus-
ters that feature two universities in
Science in Germany may be world class but many of the best researchers different parts of Germany, most are
formed between universities and re-
are not in the university system. Michael Banks looks at an initiative to search institutes in the same city or
strengthen the country’s universities by creating “clusters of excellence” surrounding region. “I think that
being local means that it is easier to

Matin Durrani
The annual publication of a list of demonstrate that the cluster benefits
the world’s top universities by the the university,” says Wehrberger.
Times Higher Education newspaper
must make grim reading for research- A shining light
ers in Germany. The list, drawn up in One particularly successful cluster
partnership with education provider is the Munich-Centre for Advanced
Quacquarelli Symonds, last year in- Photonics (MAP) based at Garching,
cluded only three German univer- north of the city. Consisting of four
sities in the top 100 – Heidelberg in partners – the LMU, the TU, the Max
57th spot, followed by the Technical Planck Institute for Quantum Optics
University (TU) in Munich (78th) and and the military’s Bundeswehr Uni-
the Ludwig-Maximilians-University versity Munich – MAP has about 300
(LMU), also in Munich, coming in researchers working on everything
a lowly 93rd. The US in contrast, has from quantum optics and radiological
37 of the top 100 universities, while imaging to quantum information.
the UK boasts 17. The photonics centre receives
Yet Germany is, of course, a power- about 77m per year in funding, which
house in scientific research, publish- has been used to employ seven new
ing more than 100 000 papers in associate professors and two full pro-
physics each year. One reason for the fessors who are based at the three
relative weakness of the country’s uni- participating universities. “A sub-
versities is that many top researchers stantial fraction, almost 50%, of the
are attracted to Germany’s 76 Max funding went directly or indirectly
Planck Institutes, where staff are well into new positions,” says Ferenc
funded, do not have to teach and can Krausz, a director of the Max Planck
instead focus fully on research. Scat- Big impact to help universities and technical Institute for Quantum Optics and co-
tered across the country, the institutes Ferenc Krausz at the schools recruit more students, the ini- director of MAP.
are recognized for leading their fields Max Planck Institute tiative also includes a 72.7bn fund According to Krausz, the cluster is
in basic research in everything from for Quantum Optics, specifically designed to boost research good for the university groups as they
biophysics to plasma physics. which is collaborating at German universities, via what is get the chance to access cutting-edge
Other scientists, meanwhile, are with local universities known as the “excellence initiative”. equipment at the Max Planck Insti-
drawn to the Helmholtz Association on research into Launched in 2006, the initiative has tute, while the Max Planck Institutes
of German research centres, which advanced photonics. so far led to nine universities – inclu- can use it to attract PhD students
include world-leading labs such as ding the LMU, TU and Heidelberg – or postdocs. Krausz says that more
DESY in Hamburg and the GSI receiving extra funds in order to cre- than 300 papers have been published
heavy-ion facility in Darmstadt. Ger- ate a German-style “Ivy league” and by the cluster, with about 25 of these
many’s research base is further streng- so push more German universities appearing in top journals such as
thened by the Leibniz Association, into the top 100. The excellence ini- Nature and Science.
which has a total of 84 institutes, while tiative also includes a programme to Although the clusters of excellence
the 60 Fraunhofer institutes work on create “clusters of excellence” . It gives operate on five-year funding cycles,
applied research in association with cash to universities to not only fund some say it makes sense to limit how
German industry. Indeed, such is the their own research but to also colla- long they are supported for so as to
strength of German science that in the borate with nearby research centres foster competition. However, the Ger-
last 10 years five Germans have been such as the Max Planck institutes. The man government is now considering
awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, 71.9bn programme now incorporates allowing the clusters to be funded for
of whom two – Peter Grünberg (2007) 37 clusters across social science, engin- an extra five years. “The current time
and Theodor Hänsch (2004) – spent eering and the physical sciences. frame of five years is really not long
most of their careers in the country, We have to “The aim was to strengthen very enough to establish research pro-
but not in the university system. strengthen the good universities and departments grammes,” says Wehrberger. “We be-
In an attempt to make Germany’s universities. that are strong in their field,” says lieve that a 10-year funding period will
universities more competitive inter- They are the Klaus Wehrberger, head of the re- be necessary to fully develop the po-
nationally, in June the chancellor search centres division at the German tential of these clusters.”
Angela Merkel, who is a physicist by centre of Research Foundation (DFG). Suc- But for Krausz in Munich even “five
training, unveiled a 718bn 10-year education for cessful clusters are chosen for the plus five” may still not be enough.
plan for German science and educa- the young and originality of their research, the level “You have to hire people and then
tion. In addition to 77.5bn for the four of interdisciplinary of that work and build the structure in the university
national scientific institutions men-
for the future the ability of a university to be able to and that needs reforms,” he says. “My
tioned above between 2011 and 2015, of German create a cluster. wish would be to fund the clusters for
and a 77.9bn “higher education pact” science Once a cluster is successful, parti- 20 years.”

10 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09news 21/9/09 17:03 Page 11 News & Analysis

Driving excellence done by groups at the university, with each receiving three institutes within
Although it was launched in 2006, in the remainder done at the Forschung- the last 15 years. But although Wehr-
fact the 71.9bn cluster of excellence zentrum Karlsruhe. “I would say that berger says that there is no selection
programme grew out of an earlier “re- the cluster has increased collabor- bias when picking the clusters that are
search centres” programme launched ation between groups quite substan- funded, the clusters of excellence
in 2001 by the DFG to make inter- tially,” says Schön. “We have seen a initiative has so far favoured universi-
nationally visible research groups at significant number of joint publica- ties in the west, with only five of the
universities and to fund them with tions between the university and the 37 clusters being in the east.
about 75m per year. One project that Forschungzentrum, and about a quar- “The lower concentration is eastern
emerged from this is the Centre for ter of published papers between dif- Germany is not really unexpected,”
Functional Nanostructures (CFN) in ferent groups within the university.” says Wehrberger. “They know that
Karlsruhe, which is a collaboration is they have to do more to get a good
between the University of Karlsruhe Moving east? foundation, upon which they can form
and the Forschungzentrum Karlsruhe. But two decades after the fall of the clusters of excellence.” For him, the
Having run for eight years, it now sup- Berlin Wall, which led in 1990 to the key is to strengthen Germany’s uni-
ports about 250 scientists, including reunification of Germany, the bigger versities wherever they are. “We have
47 professors or group leaders, who question is whether the universities in to strengthen the universities. They
together work on over 90 research former East Germany have been im- are the centre of education for the
projects in areas like nanophotonics, proved as a result of programmes like young and for the future of German
nanoelectronics and nanomaterials. the excellence initiative. Research has science,” he says.
According to physicist Gerd Schön certainly been boosted by the creation The 2009 list of the world’s top 100
at the CFN, nearly 80% of the re- of Max Planck Institutes in the east, universities, due out this month, is
search carried out at the centre is with Dresden, Berlin and Leipzig sure to make interesting reading.

Research ethics cult” cases are likely to drag on for at

least another year. Prosecutors do

Germany in ‘cash for PhDs’ scandal not, however, expect to file criminal
charges against doctoral candidates,
because there is currently no evidence
that the people involved were aware
that the consultancy service was bri-

Lawrence Lawry/Science Photo Library

German prosecutors are continuing
to investigate about 100 professors bing professors on their behalf.
suspected of taking cash bribes to help The 100 academics work in various
students obtain doctoral degrees – a disciplines, including natural sciences,
national academic scandal that re- but only a few are full professors with
search minister Annette Schavan has tenured positions. Breloer, citing Ger-
said could tarnish Germany’s inter- many’s strict privacy laws, declined to
national reputation in science. provide further details about the pro-
News of the investigation broke fessors or to name the universities in-
in the German press in late August volved. However, the daily newspaper
during the general-election campaign, Neue Westfälische reported that the
triggering calls for stricter academic universities allegedly affected are in
controls in a nation where the title Bayreuth, Berlin, Bielefeld, Cologne,
“Doktor” can greatly improve careers. Frankfurt, Hagen, Hamburg, Han-
However, Carolin Breloer, a prose- nover, Ingolstadt, Jena, Leipzig, Tü-
cutor in Cologne, told Physics World bingen and Rostock.
that none of the professors under March 2008, both the consultancy’s Cash in hand Gunnar Berg, secretary for natural
investigation had supervised candi- managing director and a University of German prosecutors sciences at the German Academy of
dates for PhDs in physics. Hanover law professor – who was are investigating Sciences Leopoldina, told Physics
The problem came to prosecutors’ adjudged to have been paid about 100 professors World that news of the investigation
attention during a court case last year 7184 000 in bribes for accepting accused of taking will no doubt harm Germany’s inter-
involving the Institute for Academic dozens of doctoral candidates – re- bribes to accept national reputation, but not irrepar-
Consultancy, a Cologne-based firm ceived prison sentences for bribery. doctoral students. ably. “Colleagues around the world
that charged potential doctoral can- Charges against other academics in- who are familiar with Germany’s insti-
didates up to 720 000 for advice in volved in the scheme may follow, tutes and labs will know that the inves-
selecting dissertation topics and su- Breloer says, because the supervision tigation is an exception and does not
pervisors. Such services are not ille- of dissertations for doctoral degrees reflect the whole system,” says Berg.
gal, but officials at the 20-year-old is considered a public service in Ger- Nonetheless, he believes any pro-
company may have crossed the line many, so professors paid outside fessor convicted of accepting bribes
by paying participating professors money for the service can be crim- should be subject to disciplinary pro-
between 72000 and 75000 for each inally charged with bribery. ceedings by their university with the
client they accepted for supervision. Potential punishments for aca- possibility of losing their academic po-
In some cases, the weak academic re- demics who either plead guilty to sition. “There must be consequences
cords of clients would have made it avoid court proceedings or are con- to show outsiders that the great major-
difficult for them to be accepted into victed in court will depend on the ity of the scientific community cannot
doctoral programmes, Breloer says. severity of their crimes and their accept such behaviour,” he says.
After the authorities confiscated cooperation in the investigation, she Ned Stafford
files and computers at the firm in says, noting that some “more diffi- Hamburg

Physics World October 2009 11

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News & Analysis

Telescope for a digital age

Astronomers are exploring the largely untapped low-frequency end of the radio spectrum by combining
thousands of antennas with cutting-edge computer technology. Edwin Cartlidge reports on their
“software telescope”
Think of a radio telescope and what is eight different directions at the same

likely to come to mind is a huge white time. As the various stations are
dish pointing skyward, such as the spread out over Western Europe,
76 m Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank combining the signals from all these
in the UK or the 100 m Green Bank different locations provides LOFAR
Telescope in West Virginia. Indeed, with its high resolution.
such dish telescopes have been the LOFAR will use antenna divided
mainstay of radio astronomy for the into two kinds – low-band antennas
last 50 years, allowing astronomers to operating from 10–90 MHz and high-
discover new kinds of celestial objects, band devices operating between 110
such as pulsars and masers, not visible and 250 MHz. Several hundred of
at optical frequencies. However, such each type will be placed together at
dishes do not work well when it comes a single station, and there will be 18
to observing the lowest frequency such stations distributed over several
radio waves – below about 100 MHz – square kilometres at the core site, cur-
because their diameter is too small rently being built in Drenthe, a pro-
relative to the wavelength to provide Overcoming the ionosphere LOFAR so good vince in the north of the Netherlands.
adequate resolution. Radio astronomy was in fact born More than 50 000 There will be a further 18 stations
To open up this largely unexplored at very low frequencies. In 1931 Bell antennas spread within 50 kilometres of this site and
section of the electromagnetic spec- Telephone engineer Karl Jansky was across Europe will then several other stations in France,
trum, astronomers are developing a investigating the origin of interfer- make up the 7100m Germany, Sweden and the UK. The
number of facilities consisting of di- ence in shortwave communications Low Frequency Radio long baselines that result will provide a
pole antennas – simple wires that across the Atlantic when he discov- Array (LOFAR). high enough resolution that radio
work just like FM receivers. Since ered radio waves at 20 MHz coming sources can be identified with visual
they are very cheap to make, many from the centre of the Milky Way. But objects, even at the lowest frequencies.
such antennas can be placed together because these low-frequency signals
to create a huge and therefore sen- are heavily distorted by the Earth’s Looking back in time
sitive telescope at low cost. The only ionosphere, radio astronomers have LOFAR was originally an interna-
catch is that these arrays rely on huge since concentrated on the higher end tional consortium, comprising astron-
amounts of computing power, with of the spectrum, where such distor- omers from Australia, Europe and
the signals from the antennas being tions are less important the US. However, after disagreements
digitized, sent to a central processor Since the early 1990s, astronomers over where to site the project, the con-
and then combined using software have been using computer programs sortium split, with the result that the
so that they emulate the output of a to correct for such ionospheric in- Murchison Widefield Array (MWA)
conventional telescope. terference for an array of dishes. is now being built in Western Aus-
The largest such telescope that is However, such corrections are harder tralia, with separate plans for similar
currently under construction is the to make when radio signals are com- facilities in the US and China.
7100m Low Frequency Radio Array bined using interferometry from One of LOFAR’s specific aims
(LOFAR), which, when complete, arrays of dishes separated by up to will be to study “reionization” – the
will consist of 50 000 antenna stations several hundred kilometres – a tech- period that began a few hundred thou-
throughout the Netherlands and nique that is needed to improve the sand years after the Big Bang when
nearby countries such as Germany, otherwise poor resolution of radio the neutral hydrogen filling the uni-
Sweden and the UK. Being developed astronomy. It is in order to achieve verse at that time began forming into
by a consortium under the leadership high resolutions while also overcom- stars and galaxies. These stars and
of ASTRON, the Netherlands Insti- ing the blurring effects of the iono- galaxies then ionized their environ-
tute for Radio Astronomy, LOFAR sphere that astronomers are now ment, destroying neutral hydrogen in
will allow scientists to look back to the turning to arrays of dipole antennas. the process and leaving a marker for
formation of the first stars in the uni- Dish telescopes bring incoming the evolution of the universe. LOFAR
verse, scan the skies for rare transient waves from a particular direction to It places most can observe this neutral hydrogen
phenomena, and study high-energy a focus at a single point by virtue of of the costs not because its redshifted emission prob-
cosmic rays. their parabolic geometry. An antenna in some huge ably lies at about 140 MHz. However,
Michael Garrett, general director of array, in contrast, works by calculating more sensitive instruments will be
ASTRON, points out that this project the difference in arrival times of a steel parabolic needed to chart the evolution of this
represents a fundamental change in wave at neighbouring antennas and antenna, but in star-forming period by mapping neut-
the development of radio telescopes. then introducing an equal delay when commercially ral hydrogen as a function of fre-
“It places most of the costs not in some combining the signals from these an- quency (i.e. the redshift).
huge steel parabolic antenna,” he says, tennas. In fact, by carrying out many
available back- In addition, the fact that LOFAR
“but in commercially available back- such calculations simultaneously, end digital can observe eight different patches of
end digital electronics.” LOFAR can observe “beams” from electronics the sky at the same time (and retro-

12 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09news 21/9/09 17:03 Page 13 News & Analysis

spectively look at the whole sky) Astronomy

means that it is ideal for carrying out
surveys and monitoring very short-
lived phenomena. These include New labs boost Australian array bid
supernovae explosions and the con-
sumption of companion stars by su- Australia has opened one new astronomy Murchison radio-astronomy observatory,

permassive black holes. The telescope centre and announced plans for another which will form the “core” of Australia’s
will also be used to study the solar as part of the country’s bid to host the SKA bid, and where installation of a
wind, the structure and evolution of Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio pathfinder array, known as ASKAP, is
cosmic magnetism, and ultra-high- telescope. The A$100m International scheduled to begin later this year.
energy cosmic rays via the radio emis- Centre for Radio Astronomy Research The centre is being funded by the
sion produced by showers in the (ICRAR) in Perth, Western Australia, West Australian state government and
Earth’s atmosphere. was formally opened last month, while the universities of Western Australia
The computing and data-transport a planned A$80m high-performance Looking up and Curtin, and will eventually employ
power of the facility might also be computing centre nearby will serve An artist’s impression 50–60 staff, including international
used in more down-to-Earth appli- SKA-related projects and others in the of the ASKAP collaborators, Tingay says.
cations by attaching other instruments physical sciences. The two facilities are pathfinder array at The computing centre, meanwhile, is
to the array. For example, a set of geo- designed to help realize SKA and also the Murchison to be supported by federal funds. Named
phones will be used to carry out seis- boost Australia’s chances against a rival Radio-Astronomy after Australian radio-astronomy pioneer
mic imaging of the way the low-lying South Africa-led proposal to host it. Observatory. Joe Pawsey, it will be open to all
Netherlands is sinking due to natural The SKA concept is based on an array Australian researchers requiring access
gas being pumped out of the ground. of 2000–3000 linked antennas, which to supercomputing resources. Initially,
Namir Kassim, a radio astronomer will be scattered from a central “core” to however, its main focus will be the signal-
at the Naval Research Laboratory in remote stations, giving the array the processing tasks associated with ASKAP
Washington, DC, who was project same collecting area as a hypothetical and another radio-astronomy facility, the
scientist for LOFAR in its previous 1 km-diameter steerable dish. Key Murchison Widefield Array, which is
incarnation, is confident that the scientific challenges include designing currently under construction.
facility will do valuable science. “The the antennas and developing the Meanwhile, New Zealand has formally
low-frequency end of the radio spec- computing capacity to handle the joined Australia’s SKA bid, raising the
trum is so poorly explored that it terabytes of data that both SKA and possibility that up to 20 antennas could
is quite a safe bet that LOFAR will smaller prototype arrays – known as be built on the country’s North and South
lead to important new discoveries for “pathfinders” – will generate. Islands, some 5000 km away from the
astrophysics,” he says. That senti- Steven Tingay, ICRAR’s deputy director, candidate core site in Western Australia.
ment is echoed by Philip Diamond, says that projects at the new centre will Such a long “baseline” would boost an
director of Jodrell Bank, who regards include designing and testing arrays of Australia-based telescope’s ability to
LOFAR as “an instrument that has all-electronic telescopes like those resolve distant objects.
been designed to do science we may planned for SKA. The centre will also Peter Pockley
not yet have thought of”. provide operational support for the Sydney
Five stations have now been com-
pleted in Germany and the Nether- Medical physics
lands. The first interferometric fringes
have since been produced and Garrett
says that the vast majority of the Dutch Study warns of radiation risk in medical imaging
and European stations should be com-
plete by the time of the formal open- A study of a million US patients sug- If a procedure sociated with the procedures.
ing of the facility, which is scheduled gests that some who undergo medical The data revealed that 0.2% of the
for June next year. imaging could be exposed to more
is used patients received an annual dose of
But Diamond warns that getting ionizing radiation than those who appropriately, more than 50 mSv – equal to the limit
LOFAR fully up and running will be a work with radioactive materials in then the benefit for occupational exposure to workers
challenge. “The team has needed to nuclear power plants. The study, re- far outweighs in nuclear power plants and other
develop techniques to deal with radio- ported in The New England Journal sources of ionizing radiation. The
frequency interference, and the re- of Medicine (361 849), implies that any risk authors suggests that, generalizing the
searchers will also have to cope with current exposure to radiation from from ionizing results to the entire US population,
the solar maximum predicted for 2013 conventional X-ray equipment as well radiation about 400 000 adults could be exposed
and the resultant disruption to the as computed tomography (CT) and to such a high dose; whereas four mil-
ionosphere,” he says. “They are also positron-emission tomography (PET) lion could receive annual doses above
going to test the new computational scanners could lead to tens of thou- 20 mSv – the occupational limit for
techniques to their limit.” Still, Dia- sands of extra cases of cancer in the airline crews.
mond adds that this experience should US alone. Brahmajee Nallamothu of the Uni-
prove valuable in the construction of The study was carried out by a team versity of Michigan, a co-author of
radio astronomers’ next hoped-for led by cardiologist Reza Fazel of the paper, notes, however, that the
monster telescope, the Square Kilo- Emory University, who used data risk to any individual for a single test
metre Array (see right). As its name from insurance claims to identify the may be small. “If a procedure is used
suggests, this facility would use detec- number and types of procedures that appropriately, then the benefit far
tors with a combined area of a square patients underwent between 2005 outweighs any risk from ionizing radi-
kilometre, an undertaking that is likely and 2007. The team then estimated ation,” adds Fazel.
to cost at least $1.5bn. LOFAR, in individuals’ exposure to ionizing radi- Peter Gwynne
comparison, will be a snip. ation based on the effective doses as- Boston, MA

Physics World October 2009 13

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Untitled-18 1 22/9/09 10:00:15

PWOct09feedback 18/9/09 09:28 Page 15

cosmology. I agree with Susskind that the

Letters to the Editor can be sent to Physics World,
idea of a “cosmic watchmaker” is not
science – it is faith and belief expressed via
religion. However, it seems to me that a
multiverse of mutating universes is not
strictly science either, because it is, and
Dirac House, Temple Back, Bristol BS1 6BE, UK, probably always will be, untestable.
or to Please include your address and The author rightly refers to theories, but
a telephone number. Letters should be no more than often these straddle what can be tested
500 words and may be edited. Comments on articles (“science”) and what cannot (“philosophy”
from can be posted on the website; or “belief”). The fact that scientists do not
an edited selection appears here all believe the same thing about the
existence of a cosmic watchmaker, let
alone what that cosmic watchmaker might
Alternative MRI limits be like, shows there are areas of human
enquiry that cannot be scientifically proved
Denis Le Bihan’s article on magnetic or disproved. That should not, however,
resonance imaging (MRI) clearly shows stop us asking the questions, nor seeking to
the incompatibility of the International
Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Neutron scattering provide models and hypotheses based on
what we can test.
Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines with MRI Accepting the reasonable hypothesis of a
practice (August pp16–17). Although the
ICNIRP recently relaxed its limits on static
gets short-changed multiverse as described in the article only
leads to more questions, such as “Why does
magnetic fields, the stringent limits on In your excellent coverage of the latest the multiverse exist at all?”. Surely, when
low-frequency magnetic fields remain round of funding cuts by the UK’s Science science leads to questions beyond its means
incompatible with certain MRI and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), to answer, it is revealed – alongside religion
procedures. Moreover, the ICNIRP limits you highlight the problems that will be and art – as a basic part of human enquiry,
contrast sharply with those of the Institute caused by the severely reduced operations experience and expression.
of Electrical and Electronics Engineers of the ISIS neutron source (August p7 and Elaine Pierpont
(IEEE), even though both are derived p15). As a frequent neutron scatterer, I can Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire, UK
from the same scientific database. only echo your sentiment that it makes no
The ICNIRP’s extreme precaution was sense at all for the UK to build a superb
criticized in a series of letters to the journal new facility like the £148m ISIS second I very much appreciated Lee Smolin’s
Health Physics as long ago as 1998, and the target station if it can be switched on for article on “The unique universe”
incompatibility with MRI procedures was only 120 days per year. (June p21–26), which argued against the
foreseen. However, this excessive However, I cannot agree with your idea of a timeless multiverse. Perhaps
precaution – which at frequencies in the analysis that this crisis has been triggered people who remain keenly interested in
kilohertz range amounts to exposure limits by a fall in the value of the pound. physics well beyond retirement tend to
that are lower than the IEEE limits by According to STFC’s own press release, its become more “middle of the road”
considerably more than an order of budget includes additional funding to when the subject becomes linked with
magnitude – only became a practical compensate for the effect of international philosophy, but, whatever the reason,
problem when the European Commission exchange-rate movements on its large most thinking people I know appear to
mandated the ICNIRP limits in its 2004 international subscriptions. This extra accept that time must exist.
directive restricting occupational funding kicks in once the cost due to Even if its existence can be regarded as
exposures to electromagnetic fields. currency fluctuations exceeds a £3m annual a series of timeless “snapshots”, to be
As of July, the ICNIRP is inviting cap. The STFC annual budget of £491m is interested in the progress of existence
comments on a draft revision of its therefore well above its baseline allocation requires the concept of “rate”, as in
low-frequency guidelines (covering the of £429m from the 2007 comprehensive “rate of change of temperature” etc, which
0–100 kHz range). This draft includes a spending review. is easier to conceive and to quantify if the
partial relaxation of limits towards the Next year will mark the 75th anniversary participation of time is accepted. Because
IEEE values (although it does not refer of James Chadwick’s physics Nobel prize of this, I have come to regard time as the
to these specifically). But why stop there? for the discovery of the neutron. As things dimension in which change takes place.
Why not eliminate all the excessive caution stand, we could end up marking this event If this view is taken, a timeless universe
in its guidelines and adopt the IEEE values by switching off ISIS, the UK’s flagship would also be a changeless one. At my
even up to 100 MHz? The IEEE standards neutron-scattering facility. age, I cannot believe that I live in a
are based on the same science used by the Neal Skipper changeless universe!
ICNIRP, and differ only in the magnitude University College London D P Donegan
of their “safety factor”. As past chairmen Chorley, Lancashire, UK
of IEEE who have been involved in
standards-setting for the safe use of I would like to thank Robert Crease
electromagnetic energy for more than
40 years, we feel that there is a scientific
Time, the multiverse for writing about the responses to the
question on religion in Physics World’s
case for international harmonization.
John M Osepchuk and belief 20th anniversary survey (August p18), and
for highlighting the deep ignorance that
Ronald C Petersen prevails over “religion” even in our well-
Concord, Massachusetts, US I read with interest Leonard Susskind’s educated community. To equate religious
Bedminster, New Jersey, US article on “Darwin’s legacy” (July pp42– belief with the tooth fairy, as one survey 45) and how these ideas relate to respondent did, is to be unaware of our

Physics World October 2009 15

PWOct09feedback 18/9/09 09:28 Page 16


Comments from

Recently has been abuzz with looking artificial trees that convert light, heat, sake of “progress”. The geoengineering argument is
debate on geoengineering, thanks to the cover sound, rain and wind energy into electricity; in fundamentally flawed because it doesn’t first
story “Engineering the climate” in the addition, these trees can capture and store CO2 recognize that it is our technologies that created
September issue of Physics World and a series of and other pollutants. And they look much nicer. this problem to begin with. Throwing another
online articles on technology-inspired ways to hankw technology at a problem is not the only solution,
rejig the environment. The first article described but it is the only one that allows us to continue what
how tree-shaped sodium-hydroxide absorbers Wouldn’t it just be easier to plant trees? we are doing and maintain the status quo for
could scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere opalescent, US humans. We should think very carefully about how
(“Engineers call for ‘artificial trees’ to reduce to proceed and why we are proceeding in that
CO2” 27 August). Planting trees instead of creating artificial ones direction. We should consider our personal lifestyle
seems to be a good idea, but the question is, do we choices and the impacts they have on the ecology.
Using sodium hydroxide to absorb CO2 is just have enough room for all these trees we’d need to Instead of scientists pursuing activities to promote
entropically stupid. Sodium hydroxide is a co- plant? And I’m afraid the answer is no. I’m also their research agendas, it would be much better to
product in the energy-intensive electrolysis of salt. afraid that these artificial trees will need some see us trying to clarify much of the obfuscation
What happened to “cradle to grave” economic energy to create, even more energy to run, and that surrounding the use of technology in everyday life.
accounting? Algae scrubbers for coal-fired power they will run on a type of energy that produces CO2 Which is easier to change: the world or yourself?
stations are a better idea as a short-term solution in some other place, probably defeating their heliostat, Germany
while we wean ourselves off fossil-fuel energy. purpose. The same goes for algae. Let’s let algae
hughlaue, South Africa absorb CO2 for a while (check mark: absorbed CO2 Unfortunately, within the current economic and
quota), then let’s use them as biofuel (check mark: technological framework, it may just be easier to
Sodium hydroxide is energetically costly, but used biofuels quota) and happily release all change the world. Rather than causing discomfort
alkaline earth orthosilicates – like olivine (aka captured CO2 back to the atmosphere. to the over-consumptive masses, we’d tinker with
peridot) and wollastonite – are not, and finding kasuha, Czech Republic redoubtable global systems we just don’t
cubic myriametres of them is easy. Pulverizing the understand. Look, I have a sense of curiosity as
necessary smaller amounts is harder, but not as Days later, reported on a much as the next scientist, but when most of our
hard as making and remaking NaOH, and when study by the Royal Society that discussed the scientific and technological advancements have
pulverized Mg2SiO4 sucks down CO2, entropy costs and benefits of several methods been made ultimately in the name of consumerism
increases. Thus, mining operations have (“Geoengineering could be needed to halt or war, I am led to question the fundamental value
demonstrated carbon capture and storage on a far climate change” 1 September). of progress.
larger scale than artificial trees ever will, and have Jarrod, South Africa
done so at zero marginal cost and without any Geoengineering is a form of technology that could
forethought on the part of the miners. be employed on a massive scale and cause
GRLCowan, Canada unknown cascading effects (both positive and
negative) to human existence. Scientists are too
A British company, SolarBotanic, has developed quick in implementing technologies without Read these comments in full and add your own at
something similar, except they make natural- contemplating the consequences first – all for the

cultural history. One obvious example (of

many) is the conception underpinning our
great cathedrals, which ought at least to be
Astrophotography issue in the local Bayer group, and the camera’s
software then interprets the star image as
white, rather than the correct colour.
considered a great humanist achievement. Regarding David Pye and Ray Crundwell’s Simon Fedida
The religious thought that supports these picture of Sirius (July p21), I think it is London, UK
concepts is clearly not empty. possible that the colours shown in the star
I would further argue that it is streak are artefacts of the Bayer pattern on
Christianity that taught us how to think the front of the camera’s CCD, particularly David Pye and Ray Crundwell reply:
scientifically in the first place (although if the track is only a few pixels wide. The While we recognize that digital
later, brilliant contributions from Muslim Bayer pattern is a layer of dye filters coated photography can sometimes lead to
scholars also deserve acknowledgement). over the CCD glass in a red–green–blue artefacts, we feel sure that Simon Fedida is
Ancient Greek thought was mathematical, (RGB) dot pattern. Single CCD cameras incorrect in the case of our Sirius streak
not scientific. It is widely acknowledged use software to synthesize the final colour image. First, his theory would suggest that
that while Aristotle was an outstanding of a pixel from the relative response of a each coloured component of the streak
biologist, he was too deeply misguided as a group of CCD pixels depending on would only be about as long as it is wide,
physicist to be considered as such. And whether each CCD pixel is behind an R, but the length actually depends entirely on
Ptolemy’s geocentric synthesis – the G or B filter. So a point source like a star, how fast the camera shakes (faster shaking
crowning achievement of Greek finely focused, may not cover enough CCD equals longer streaks). Secondly, we have
mathematics – was considered just that: pixels and their filters to give the correct many out-of-focus images that show the
a mathematical fiction that saved the colour balance. Moving the camera to give colour sequences just as clearly;
phenomena but was not actually true. It a streak just illuminates different groups of incidentally, measurements of the sharper,
was the Christian Galileo who was bold pixels, resulting in a varying colour balance. published image show that the streak is
enough to say that it was true that the So, how wide (in pixels) is the star streak, consistently 4–4.5 pixels wide. Thirdly, the
Earth went round the Sun. Truth is what and does it cover an adequate number of phenomenon of coloured scintillation is
we are after. pixels to give the correct colour balance? already well known; all we did was to
Chris Jeynes A related, but opposite, problem in record the effect with a camera in order to
Ion Beam Centre, University of Surrey, UK astrophotography is that a bright star (all share its beauty. It can be seen easily with stars are coloured!) saturates all the pixels binoculars and we would encourage

16 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09feedback 21/9/09 13:49 Page 17 Feedback

readers to try this for themselves when combined gas and electricity bill (for a 2 °C. By the time the central heating is
Sirius appears again this winter. family of four) is now £28 per month. switched off sometime in April, the solar
Had I gone with the standard set-up that panels are providing the domestic hot
our installer was offering, I am sure that water except on very wet days, when I
In hot water, again the savings would be nothing like as good:
it pays to do your homework before
manually switch on the immersion heater
for a short time.
Regarding Norman Willcox’s letter about specifying a system. Electric immersion It is difficult to know precisely how
the problems of using solar panels for heaters should be avoided, since, much money the system saves. However,
domestic heating (August p21), I also have environmentally, it is poor form to use a before I installed it, I kept the gas boiler
thermal solar panels installed. However, high-grade energy source such as electricity running for most of the year just for hot
contrary to his disappointing experience, for heating. Also, given that a kilowatt- water. Now it is turned off for at least five
I have found that they provide my family hour of electricity costs about four times as months, which has presumably extended
with a useful amount of hot water. In our much as a kilowatt-hour of gas, it does not its useful life. Moreover, after I installed it,
system, the solar energy is used to heat a make economic sense. The solar industry the gas company queried the very low
store of water, which has no other source of (at the installation level) could do with a gas consumption in summer and
heat. Mains-pressure cold water passes good physics lesson. continued for three or four years to send
through this store via a heat exchanger, Alastair Basden estimated bills for far more than the
removing heat from it and warming up. Durham, UK system had consumed.
If the water becomes warm enough, an If you insist on having a full tank of
unpowered thermostatic valve allows it to piping hot water at all times, then solar
go straight to the hot taps (mixing it with I have been using solar water heating for panels are not for you. Whatever your
cold if it is too hot). However, if it is not hot 20 years, so although I am not a physicist, system, the output will vary from day to day
enough, then the water is directed first I feel able to comment from years of and season to season, and you must
through our previously installed gas- experience. My system works in monitor it to get the best out of it. But I
powered combination boiler and then to combination with gas central heating in would be sorry to be without either the
the taps. winter and an electric immersion heater in solar water system or the photovoltaic
This year, the first day we did not require the summer. The pump supplying the hot- system I have been using to feed energy
the combination boiler for water heating water storage tank kicks in when there is a back to the grid for the past two years.
was in March. Between May and August, 6 °C difference between the temperature Sheila Watkins
we used the boiler only about 20% of the of the panels and the bottom of the tank, Wincanton, Somerset, UK
time, despite a wet July. As a result, our and it cuts out when the difference falls to

C Carreau, ESA
Next month
in Physics World
Recipes for planets
With new observations of exoplanets pouring in,
astronomers are obtaining valuable information about the
temperature and composition of these new worlds that
may help us understand how planets form

Unravelling the threads

Mystery still surrounds a work of art created in 1913 by the
artist Marcel Duchamp, who dropped three threads exactly
a metre long from a height of a metre on to a piece of canvas

Beyond the quantum

Quantum mechanics is a hugely successful theory, but it is
also strange and incomprehensible. Now, though, some
physicists think there may be another level of reality
beyond the quantum world

Plus News & Analysis, Forum, Critical Point, Feedback,

Reviews, Careers and much more

Physics World October 2009 17

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PWOct09leader 21/9/09 17:34 Page 19

The energy puzzle

Physics World
Dirac House, Temple Back, Bristol BS1 6BE, UK
Physics is just the start
Dealing with climate change requires more than just scientific and technical solutions
Tel: +44 (0)117 929 7481
Fax: +44 (0)117 925 1942 There is sure to be plenty of discussion over the next few months about climate
Web: change as politicians and policymakers prepare to meet in Copenhagen in Decem-
ber, where a successor to the Kyoto protocol is due to be hammered out. No doubt
Editor Matin Durrani
Associate Editor Dens Milne
there will be lots of big promises, horse-trading and behind-the-scenes deals struck
News Editor Michael Banks at the eleventh hour, culminating in a protocol or communiqué stating that, yes,
Features Editor João Medeiros the world really must cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

Reviews and Careers Editor Margaret Harris
Web Editor Hamish Johnston But the issue will, as always, be how to put words into
Web Reporter James Dacey action. After all, carbon-dioxide emissions have kept
Advisory Panel John Ellis CERN, Peter Knight on rising since the Kyoto deal was agreed in 1997.
Imperial College London, Martin Rees University The main message of this special issue of Physics
of Cambridge World is that tackling climate change, while meeting
Publisher Jo Allen the world’s current and future energy demands, is not
Marketing and circulation Angela Gage just a scientific and technical challenge but a matter of
Display Advertisement Sales Edward Jost politics and communication too. That theme is under-
Recruitment Advertisement Sales Chris Thomas lined by the physicist and former BP chief executive
Advertisement Production Mark Trimnell Lord Browne, who offers four messages for politicians of whichever persuasion
Art Director Andrew Giaquinto (p20). In addition to rethinking the state’s role in the energy market and seeking a
Diagram Artist Alison Tovey worldwide solution to global warming, Browne warns that governments should not
Subscription information 2009 volume compartmentalize climate change and must encourage action in areas where “eco-
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the Institute of Physics
dangers of climate change, we could end up being blamed by future generations
Copyright © 2009 by IOP Publishing Ltd and individual for “the havoc our ignorance and myopia has brought them”.
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Physics World October 2009 19

PWOct09browne 15/9/09 15:10 Page 20

The energy puzzle: Political hurdles

Challenges in tackling climate change

Tony McConnell/Science Photo Library

In order to limit global warming
by reducing carbon emissions,
Lord Browne argues that
the biggest barriers to a
low-carbon economy in the UK
are not scientific or technological
but political
When it comes to climate change, the gap
between the vision of both scientists and
engineers and the will of politicians is some-
times very stark. The problems caused by the
changing climate are now better understood
than ever, yet there is a frustrating sense of
inertia when it comes to taking action.
The Fourth Assessment Report from the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) suggests that we must halve global
greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 in order
to stand a good chance of limiting global
warming from pre-industrial times to 2 °C.
The UK’s independent Committee on Cli-
mate Change has recommended an 80% do-
mestic reduction in the same period – a target The heat is on Politicians in Westminster may be hampering the UK’s battle against climate change.
now enshrined in the pioneering Climate
Change Act passed in 2008. food crops are already in use, while second- might also prove to be a viable alternative to
Meeting these challenging targets will generation “ligno-cellulosic” biofuels from natural-gas boilers.
require nothing less than a revolution in the energy crops are nearing the commercial With so many technologies to choose
three areas of the UK’s energy mix: elec- development stage. Even in aviation, a sec- from, it is clear that the greatest barriers to
tricity, transport and heating. There are no tor that attracts its fair share of criticism, the low-carbon revolution are not scientific
silver bullets when it comes to low-carbon tests have shown that biofuels can be blen- or technological. Nor, indeed, are they re-
energy and governments should refrain from ded with kerosene in jet-engine fuel. There is lated to macroeconomic cost – various inde-
picking winners at this stage. also growing momentum behind electric pendent analyses put the figure at just a few
cars, run on either renewable electricity or percentage points of gross domestic product
Energy barriers hydrogen fuel cells. lost over the coming decades. The biggest
So what might the future energy mix look In heating, which is often forgotten in barriers are in fact political.
like? In power generation, the UK could debates on energy policy, the UK could
deploy a whole suite of renewable technol- learn from other countries’ experiments Combating climate change
ogies currently at different stages of devel- with combined heat and power co-genera- I would suggest four imperatives for politi-
opment: from mature technologies such as tion plants and district heating networks – cians constructing energy policy in response
onshore wind plants and biomass energy using waste heat from small- and mid-scale to climate change. The first is not to com-
plants to emerging technologies such as off- power plants productively, close to where it partmentalize climate change as an issue. Its
shore wind facilities and photovoltaic solar is generated. Ground-source heat pumps effects will be extensive – affecting every-
cells to experimental technologies in wave that make use of natural geothermal energy thing from weather patterns to defence pol-
and tidal power. icy – and our response to it must be equally
Integrating large amounts of renewable
energy while also keeping costs down will
Politicians must broad. Politicians must lead from the front,
demonstrating to their citizens that environ-
require the development of a more flexible,
“smarter” grid network that is able to intelli- demonstrate that mental integrity is a tangible part of other
social priorities such as economic prosperity
gently manage consumer demand by com- and national security.
municating with meters installed in our
homes. Energy from nuclear plants and fos-
environmental Of course, there will be trade-offs between
climate change and other social priorities.
sil-fuel plants fitted with carbon capture and
storage facilities could then provide clean,
integrity is a tangible A potent example is the question of whether
to build new coal-fired power plants, which
low-cost base-load generation from secure
sources of nuclear fuel and indigenous coal. part of other would enhance energy security but at the
expense of “locking in” harmful emissions
In transport – which is currently 95% re- for decades to come. We should not be un-
liant on oil – first-generation biofuels from social priorities charitable – decisions such as these repre-

20 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09browne 21/9/09 15:45 Page 21 The energy puzzle: Political hurdles

sent a political dilemma of the highest order What the politicians say politicians must seek a global solution to cli-
and there are few easy answers. mate change. The immediate battle against
For this reason, the second imperative is to Climate change cannot be tackled by politicians climate change will be mostly waged in the
pursue action in areas of activity in which eco- on their own but through politicians and people developing world. In the next decade, op-
nomic prosperity, national security and en- working together portunities to reduce emissions in develop-
vironmental integrity come together. Using Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and ing countries represent two-thirds of the
public money for green-energy infrastructure Climate Change global potential. What is more, this could be
and for energy-efficiency improvements achieved at half the cost of action in the
would not only help reduce greenhouse-gas No other major European country generates less developed world.
emissions, but also guide the path towards of its electricity from renewables [than the UK], What these four imperatives point to is a
economic recovery and energy security. although we have some of the best wind, wave and new direction for government policy in re-
There are some who argue that it is not the tidal resources in Europe sponse to climate change. In previous years
role of government to stimulate investment Greg Clark, Shadow Secretary of State for Energy energy policy has been judged by two met-
in new energy industries. But governments and Climate Change rics: security and cost. To this we must now
have been doing this for decades and with add a third: low-carbon generation.
great success. The UK offshore oil and gas Developing our renewables as quickly as possible The impact of this will affect every sector
industry was created from virtually nothing must be the highest energy priority of the UK economy – from agriculture to
during the 1970s and 1980s due, in part, to Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat Shadow finance, and from software management to
generous tax incentives and government Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change civil engineering. It may feel a lot like step-
help to build strategic infrastructure. There ping into the unknown but humanity has
is an even greater cause for government in- energy infrastructure that we urgently need. thrived in those moments where it has most
tervention today because climate-change And in troubled economic times, it is pushed itself. For this generation, the task
mitigation is a public good that would not important that the government has a hand remains to bridge the gap between the scien-
otherwise be recognised by the free market. in directing financial resources to projects tifically possible and the politically feasible.
Given this need for greater government where they are urgently needed. In April the
intervention, the third imperative is for po- UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Lord Browne of Madingley is President
liticians to rethink the state’s role in energy Darling, announced £525m of support for of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
markets. The market is the most effective offshore wind facilities that has been imme- A physicist by training, he is also a
delivery system available to society, but it diately successful in unlocking projects worth former chief executive of BP
needs strategic direction and a framework of a combined 3000 MW.
rules if it is to provide the more diversified The fourth, and final, imperative is that


1 18
Standard Helium
H Catalogue Items 2
1.0079 June 2006 4.0026
0.090 0.177
-252.87 2 13 14 15 16 17 -268.93
Element Name
Lithium Beryllium Boron Carbon Nitrogen Oxygen Fluorine Neon
Li 4
Be No. Symbol 5
B 6
C 7
N 8
O 9
F 10
6.941 9.0122 Atomic weight 10.811 12.011 14.007 15.999 18.998 20.180
0.54 1.85 ¦ 2.46 2.27 1.251 1.429 1.696 0.900
180.5 1287 Density Solids & Liquids (g/cm3) Gases(g/l) 2076 3900 -195.79 -182.95 -188.12 -246.08
Sodium Magnesium˚C)
Melting point (Solids & Liquids) • Boiling point (Gases) Aluminium Silicon Phosphorus Sulphur Chlorine Argon
11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Na Mg Al Si P S Cl Ar
22.990 24.305 26.982 28.086 30.974 32.065 35.453 39.948
0.97 1.74 2.70 2.33 1.82 1.96 3.214 1.784
97.7 650 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 660.3 1414 44.2 115.2 -34.04 -185.85
Potassium Calcium Scandium Titanium Vanadium Chromium Manganese Iron Cobalt Nickel Copper Zinc Gallium Germanium Arsenic Selenium Bromine Krypton
19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36
K Ca Sc Ti V Cr Mn Fe Co Ni Cu Zn Ga Ge As Se Br Kr
39.098 40.078 44.956 47.867 50.942 51.996 54.938 55.845 58.933 58.693 63.546 65.39 69.723 72.64 74.922 78.96 79.904 83.80
0.86 1.55 2.99 4.51 6.11 7.14 7.47 7.87 8.90 8.91 8.92 7.14 5.90 5.32 5.73 4.82 3.12 3.733
63.4 842 1541 1668 1910 1907 1246 1538 1495 1455 1084.6 419.5 29.8 938.3 816.9 221 -7.3 -153.22
Rubidium Strontium Yttrium Zirconium Niobium Molybdenum Technetium Ruthenium Rhodium Palladium Silver Cadmium Indium Tin Antimony Tellurium Iodine Xenon
37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
Rb Sr Y Zr Nb Mo Tc Ru Rh Pd Ag Cd In Sn Sb Te I Xe
85.468 87.62 88.906 91.224 92.906 95.94 [98] 101.07 102.91 106.42 107.87 112.41 114.82 118.71 121.76 127.60 126.90 131.29
1.53 2.63 4.47 6.51 8.57 10.28 11.5 12.37 12.45 12.02 10.49 8.65 7.31 7.31 6.70 6.24 4.94 5.887
39.3 777 1526 1855 2477 2623 2157 2334 1964 1554.9 961.8 321.1 156.6 231.9 630.6 449.5 113.7 -108.05
Caesium Barium Lutetium Hafnium Tantalum Tungsten Rhenium Osmium Iridium Platinum Gold Mercury Thallium Lead Bismuth Polonium Astatine 0Radon
55 56 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86
Cs Ba 57-70 Lu Hf Ta W Re Os Ir Pt Au Hg Tl Pb Bi Po At Rn
* 174.97

Francium Radium Lawrencium Rutherfordium Dubnium Seaborgium Bohrium Hassium Meitnerium Darmstadtium Unununium Ununbium Ununtrium Ununquadium Ununpentium Ununhexium
87 88 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116
Fr Ra 89-102 Lr Rf Db Sg Bh Hs Mt Ds Uuu Uub Uut Uuq Uup Uuh

5.0 ** [262]














– 700 1627 – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Order on line
Visit our website for
latest Catalogue prices
£ • € • Sfr • US$
Advent Research Materials Ltd • Eynsham • Oxford • England OX29 4JA
+ new stock lines Lanthanum Cerium Praseodymium Neodymium Promethium Samarium Europium Gadolinium Terbium Dysprosium Holmium Erbium Thulium Ytterbium
57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70
La Ce Pr Nd Pm Sm Eu Gd Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb
138.91 140.12 140.91 144.24 [145] 150.36 151.96 157.25 158.93 162.50 164.93 167.26 168.93 173.04
*Lanthanoids 6.146
Actinium Thorium Protactinium Uranium Neptunium Plutonium Americium Curium Berkelium Californium Einsteinium Fermium Mendelevium Nobelium
89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102
Ac Th Pa U Np Pu Am Cm Bk Cf Es Fm Md No
**Actinoids [227]





1050 1842 1568 1132 637 639 1176 1340 986 900 860 1527 827 827

METALS & ALLOYS • Foils • Sheets • Plates • Wires • Insulated wires • Wires straight cut lengths • Woven wire meshes • Rods • Tubes
Pellets • Lumps • Ingots • Polymers • for Research/Development & Industry • Small quantities • Competitive prices • Fast shipment

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Physics World October 2009 21

PWOct09romm 15/9/09 15:41 Page 22

The energy puzzle: Climate communication

Publicize or perish

The scientific community is failing
miserably in communicating the
potential catastrophe of climate
change. Joseph Romm urges
scientists to start engaging with
the public – now

The fate of the next 50 generations may

well be determined in the next few months
and years. Will the US Congress agree to a
shrinking cap on greenhouse-gas emissions
and legislation to achieve the transforma-
tion to clean energy? If not, you can forget
about a global climate deal. But even if the
bill passes and a global deal is achieved,
both will need to be continuously streng-
thened in coming years, as the increasingly
worrisome science continues to inform the
policy, just as in the case of the Montreal
Protocol on ozone-depleting substances.
The International Scientific Congress on
climate change held in Copenhagen in
March, which was attended by 2000 scien- Something to shout about Scientists must get better at messaging about climate change before it is too late.
tists, concluded that “Recent observations
confirm that, given high rates of observed not help lead the way in reversing emissions, percentage of Republicans saying the effects
emissions, the worst-case Intergovernmental then we will justifiably bear serious blame of global warming had already begun had
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenario from future generations, who will no doubt dropped to a mere 42% (an amazing statistic
trajectories (or even worse) are being real- become increasingly bitter about the havoc in its own right given the painfully obvious
ized.” That would mean that by 2100 there our ignorance and myopia has brought them. evidence to the contrary). But the percent-
would be atmospheric concentrations of Nobody will be writing books calling us “the age saying most scientists believe global
carbon dioxide of more than 1000 ppm, total greatest generation.” warming is occurring had risen to 54% – a
planetary warming of 5 °C and sea-level rises As one example of how bad scientific mes- stunning 12-point differential.
probably on the high end of recent projec- saging has been, let me go through Gallup In short, a significant and growing number
tions of 1–2 m followed by a rise of as much polling over the past decade as discussed in a of Republicans – one in eight as of 2008 –
as 2 cm per year or more for centuries. We 2008 article in Environment magazine enti- simply do not believe what they know most
would also see one-third of inhabited land tled “A widening gap: Republican and De- scientists believe. That is quite alarming news,
reaching dust bowl levels of aridity, half or mocratic views on climate change”. given that it is inconceivable that the US will
more of all species becoming extinct, and the The article reported that in 1997 some take the very strong action needed to avert
oceans increasingly becoming hot, acidic, 52% of Democrats said that the effects of catastrophe unless it comes to believe what
dead zones. And if we do not change course global warming had already begun and 52% most scientists believe, namely that we are in
quickly, the latest science predicts that these said most scientists believe global warming big, big trouble and can delay no further.
impacts may be irreversible for 1000 years. is occurring. In 2008 some 76% said warm- Here is the lesson for scientists: in the last
In short, the fate of perhaps the next 100 ing had begun and 75% said most scientists decade, we have apparently become less
billion people to walk the Earth rests with believe warming is occurring. It would ap- convincing to Republicans than the deniers
scientists (and those who understand the sci- pear that Democrats believe most scientists. have been. They have apparently become
ence) trying to communicate the dire nature Few leading climate scientists or major better at messaging, while we have perhaps
of the climate problem (and the myriad solu- scientific bodies would disagree that the become worse.
tions available now) as well as the ability of scientific case that the planet is warming – In part, this has occurred because there
the media, the public, opinion-makers and and that humans are the dominant cause is an organized disinformation campaign
political leaders to understand and deal with of recent temperature rises – has become promoted by conservative think tanks like
that science. stronger in the past 10 years. That is clearly the Competitive Enterprise Institute and
seen in the scientific literature – as summar- well funded by fossil-fuel companies like
Disinformation and scientific illiteracy ized in the IPCC reports. ExxonMobil, with key messages repeated by
So far, we are failing miserably. Neither the And yet for Republicans, in 1997 some conservative pundits and politicians like
US nor the world as a whole has taken any 48% said warming had begun and 42% said George Will, Rush Limbaugh and Repub-
consequential action to reverse emissions most scientists believe warming is occurring lican Senator James Inhofe. At the same
trends. And if the scientific community does – a modest six-point differential. By 2008, the time, the media have treated this more as a

22 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09romm 21/9/09 13:54 Page 23

Need a low-noise amplifier?
political issue than a scientific one, thereby
necessitating in their view a “balanced” pre- The fate of perhaps Go to to learn more
sentation of both sides, notwithstanding about …
the fact that the overwhelming majority of
scientists understand humans are warming
the next 100 billion
… Low-Noise Voltage Amplifier –
the planet and dangerously so. Also, increas-
ingly profit-driven media have been abdica-
people rests with Series DLPVA-100
ting their role in science education. Science
writer Chris Mooney and scientist Sheril scientists trying to
Kirshenbaum offer these grim statistics
in their recent book Unscientific America:
How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future
communicate the
(2009, Basic Books):
● For every five hours of cable news, one
dire nature of the
minute is devoted to science; n Input Noise down to 400 pV/√Hz
● Some 46% of Americans believe that the climate problem n Variable Gain up to 100 dB (x 100,000)
Earth is less than 10 000 years old; n Input Impedance up to 1 TΩ
● The number of US newspapers with sci- 2006 article in the Bulletin of the American n Manual and Remote Control
ence sections has shrunk by two-thirds in the Meteorological Society explained (87 1025),
last 20 years; “For a scientist whose reputation is largely
● Just 18% of Americans know a scientist invested in peer-reviewed publications and
personally; the citations thereof, there is little profes- … High Speed Current Amplifier –
● The overwhelming majority of Americans sional pay-off for getting involved in debates Series HCA
polled in late 2007 either could not name a that mix science and politics.”
scientific role model or named “people who The scientific community must figure out
are either not scientists or not alive”. how to effectively engage the public on this
crucial issue. The physics community in par-
The lack of scientific messaging ticular must help lead the way. After all, it
Yet just when the media are abandoning sci- was effective at warning the public and pol-
ence coverage, many scientists are increas- icymakers about the dangers of that other
ingly reluctant to address politicized issues existential threat to the human race – nuc-
like global warming. lear weapons. We appear to have walked n Bandwidth DC up to 400 MHz, Rise-Time
Scientists who are also great public com- back from the precipice of global nuclear war down to 1 ns
municators, like Carl Sagan or Richard only to face an equally grave threat from our n Optimized Models for Large Source
Feynman, have grown scarcer as science has unbridled consumption of fossil fuels.
Capacitances up to 2 nF
become increasingly specialized. Moreover, I believe that the major scientific bodies
n Ideal for Fast and Large Area Photodiodes
the media like the glib and the dramatic, and leading scientists in the US must come
which is a style that most scientists deliber- together immediately to develop and quickly
ately avoid. Scientists like to focus on the implement a serious communication strat-
things that they do not know, since that is egy. We are again at the precipice. Indeed, it … 19” Lock-In Amplifier Board –
the cutting edge of scientific research. So is, as the current Presidential Science Ad- Series LIA-BV(D)-150
they do not keep repeating the things that visor and physicist John Holdren has said
they do know, which is one reason that the many times, too late to avoid dangerous
public and the media often do not hear from anthropogenic warming of the planet. Now
scientists about the strong areas of consen- the only question is whether we can avoid
sus on global warming. And as the physicist unmitigated catastrophe.
Mark Bowen writes in Thin Ice (2006, Holt), One final point. If the scientific community
his book about glaciologist Lonnie Thomp- is unable to help persuade the public, opin-
son, “Scientists have an annoying habit of ion-makers and political leaders to take the
backing off when they’re asked to make a necessary action now, then the entire rela-
plain statement, and climatologists tend to tionship of science to the broader world will
be worse than most.” change forever. When the US and the world n Working Frequency up to 120 kHz
As scientist and writer Jared Diamond do get desperate about global warming in the n Phase Independent Output
wrote in a 1997 article in Discover magazine next decade or two, then the entire focus of n Manual and Remote Control
on scientific messaging (or the lack thereof), society, of scientists and engineers, and of n For Low Cost, Multi-Channel and OEM
“Scientists who do communicate effectively academia will be directed toward a Second-
with the public often find their colleagues re- World-War-scale effort to mitigate what we
sponding with scorn, and even punishing can and adapting to the myriad miseries that
them in ways that affect their careers.” After our myopic dawdling has made inevitable. I
Sagan became famous, he was rejected for do not think that the scientific community has
membership of the National Academy of even begun to think about that.
Sciences in a special vote. This became widely
known, and, as Diamond writes, “Every sci- Joseph Romm is a physicist and FEMTO ® Messtechnik GmbH
entist is capable of recognizing the obvious climate expert, and a senior fellow at
Berlin / Germany
implications for his or her self-interest.” the Center for American Progress in
Scientists who have been outspoken about Washington, DC, where he edits the n
global warming have been repeatedly at- blog, e-mail
tacked as having a “political agenda”. As a

Physics World October 2009 23

PWOct09crabtree 22/9/09 16:28 Page 24

The energy puzzle: Sustainability

The road to sustainability

“Sustainability” is the hottest topic in energy research today, but what does it actually mean?
George Crabtree and John Sarrao describe what makes a technology sustainable, and outline the
materials-science challenges standing between us and clean, long-lasting energy
George Crabtree is a The oil shock of the 1970s triggered worldwide aware- higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution,
Distinguished Fellow ness of oil dependency and launched a search for alter- and they are rising at an accelerating pace, driven by
in the Materials native sources of energy. But three decades on, these the human combustion of fossil fuels. The potential
Science Division of efforts have barely had an impact: oil still accounts for implications for global warming and climate change
the Argonne National almost 40% of global energy use, and fossil fuels make are sobering. Left unchecked, climate change could
Laboratory, produce dislocations in the agricultural, trade and
up 85%. The US, for example, imported 20% of its oil
e-mail crabtree@
in 1970; today the figure is 60%, and other countries demographic patterns that define global economic and John Sarrao
is a physicist and
import even larger fractions of the oil they consume. social structures.
Program Director for The problem of oil dependency is compounded by cost. A particularly worrying feature of global warming is
the Office of Science Before the current recession, the price of oil peaked at the timescale involved. It takes 400–1000 years for car-
Programs at the $140 a barrel – five times its price in 2002 and 10 times bon dioxide in the atmosphere to equilibrate in the
Los Alamos National its price in 1976 – rewriting the economics of trans- deep ocean. Hence, the carbon dioxide that we have
Laboratory, e-mail portation, food, manufacturing and trade that underlie already added – and continue to add – to the atmo- the operation of society. In addition to dependency and sphere will affect not only our grandchildren but also
cost, energy security is a pervasive threat. The concen- their grandchildren and many generations beyond. The
tration of oil production in a few regions of the world long-term impact of global warming requires a sus-
makes the supply of oil vulnerable to unpredictable tained investment of intellectual resources to under-
events such as weather, terrorism, and geopolitical stand the dynamics of climate change, rather than the
manoeuvring. Because oil provides so much of our en- short-lived interest and spending surge that followed
ergy, severe reductions in its flow would dramatically the oil shock of the 1970s.
change the way we live. The dual challenges of energy and climate are cap-
The current outlook for energy adds a crucial new tured in a single term: sustainability. Our current re-
dimension that was not present in the first oil shock: liance on oil and other fossil fuels (see figure on page
carbon-dioxide emissions and climate change. The 26) and our unfettered emission of carbon dioxide to
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has docu- the atmosphere are not sustainable activities. We are
mented global warming through rising sea levels, using oil and fossil fuels at far greater rates than nature
shrinking snow cover in the northern hemisphere and creates them, and their cost and supply are fragile and
higher surface temperatures. These increases in tem- volatile. Our carbon-dioxide emissions are growing by
perature track similar increases in the concentration 22% per decade and they threaten to overwhelm the
of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – a remarkable ability of the ocean–atmosphere system to absorb them
correlation that extends over four ice ages covering the and maintain a stable climate. These activities not only
last 400 000 years. Carbon-dioxide levels are now 30% deplete the fossil resources required for our current

24 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09crabtree 17/9/09 16:21 Page 25 The energy puzzle: Sustainability

Hank Morgan/Science Photo Library

energy system, but also undermine the environment harm”. Burning fossil fuels releases pollutants such as
and climate essential to our future prosperity. sulphur and mercury that endanger human health, as
The transition to sustainable energy technologies well as greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that
requires fundamental changes in the way we do busi- threaten climate stability. Some alternatives to fossil
ness. Oil and emissions have become woven into the fuels have their own degrees of potential harm, inclu-
fabric of our economy and society, thanks to fossil fuels’ ding the underground migration and leakage of se-
unprecedented success in delivering cheap energy questered carbon dioxide and the hazards of storing
when and where we need it. Changing these patterns spent nuclear fuel.
will involve major disruptions of business as usual. Fun- The third and most strict criterion for sustainability
damentally new ways of producing and using energy is “leaves no change”. When the material outputs of
are needed, and they will require massive amounts of energy generation and use are recycled to replace the
innovation in materials and chemical processes. inputs, the chemical cycle is said to be closed and the
chemical state of the world is unchanged. The process
Defining sustainability of converting renewable energy sources like sunlight
Although most people agree that more-sustainable and wind to carriers like hydrogen or electricity comes
energy technologies are desirable, they often find it closest to fulfilling this restrictive definition. Fossil
harder to agree on exactly how sustainable these tech- energy systems, in contrast, usually operate as once-
nologies need to be, and even precisely what is meant through processes, irreversibly converting hydrocar-
by sustainability. To clarify the debate, we suggest three bons to carbon dioxide and water. Some such systems
criteria for sustainability, each of which captures a dif- could, however, be retrofitted to collect and recycle the
ferent feature of the problem. While we do not have combustion products to make new hydrocarbon fuel.
the luxury of achieving full sustainability for all of our If this process used the Sun as its energy source, fossil
next-generation energy technologies, we can use these fuels, too, could meet this criterion.
definitions to select our strategic sustainability targets
and track our progress toward achieving them. As Solar, wind and sequestration
will become clear, the most sustainable energy technol- Solar electricity comes close to satisfying all three cri-
ogies require the most challenging fundamental sci- teria in the sustainability profile. In this electricity-gen-
ence breakthroughs (see figure on page 27). eration method, a solar photon strikes a semiconductor
The first criterion for sustainability is “lasts a long photocell, excites an electron that travels through
time”. This quality has been a feature of many energy transmission lines to be used for, say, lighting, trans-
sources we have used historically, including wood in portation or information processing, before returning
ancient times and oil throughout most of the 20th cen-
tury. The definition of “long time” is, of course, relat- At a Glance: Sustainability
ive: the world’s demand for energy long ago outpaced
the ability of wood to supply it, and the production of ● In order to be considered sustainable, an energy technology must last a long time,
oil is likely to peak sometime within the next few dec- do no harm and leave the environment unchanged
ades. Substantial reductions in the rate of oil con- ● The technologies that come closest to meeting these criteria are also those that will
sumption through higher-efficiency processes can require significant breakthroughs in materials science and processes to become
significantly impact on how long non-renewable re- cost-effective or viable on a large scale
sources last. In applying the “long time” criterion, we ● The key to achieving such breakthroughs lies in making the transition from observing
need to distinguish between energy sources that are materials and processes on the nano-scale to controlling these phenomena
effectively limitless and those that are finite but, for ● Biology is one source of inspiration for developing new technologies that are more
the moment, adequate. sustainable and that will help solve the energy–climate problem
The second criterion for sustainability is “does no

Physics World October 2009 25

PWOct09crabtree 17/9/09 16:22 Page 26

The energy puzzle: Sustainability

net electricity
solar imports 0.06
0.07 12.45
nuclear 6.37 electricity 27.06
8.21 generation rejected
2.83 20.46 39.52 energy
hydro 57.43
0.26 4.61
0.26 0.30 residential
0.06 10.88 8.70
geothermal 0.01 1.29
0.34 0.41
4.43 1.63
natural gas commercial
22.19 8.15 6.52 energy
2.90 services
0.02 42.32
0.10 3.45
coal 7.81 industrial
22.44 24.88 19.90
1.91 1.96
biomass 21.60
0.48 0.02
0.64 0.62

27.67 28.80
petroleum 7.20

Where the energy goes Data from 2006 on how energy (in quads) is produced and used in the US. The numbers on the left indicate what percentage each type of energy
contributes to the total primary supply. Following each energy “stream” to the right shows how much of that energy is consumed for useful services and how much is
unused. (Note that all the numbers have been rounded.) Despite decades of research and development, sustainable-energy technologies (top left) account for only a tiny
fraction of the total energy flow. Altering this landscape will require breakthroughs in nanomaterials and chemical processes that convert energy efficiently between
photons, electrons and chemical bonds. Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and DOE

to the photocell, where it replaces the hole left by the days and long-distance transmission capacity to deliver
original electronic excitation. Once completed, the wind energy from its remote sources to urban popu-
electron round trip does no harm and leaves no chem- lation centres. The output of wind turbines is limited
ical change. However, although solar electricity may by the weight of the generator that can be supported
be fully sustainable in operation, it is not necessarily on the tower. Superconducting generators can, how-
fully sustainable in the construction or disposal of its ever, lower the cost and land area required for wind
infrastructure – both steps require energy and emit car- electricity by a factor of two because they produce
bon dioxide. These often-ignored full-life-cycle issues twice the output but are the same size and weight as
must be considered when evaluating the sustainability conventional generators.
of energy technologies. As for fossil-fuel electricity plants, they can be made
Despite the appeal of solar electricity, serious tech- more sustainable by capturing their carbon-dioxide
nical challenges block its widespread deployment. emissions and sequestering the gas in underground
Before the reach of solar electricity can expand, its costs geologic formations. Carbon sequestration prevents the
must fall below those of fossil electricity and must be carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere – a pos-
low enough to attract the majority of future demand itive step toward “doing no harm”. This positive step is
growth without artificial incentives. Achieving this will balanced, however, by the challenges associated with
require breakthroughs in understanding and control- injecting the carbon dioxide underground. We know
ling the fundamental nano-scale phenomena of photo- little about how carbon dioxide reacts with the porous
excitation, charge separation and charge transport in, rocks in which it would reside, and less still about how
for example, high-efficiency mulitjunction solar cells far it might migrate during the thousands of years it
and in low-cost organic and thin-film solar cells (see must remain there. Carbon dioxide is supercritical
Without the “Nanotechnology: does it have the energy?” on pp40– under sequestration conditions, and the high tem-
ability to store 45). An even greater and less-explored challenge is perature and pressure alter its reaction chemistry and
electricity, utility-scale electricity storage to bridge the day–night enable it to diffuse quicker through porous rocks.
solar power and cloudy–sunny cycles. Without the ability to store These primary scientific challenges require a host of
can never be electricity, solar power can never be more than a sup- studies of surface-reaction chemistry to identify re-
plement to fossil energy generation. action pathways, intermediate species, chemical kin-
more than a As a derivative of solar energy, wind electricity shares etics and diffusion phenomena under simulated
supplement to its sustainability profile, with the potential to satisfy sequestration conditions.
fossil energy all three criteria. The barriers to wind electricity are Beyond reaction chemistry, techniques for monitor-
generation cost, utility-scale storage of electricity to bridge calm ing and modelling the migration of large quantities of

26 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09crabtree 18/9/09 11:07 Page 27 The energy puzzle: Sustainability

sustainability profile

technology lasts a long time does no harm leaves no change breakthroughs needed

lower-cost, high-efficiency
solar electricity photovoltaics; third-generation
materials and nanostructures;
electricity storage

understanding chemical reactivity

carbon sequestration
? in extreme environments and migration
emissions risk through rocks; geological monitoring
of leaks and predictive modelling

materials for extreme environments

nuclear electricity
? (high temperature, radiation flux
and corrosivity); geological
emissions radioactive monitoring and modelling; new strategies
waste for chemically separating fission products
new methods for cellulosic
breakdown to sugar or fuel;
cellulosic biofuel
new catalysts for converting
carbon dioxide to fuel

higher energy density in batteries;

electric transportation better catalysts, membranes and
electrodes in fuel cells; renewable
production of electricity and hydrogen

Making the grade One of the most important factors to consider when evaluating sustainable technologies is the scientific advances needed to
make them viable. This table is only a rough guide, since several currently unknown factors still need to be explored.

supercritical carbon dioxide are also needed, so that lifetimes, reduces the number of nuclear plants that will
we can anticipate where and how far it might travel over need to be built.
the thousands of years it must remain underground. These increases in efficiency can be achieved by
The potential for contaminating an aquifer or finding operating reactors at higher temperatures (1000 K
an escape route to the atmosphere must be thoroughly instead of the current 650 K) and at neutron fluxes an
understood for every sequestration site. Leakage is order of magnitude higher than the current values of
indeed one of the biggest challenges. A sequestration 4 × 1013 n cm–2 s–1. However, at such high temperatures
system with a leak rate of 1% per year exhausts all the and fluxes, chemical corrosion is an additional serious
carbon dioxide stored in its first year of operation in challenge. Next-generation reactors will require a new
just a century – a blink of an eye on the timescale of generation of “extreme materials” that can not only
ocean–atmosphere dynamics. During release, heavy survive, but also function under the triple extremes of
carbon dioxide can displace lighter oxygen in low-lying high temperature, high neutron flux and aggressive
areas, possibly leading to the suffocation of people chemical corrosion. Advanced ferritic steels hold
and animals, as happened in a catastrophic incident at promise in these environments; developing them by
Lake Nyos, Cameroon, in 1986. design rather than serendipitously will accelerate
From a sustainability perspective, sequestration al- deployment significantly.
lows us to use the Earth’s coal resources (which will last The scientific challenge for next-generation extreme
longer than oil, though not as long as the Sun) with materials – whatever their composition – is to under-
reduced harm to the atmosphere. Storing carbon di- stand their failure modes, and to prolong their useful
oxide underground, however, carries potential risks lifetimes by interrupting or arresting these failures.
of contamination and leakage that are largely un- Damage starts with atomic displacements that create
explored. Sequestration also leaves clear chemical interstitials and vacancies, which then migrate and Like carbon
changes as coal is removed from the Earth and carbon aggregate to form clusters and ever-larger extended sequestration,
dioxide is injected. structures. Eventually, the damage reaches macro- nuclear
scopic dimensions, leading to degradation of perform-
The nuclear options ance and failure. This problem is massively multiscale, electricity
Like carbon sequestration, nuclear electricity keeps covering nine orders of magnitude in its spatial dimen- keeps
greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, and thus rep- sion, and neither experiment nor theory has yet cap- greenhouse
resents a step towards sustainability. Next-generation tured this complexity in a single framework. gases out of the
reactors based on new materials could last longer than On the experimental side, in situ measurements of atmosphere,
reactors designed in the 1960s – typically 80 years or neutron irradiation with atomic or nano-scale resolu-
more instead of 60 – and can turn 50% of the heat pro- tion are needed to observe the initial damage processes,
and thus
duced by fission into electricity, compared with 32% followed by coarser-grained experiments to capture represents a
for existing reactors. Higher efficiency also allows the migration, aggregation and ultimately macroscopic step towards
uranium supply to last longer; this, together with longer failure. The modelling challenge is equally dramatic: sustainability

Physics World October 2009 27

PWOct09crabtree 17/9/09 16:22 Page 28

The energy puzzle: Sustainability

uct, helium, is likewise kind to the environment and

30 climate. The fusion process, however, is even more
storage gasoline extreme than fission, requiring neutron fluxes ap-
proximately 100 times greater than in fission reactors.
electrical storage
energy/volume (MJ/l)

Designing materials to withstand these exceptional

ethanol irradiation conditions is a major scientific challenge.
hydrogen methanol
compounds Biofuels and electric cars
(target) Replacing conventional oil with biofuels has the poten-
tial to achieve greater sustainability by recycling carbon
chemical storage
and combustion dioxide and enabling fossil resources to last longer.
compressed However, it is now generally accepted that the energy
hydrogen gas balance and carbon footprint of corn ethanol and gaso-
0 10 20 30 40 line are only marginally different. In terms of lasting
a long time and doing no harm, therefore, the two are
supercapacitors batteries energy/weight (MJ/kg)
approximately equally sustainable. Cellulosic ethanol
How to store it Chemicals like gasoline and ethanol store energy at much higher densities than made from the stalks and leaves of plants offers more
batteries. With scientific advances, the gap can be filled with electro-chemical storage where hope. The scientific challenge for cellulosic ethanol is
chemical energy is converted to electricity in fuel cells. to discover or design a better chemical-conversion
route from cellulose, nature’s evolution-hardened con-
kinetic energy from an incident particle is transferred struction material, to fermentable sugar or liquid fuel.
successively to electronic, atomic, vibrational and struc- The known chemical and enzymatic routes are too
tural systems, requiring a diverse mix of theoretical for- expensive and inefficient to be competitive. Biofuels
mulations appropriate for different spatial scales. from algae offer an alternative route, since cultivating
To create new extreme materials that operate effect- algae requires far less land than other biofuel crops,
ively in reactor environments we will have to go beyond but a cost-competitive conversion route is not yet avail-
observation and modelling to controlling the evolution able and the science is still in its infancy.
of defect structures and interrupting their development Recycling carbon dioxide and water to produce fuel
before they can degrade performance. Introducing can also be done without biology, by using concentrated
designer interfaces that collect and trap nano-scale solar heat to drive high-temperature thermochemical
defects before they cluster is one strategy for making reactions or electronic excitation from solar photons
materials defect-tolerant or self-healing. Treating de- to drive photochemical reactions at room temperature.
fected regions with targeted photon or particle beams Both routes face materials challenges, and neither is
to anneal out the damage before it grows beyond a crit- scientifically ready to deploy. Thermochemical re-
ical size is another. Although developed for nuclear cycling requires advanced hybrid materials that can
applications, next-generation materials with these fea- physically withstand and chemically promote the tar-
tures should find wide application in other areas, in- geted reactions at high temperatures, and photochem-
cluding high-temperature turbines and coal-fired ical recycling requires new cost-effective catalysts that
boilers, thus bringing overall energy efficiency closer to split carbon dioxide and water to drive the synthesis of
thermodynamic limits. hydrocarbon fuel. These challenges are firmly in the
The sustainability profile of nuclear electricity shares realm of discovery. Overcoming them will require use-
many qualitative features with carbon sequestration. inspired basic research (see box opposite).
Like coal, terrestrial uranium resources will last a few The sustainability profile of recycling carbon diox-
hundred years, longer than oil but not as long as the ide through biofuels (other than corn ethanol) and
Sun, and nuclear reactors emit no carbon dioxide into thermochemical or photochemical cycles is promising.
the atmosphere. The threat to the atmosphere is, how- These technologies can be fully or partially renewable
ever, replaced by a new potential danger: spent fuel and thus last a long time. They reduce harm to the en-
that must be stored, perhaps underground, for hun- vironment by lowering greenhouse-gas emissions, and
dreds or thousands of years to reduce its radiation level they have the potential to close the chemical cycle and
by natural decay. Developing fuels that fission a larger leave no change.
fraction of the available nuclei in a fuel rod – the cur- Electrifying transportation breaks the exclusive de-
rent average is 4% – would mean that uranium supplies pendence of transportation on oil, thereby enabling
would last longer, and that the storage requirements flexibility in fuelling as more sustainable alternatives
for spent fuel would be less. Still, nuclear waste, like se- for electricity generation become available. Electric
questered carbon dioxide, has the potential to leak, motors are also far more efficient (over 90%) and
threatening water supplies and human health. New mechanically much simpler than gasoline engines, and
methods of treating, containing, monitoring and mod- so are able to transport people and goods at a much
elling nuclear waste are needed. Finally, like fossil-fuel lower cost per mile. The challenge is onboard storage
electricity, nuclear electricity leaves substantial chem- or generation of electricity to power the electric motor.
ical change by removing uranium from the Earth and For batteries, the energy density must be increased by a
replacing it with radioactive waste. factor of two to five from current levels before the jour-
Fusion electricity is more sustainable than fission ney range of electric vehicles becomes competitive with
because it replaces hazardous heavy-element fuel with multipurpose gasoline vehicles (see figure above). The
benign, light and abundant hydrogen. The fusion prod- materials challenges are to develop electrodes for

28 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09crabtree 17/9/09 16:23 Page 29 The energy puzzle: Sustainability

From observation to control

A remarkable string of advances over the last recycled to carbon dioxide by respiration in
half-century has allowed us to probe and animals and other living things, closing the
understand energy-conversion phenomena at chemical cycle and leaving no change. Cellulose
ever smaller lengths and shorter timescales. in the leaves and stalks of plants is rich in sugars
Aberration-corrected transmission electron that can be converted to ethanol and other
microscopy, a wealth of scanning probe biofuels, provided we can break down the
microscopies, laser- and accelerator-based protective coating of lignin that shields cellulose
ultrafast photon pulses, intense neutron from physical and chemical attack during its life.
beams and massively parallel teraflop We can learn from biology by observing how
computing are all helping us to unravel lignin breaks down on the forest floor and how
the structures and dynamics of the sunlight splits water and carbon dioxide in the
macromolecules, proteins and complex growing plant, and adapt these processes to
materials architectures that carry out energy create and control our own sustainable
conversion on the nano-scale. hydrocarbon fuel cycle.
The next step is to not only observe, but also Promising materials TiO2 nanotubes like these can Another emerging guide is numerical
control these fundamental energy-conversion catalyse processes that produce hydrogen from water materials simulation, which allows us to imagine
phenomena. To do this, researchers need to using sunlight. complex nano-scale structures and then
exploit the remarkable progress that has been simulate their behaviour to see if they function
made in nanoscience, numerical modelling and decorated to promote surface catalytic activity. as we intend. Such simulations dramatically
complex materials. Nanoscience has given us On the modelling side, the past decade has shorten nature’s design process, which proceeds
techniques for nearly atom-by-atom construction seen computational speeds increase from by incremental random mutations of existing
of complex atomic and molecular architectures, teraflops (1012 operations per second) to structures. Once filtered and refined by computer
including “top-down” techniques such as optical petaflops, with exaflops on the horizon. These simulation, the most promising nano-scale
and electron beam lithography and “bottom-up” remarkable hardware advances allow the energy-processing structures can then provide
approaches like molecular beam epitaxy, ink-jet simulation of million-atom assemblies and the inspiration for fabrication.
printing and the rich potential of directed detailed nano-scale energy conversions they Complexity is an essential ingredient in any
self-assembly – as exemplified by DNA-driven perform. The potential of this large-scale functional design. Like information processing,
biological construction. These fabrication tools atomistic simulation is not just incrementally energy processing requires many sequential
give us the means to make nano-scale structures better, but game-changing. steps, including manipulating quanta of energy
with the complexity, precision and functionality With these tools in hand, our challenge is to in photonic, electronic and molecular
of computer chips, which we now routinely design materials and molecular assemblies that excitations, as well as chemical transformation.
manufacture on the micro-scale. can convert energy among photons, electrons Not only must each step in the sequence be
Nanotubes offer versatile and promising and chemical bonds with minimum losses. One understood and controlled, but also the
opportunities for controlling energy conversion at guiding example is nature. Green plants individual steps must be integrated into a
the nano-scale. TiO2 nanotubes like those manufacture their internal nano-scale seamlessly functioning assembly that efficiently
pictured above are inexpensive, chemically inert, architectures from abundant, environmentally links the functions of its constituent parts.
photostable, provide high surface-to-volume friendly elements and recycle them harmlessly to Information technology and biology provide two
ratio and have band gaps that support the environment at the end of their useful life. shining examples of the value and impact of
sustainable energy technologies like solar water They split water and carbon dioxide at room complexity on functionality. We have mastered
splitting, dye-sensitized solar cells and temperature using sunlight and use the liberated the micro-scale complexity of information
transparent conducting electrodes. They can be carbon and hydrogen to synthesize sugar to fuel technology; the next frontier is the nano-scale
prepared by a variety of electrochemical their growth and reproduction. Plants emit complexity of biological function and
processes, doped to tune their band gaps and unwanted oxygen to the atmosphere, where it is sustainable energy technology.

higher energy density and longer life-cycles; non-aque- viable long-term option for transportation.
ous electrolytes for higher operating voltages; and The sustainability profile of electric transportation
entirely new electrochemistry approaches such as is potentially high because electricity, once produced,
lithium–air electrodes or doubly ionized cations that is environmentally benign and leaves no chemical
can lower the battery’s charge-to-mass ratio. change. The primary sustainability issue is the large-
Fuel cells offer an alternative to batteries by gen- scale production of electricity for battery-powered
erating electricity onboard via hydrogen oxidation. vehicles or of hydrogen for fuel-cell vehicles. Existing
Developing this alternative requires scientific break- production routes use fossil fuels to generate electri-
throughs in catalysis for the oxygen-reduction reaction city and the reformation of natural gas to produce
at fuel-cell cathodes, high-density storage of hydrogen hydrogen; both deplete finite natural resources and
in lightweight solid compounds and the production emit substantial amounts of carbon dioxide. In con-
of hydrogen from renewable resources. Substantial trast, using renewable electricity produced by solar and
progress has been made in the last five years towards wind to charge batteries or solar-powered water split-
overcoming these barriers to using hydrogen as an ting to produce hydrogen has the potential to last a long
energy carrier, as indicated by the rise in the number time, do no harm and leave no change. Achieving these
of researchers and published papers in the field. Such renewable production routes will require break-
advances raise the probability that fuel cells will be a throughs in discovery and use-inspired basic science.

Physics World October 2009 29

PWOct09crabtree 17/9/09 16:23 Page 30

The energy puzzle: Sustainability

tide 0.0004% also control these nano-scale conversion processes.

This new capability promises powerful breakthroughs
other 0.5% wind 0.064% in raising the efficiency and lowering the cost of sus-
nuclear 7% renewables 13%
solar 0.039% tainable energy technologies.
gas 21% hydro 2.2%
Breaking the scientific bottleneck
Despite 30 years of research and development, the de-
ployment of sustainable energy technologies has hardly
combustible affected the global energy mix. The world is still over
renewables and geothermal
coal 25% waste 10.6% 0.414% 80% dependent on fossil fuels, much as it was in 1970.
The reason is remarkably simple: the cost of alterna-
tive energies is significantly higher than fossil fuels, and
the energy enterprise, driven by economics, will always
oil 34%
choose the lowest available cost. This simple fact clearly
identifies the basic deployment challenge for sustain-
A long way to go A breakdown of the world’s total primary energy supply in 2004 shows that less able energy: we must make fundamental scientific
than one-sixth of our energy comes from renewable sources. Within this category, the lion’s breakthroughs in materials and chemical processes,
share consists of combustible renewables, which usually fall short of the “do no harm” criterion and exploit them to make sustainable energies cheaper
for sustainability. than fossil fuels.
That we have not succeeded in doing so in three
Pick and mix decades indicates the magnitude of the challenge. Ex-
So which of these more sustainable energy alternatives isting sustainable technologies do not control mater-
should we develop? The expected doubling of global ials and chemistry at the sophisticated level needed to
energy demand by 2050 is too daunting a challenge to cost-effectively convert sustainable sources into useful
be met by any single technology – we are likely to need energy. But unlike fossil energy, which after a century
many or even all of them. Some of the most sustain- of development operates near its theoretical maximum
able options require significant scientific break- efficiency, sustainable energy technologies are still in
throughs before they can be implemented. We can, their infancy. There is generous room for improvement
however, follow a dual course of phasing in portions in raising efficiency and lowering cost before intrinsic
of sustainable technologies as breakthroughs make limits are reached; we are, in effect, where we were with
them cost-competitive, while aggressively pursuing the the steam engine in James Watt’s day. Multijunction
research needed to meet the remaining challenges and solar cells, for example, where two or more semicon-
achieve even greater sustainability. In this framework, ductors tuned to different band-gap energies are con-
carbon sequestration, high-efficiency nuclear elec- nected in series, have a theoretical efficiency of over
tricity and plug-in hybrid vehicles are near-term solu- 50%, well above the 22% of the best single-junction
tions that will precede the deployment of large-scale silicon solar cells now in commercial production.
solar and wind power generation, utility-scale electri- Indeed, silicon solar cells themselves symbolize the
city storage and all-electric vehicles. impact of materials breakthroughs on sustainable en-
The scientific advances needed for these more sus- ergy technologies. Their efficiency has risen from 6%
tainable energy technologies reflect a fundamental sea in the 1950s to 22% today because of dramatic improve-
change in the role of materials in energy technologies. ments in control of the purity, perfection and precision
With traditional fossil energy, the important materials doping of silicon. Similar big improvements in efficiency
are the fuels, which are valued for their high energy and cost await other sustainable-energy technologies –
content and low cost. Burning fuels to produce heat is provided we aggressively pursue scientific research
the first step in the traditional energy-use chain. This to control the materials and chemical processes that
heat is then converted by an internal combustion en- govern nano-scale energy conversion. Discovering and
gine to mechanical motion for transportation or by a designing these hi-tech materials and processes is the
turbine and generator to electricity for a diversity of grand challenge of sustainable energy. ■
energy services.
Sustainable energy technologies, in contrast, tap into More about: Sustainability
underused energy flows like sunlight or wind and use V S Arunachalam et al. 2008 Harnessing materials for energy
these to produce electricity or fuel directly, without a (special issue) MRS Bulletin 33 261–477
combustion step. The important components are the hi- Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee 2007 Directing
tech materials and chemical processes that initiate and Matter and Energy: Five Challenges for Science and the
control the conversion of energy between photons, elec- Imagination; 2008 New Science for a Secure and Sustainable
trons and chemical bonds via nano-scale phenomena. Energy Future
Unlike the fuels of fossil-energy technology, which are J Baxter et al. 2009 Nanoscale design to enable the revolution
valued as a raw commodity, the hi-tech materials of sus- in renewable energy Energy and Environmental Sci. 2 559
tainable energy are valued for their ability to coordinate M Eikerling et al. 2007 Driving the hydrogen economy
A new leaf sophisticated nano-scale energy-conversion processes. Physics World July pp32–36
Biology incorporates Many decades of advances in observing and model- D Hafemeister et al. (ed) 2008 Physics of Sustainable Energy
many exemplary ling phenomena at ever smaller length scales and (Berkeley, 2008) (AIP Conf. Proc. 1044) (Melville, AIP)
sustainable-energy shorter timescales mean that science is poised to enter Science 2007 Energy and sustainability (special Issue) Science
strategies. a new era where researchers will not only observe, but 315 737–815

30 Physics World October 2009

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PWOct09schmidt 17/9/09 10:10 Page 33 The energy puzzle: Climate models

UK Meteorological Office/Science Photo Library

Wrong but useful
Many policymakers have traditionally seen climate models as irrelevant, but Gavin Schmidt argues that
recent advances are making such models an essential tool in informing policy choices
A quick tour of the Internet reveals some very strong (though imperfect) representations of cloud forma-
feelings on the subject of climate models. Unsur- tion and rainfall, floating sea ice and ocean turbulence,
prisingly, on climate contrarian sites, such models are rivers and lakes, and soil and vegetation. Each repre-
described in all sorts of unflattering terms and dis- sentation is based on direct observations of the pro-
missed out of hand as fundamentally useless. How- cesses in question and is tested against many different
ever, in more rational forums, and sometimes even constraints. The models (and there are many) have
among scientists themselves, one occasionally comes numerous common behaviours – they all cool follow-
across a basic ignorance of whether climate models are ing a big volcanic eruption, like that at Mount Pinatubo
any good, and, even more importantly, what they are in 1991; they all warm as levels of greenhouse gases are
good for. By the time one gets to policymakers, climate increased; they show the same relationships connect-
models are seen at best as black boxes, and at worst as ing water vapour and temperature that we see in ob-
simply irrelevant to their detailed concerns. However, servations; and they can quantify how the giant lakes
climate models – appropriately used – might have a left over from the Ice Age may have caused a rapid
vitally important part to play in breaking through some cooling across the North Atlantic as they drained and Gavin Schmidt is a
of the log jams now hampering policymakers. changed ocean circulation patterns. climate scientist at
This gives us a hint: models are useful for tying to- NASA’s Goddard
Institute for Space
The complexity of climate gether causes and effects in complex systems where
Studies in New York
Models of any stripe are simply quantitative or numer- answers are often only obvious in hindsight. We can and co-author with
ical expressions of the theories we have for how the real apply them for climate changes in the past – global Joshua Wolfe of
world works. Climate models encapsulate what we changes in temperature or rainfall patterns inferred Climate Change:
know about how the Sun’s rays travel through the from the paleoclimate data for instance – and help Picturing the Science
atmosphere and how heat from the surface of the attribute events to causes. Indeed, the attribution of any (2009, Norton),
Earth gets absorbed by clouds, water vapour and, of particular climate trend or set of events is inherently a e-mail gavin.a.
course, carbon dioxide. They contain sophisticated model-based exercise. Without a way of telling the dif-

Physics World October 2009 33

PWOct09schmidt 17/9/09 10:10 Page 34

The energy puzzle: Climate models

the second tries to average over that variability to pre-

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies

dict changes in the mean state.
For this second kind of prediction, you always need
a scenario for what might happen to the drivers of
climate change. Will carbon dioxide concentrations
continue to increase? Will air pollution continue to de-
crease in the developed world but increase in the
developing world? How fast will tropical deforestation
progress? These scenarios are highly dependent on
economics or political decisions and so qualify easily
for the “hard prediction” category. Nonetheless, econ-
omists do their best to make a range of reasonable esti-
mates for plausible futures and calculate the resulting
changes in emissions.
But climate is complex. There are multiple causes,
giving rise to multiple effects such that the interactions
Show and tell There are many different climate models, but they all make some common among the various components – like low-level ozone,
predictions. One is that volcanic eruptions like that of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 always result in a aerosols (airborne particles) and clouds – can get
drop in global temperature due to the injection of aerosols into the stratosphere that block hideously complicated. Ozone near the ground is
sunlight from reaching the surface. The different colours in this simulation represent particles at created from the soup of emissions from car exhausts,
different heights two months after the eruption, from red (highest) to blue (lowest). factories and fires, and it is a public-health problem as
well as a greenhouse gas. Aerosols too can come from
ference that any particular cause might have, how can multiple sources: sulphur-dioxide emissions from coal-
we recognize its fingerprint in the real world? This is the burning power plants produce sulphate aerosols in the
basis of the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel air; black carbon (soot) and organic-carbon aerosols
on Climate Change (IPCC) that human activities are come from incomplete combustion of biomass and
behind the rise in global temperature in recent decades. even from the complex organic molecules emitted by
The other use is in helping chart the course of the plants. They all interact directly with the Sun’s radi-
future. People are quick to dismiss model projections ation to either block it (for sulphates) or increase ab-
of climate as being inferior to observations, but as Tom sorption (black carbon). They also have indirect effects
Knutson and Robert Tuleya, from the Geophysical by changing how easy it is for clouds to form, or by
Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University changing how reflective snow is (black carbon effect-
and Old Dominion University, Virginia, pointedly no- ively makes the snow dirtier).
ted in 2005, “If we had observations of the future, we
obviously would trust them more than models, but Solving the puzzle
unfortunately observations of the future are not avail- Science, however, has made tremendous progress by
able at this time.” trying to break things down into their component
However, prediction is hard, particularly of the parts. Thus, we have traditionally studied the impact
future (to paraphrase Niels Bohr). For the climate, of carbon dioxide separately from the impact of sul-
there are two kinds of possible predictability. The first phate aerosols and separately from the impacts of the
is based on extrapolating seasonal and interannual emissions that cause ozone (the “precursors”). Fre-
changes based on precise knowledge of today’s state of quently, these studies are carried out by separate sci-
the atmosphere and ocean combined with an under- entists, in separate institutions under separate grants
standing of how the various modes of variability in the and with separate goals. While this has led to a great
ocean might develop. Whether these efforts can pro- deal of insight, it has also tended to divorce the science
vide useful information on regional climate on year-to- from policy.
year and longer timescales is currently being explored. Let me give some examples. In the last IPCC report
The more usual source of predictability, however, is there is an iconic figure that shows the magnitude of
considering the long-term changes related to increases the effects on climate for the 20th century. Carbon di-
in greenhouse gases, a volcanic eruption or other oxide is the largest warming factor, followed by me-
changes in the composition of the atmosphere. The thane, nitrous oxide, low-level ozone and black carbon.
first relies on a thorough understanding of patterns like On the cooling side, there are sulphate and nitrate
El Niño or the North Atlantic ocean circulation, while aerosols and land-use changes. There is nothing wrong
with this picture, but how helpful is it in deciding what
Climate is complex – there are to do about the power generation in China that pro-
duces carbon dioxide but also sulphates, or for assess-
multiple causes, giving rise to multiple ments of mileage standards that will affect ozone
precursors, black carbon from diesel exhaust as well
effects such that the interactions as gasoline use? In each case, we have mixed results
for the climate and potential impacts on other public-
policy issues as well (air quality for instance). Because
among the various components can of scientists’ focus on single-factor experiments
(change carbon dioxide, or change black carbon, or
get hideously complicated change sulphates), we have not historically provided

34 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09schmidt 17/9/09 10:11 Page 35 The energy puzzle: Climate models

Finely honed Climate models are becoming increasingly useful in setting policy because they are being extended to take into account many more of the interactions that
matter. Shown here are the changes in annual average surface temperature, ranging from a cooling of 2°C (blue) to a warming of 2.4°C (red), due to short-lived gases and
particles between 2000 and 2030 (left and centre columns) and due to long-lived gases between 2000 and 2050 (right column). Each row shows results for a different
model. Hatching indicates a statistical significance of 95% for the response. Source: Drew Shindell, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies

enough information for policymakers to properly controls mean that the mix of emissions is much more
weigh up these different effects. Neither have we complicated – carbon dioxide, of course, but also large
clearly identified the key sectors around the world that amounts of carbon monoxide, black carbon and sul-
might provide win–win–win scenarios for people wor- phates. Together, these emissions contribute strongly
ried about climate, air quality and ecosystems. to the “Atmospheric Brown Cloud” phenomenon and
However, scientific and computational advances in to the appalling air quality in the region. This implies
climate modelling and validation over the last few that efforts to improve rural electrification for instance
years now mean that we can do a much better job. – even if the power is generated in a modern coal power
Models now include many more of the interactions plant – could still reduce net climate warming because
that matter: atmospheric chemistry that can predict of the impacts on reducing ozone, methane and black
ozone concentrations as a function of the methane or carbon. These kinds of strategies are already being
carbon-monoxide precursors; or aerosol physics for pushed by the Indian government because of the more
multiple kinds of particles – those directly emitted, like direct impact on indoor and regional air quality and to
soot and mineral dust, and those created in the atmo- reduce the deforestation associated with biomass col-
sphere from other emissions. More importantly, the lection, but a recognition of the net climate impact may
models now include myriad interactions: the chemistry help bridge the current gaps in the international nego-
that takes place on the surface of dust aerosols that in tiations on a climate treaty.
turn affects sulphates; the impact of increasing me- Other surprises include the recognition that redu-
thane on atmospheric oxidation, which affects aerosol cing methane emissions from whatever source has
concentrations; or the affects that aerosols have on important indirect impacts on a range of other drivers
clouds or snow albedo. and is a more effective strategy for short-term reduc-
We can therefore now start to directly answer the tions in global warming than had been previously re-
questions that policymakers are raising – and some of cognized. As we move forward, we should be able to
the results may be surprising. assess the net climate impact of any particular policy
In Europe, for instance, the use of coal for power given the changes in emissions that will result.
generation produces very little sulphate aerosol or Like a full life-cycle analysis for judging the impact
black carbon because of existing air-quality controls. on net emissions of a switch in energy-generation tech-
Thus, the only options for reducing the climate impact nologies, a full Earth-system analysis should become
of coal relate to specific reductions in coal burning or the new standard in judging climate-policy proposals.
investment in carbon capture and sequestration. All climate models are wrong, but some of them are
However, in India and China a lot of coal and bio- useful, and by working more closely to answer the ques-
mass is burned in domestic settings where inefficient tions that are actually being posed by policymakers, we
low-temperature combustion and a lack of pollution can make them more useful still. ■

Physics World October 2009 35

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PWOct09_p36.indd 1 22/9/09 09:40:35

PWOct09grant 17/9/09 12:02 Page 37 The energy puzzle: The SuperGrid

Extreme energy makeover

With the world’s population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, how will we cope with the energy
demand? Paul Michael Grant presents the SuperGrid concept

NOAA/Science Photo Library

According to a report by the US Department of Energy recent years, an “extreme makeover” will be required. Paul Michael Grant
(DOE), world energy consumption is expected to grow But whereas these entertainment productions ad- is head of W2AGZ
from its present level of about 120 EWh (120 × 1018 watt- dressed radically changing the physical appearance of technologies, a
hours) per annum to well over 180 EWh by 2025, a rise people and houses, this article will consider what may private energy-
of more than 50%. Moreover, many demographers be necessary to transform the world energy culture and consultancy company
based in San Jose,
predict that the world’s population will approach 10 bil- economy to accommodate the challenge – in other
California, e-mail
lion by mid-century, with global industrialization rates words, how to effect an “extreme energy makeover”.
far outpacing those of the US. As the entire planet as- A principal uncertainty in this social equation is how
pires to reach a Western standard of living, the DOE much further the Earth’s remaining fossil fuel reserves
predicts that the current energy consumption rate, can be exploited. The link between the observed in-
63 EWh per year in the industrialized nations and crease in global temperature and concomitant increase
55 EWh in emerging countries, will evolve towards in carbon-dioxide emissions (currently 6000 million
80 EWh and 97 EWh, respectively. tonnes of carbon emitted per year and expected to
How to supply and configure the energy economy and reach 10 000 by 2025) remains controversial, but all
infrastructure for such a world is perhaps the principal agree that it is physically plausible. The coming decades
long-term challenge facing civilization in the 21st cen- are likely to see an internationally agreed upon “no
tury. A major component of the challenge will be attain- regrets” policy adopted that severely restricts the use
ing this energy goal in the most environmentally benign of fossil fuels for both transportation and the produc-
and least eco-invasive manner possible. To paraphrase tion of thermal and electrical energy. It would be most
the titles of several popular reality-TV programmes of wise for humanity not to oxidize every remaining atom

Physics World October 2009 37

PWOct09grant 17/9/09 12:03 Page 38

The energy puzzle: The SuperGrid

school home SuperSuburb

hydrogen households: 300 000
electricity: 1800 MW
supermarket hydrogen: 800 MW SuperNuke
family car electrons and protons => 2600 MW
nuclear plant
O2 250 km

SuperCable “Diablo Canyon”

voltage: +/– 20 Kv
hydrogen current: 45 kA hydrogen storage: 28 GWh
high-temperature superconductor hydrogen flow: 2 m s–1 => 6.8 kg s–1

Superstars The figure above left depicts a light-industrial, commercial/residential complex powered by nuclear-generated “hydricity” delivered over a hydrogen-cooled
SuperCable using high-temperature superconductivity wires. The “sun” represents the presence of photovoltaic roof panels as an adjunct power source, and the “pond” by
the nuclear plant represents the processing of sewage and other organic waste. Note the hydrogen-powered truck transporting “waste” oxygen resulting from the
electrolysis of water, which can be sold for commercial purposes or used to process or combust locally produced biowaste. represents a hypothetical
biotech firm of the future. Above right is conceptual depiction of the SuperSuburb and its baseline hydricity power supply and distribution to 300 000 end-users based on
the energy consumption of the author’s family household and provided by a “SuperNuke” of the approximate capacity of the Diablo Canyon facility located on the California
coast 250 km south of San Jose. On the opposite page is an example of a continental SuperGrid. This figure is simply illustrative, not literal. Various rearrangements can be
imagined and visualized to accommodate US regional political interests.

of carbon in the Earth’s crust. invasive – that is, to impress as small a footprint as
One major harbinger of this trend is the effort cur- possible on the environment and ecology. This latter
rently under way globally to develop technologies to requirement makes massive-scale renewables, such as
replace hydrocarbons with hydrogen as surface ve- wind, solar and biomass, unnecessary, but not indus-
hicular transportation fuel. In 2003 I estimated, as an trial–commercial–residential solar photovoltaics on
example of the enormity of this challenge, that the pro- roofs, as one has to live and work somewhere and
duction of sufficient quantities of hydrogen to replace the land area deployed is thus available for dual use.
the then-current annual consumption of petroleum in Similarly, by necessity, community provision is needed
cars and trucks in the US alone, either by electrolysis for the disposal of both sewage and discarded food,
or thermal splitting of water or methane, would re- which can subsequently be converted into methane to
quire additional power production equivalent to generate hydricity. I estimate that perhaps 85% of the
roughly 420 GW, which is one-third of the nation’s elec- energy requirements of SuperCity can be provided by
tricity generation capacity, currently about 1.3 TW nuclear-generated hydricity, abetted by an additional
(Nature 424 419) . Given the massive amounts of car- 15% from solar power and biowaste. Finally, all the
bon dioxide that would be need to be captured should technologies required for SuperCity already exist or
this hydrogen be generated either directly or indirectly are on the immediate horizon – no new breakthroughs
from fossil fuels, and given the enormous land areas or discoveries are needed.
needed for biomass, wind or solar required in its place, In order to quantify the SuperCity concept, I under-
one is brought to the conclusion that only nuclear took a detailed study of a “SuperSuburb” modelled
power can feasibly enable a complete hydrogen-trans- using data that describe the energy consumption of a
portation economy in developed and developing typical family home – mine – in a Silicon Valley resi-
nations. An expansion of nuclear power for electricity dential community such as San Jose. The study takes
and hydrogen production worldwide must be accom- into account individual residential electricity require-
panied by the creation of a new international organiza- ments for appliances, lighting, air conditioning and
tion capable of ensuring, by armed force if necessary, cooking, and hydrogen for the storage of electricity and
that the actinide materials employed are not diverted, personal transportation (50 000 km per year per fam-
from mine to enrichment through reprocessing and ily). Not included are community-support services such
breeding, for military purposes. as shopping centres, electric rail rapid transport and
street lighting.
Only nuclear The SuperCity In 2004 and 2005, I collaborated with Chauncey
I have a vision of an energy society based on a symbi- Starr from the Electric Power Research Institute and
power can osis of nuclear power generation of hydrogen and elec- Thomas Overbye from the University of Illinois on an
feasibly enable tricity, dubbed hydricity, distributed via a “SuperCable” extension of the SuperCable concept to encompass an
a complete employing high-temperature superconductors cooled entire continent, essentially comprising a continental
hydrogen- by cryogenic hydrogen. The latter would also be used SuperGrid (2006 Scientific American July pp76–83).
transportation as an intrinsic power agent at the end delivery point in The figure on the opposite page shows how this con-
addition to electricity. cept might apply to the “lower 48” states of the US.
economy in
An urban embodiment is suggested in the form of a However, similar scenarios can be constructed for
developed and light-industrial, commercial/residential “SuperCity”. China, India, South America, existing East–West Euro-
developing The “boundary conditions”, or ground rules, are that pean energy corridors and the Middle East – in partic-
nations the technologies employed be carbonless and non-eco- ular Saudi Arabia, as that nation moves from oil to

38 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09grant 21/9/09 15:10 Page 39

urban biomass Generation IV

nuclear plant

commercial electricity
solar roofs

energy storage electricity

heavy industry

nuclear and solar. Particularly interesting is Canada,

where several gas-pipeline construction projects are
already under consideration, principally the Mackenzie
Valley Pipeline, which would run from the Arctic fields
near Inuvik 1220 km south to Alberta and the US trans-
porting 18 GW (thermal) of natural gas, planned to
start construction in 2010, the energy equivalent to
China’s Three Gorges hydroelectric generation. When
this gas crosses the US–Canada border, some 23% will
be combusted to generate electricity. When the Delta
gas fields are depleted, why not plan to construct a
Generation IV nuclear plant on the site to generate
hydricity that would be sent southward over a Super-
Cable to be laid in the same right of way already devel-
oped for the natural-gas pipeline?

A quixotic dream?
Are SuperCities, SuperSuburbs and SuperGrids, al-
though in principle feasible with today’s emerging tech-
nologies, merely quixotic dreams? As mentioned
earlier, the various technologies required are already
available. The eco-impact of transmission corridors
would be about the same as a current oil or gas pipe-
lines. Regarding cost, it is estimated that the 1220 km
Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, including supporting
pumping stations, will cost about $18 000m, to which
would be added SuperCable materials and packaging,
which I estimate to be approximately $6000m over an
equivalent distance. The footprint required for hy-
dricity generation by nuclear power is far less than for
fossil fuels and especially renewables, but it is more
expensive than the former. Estimates of the costs of
future Generation IV plants run from $1400 per kW to
$4000 per kW (for comparison, coal plants capitalize
at $800 and natural gas at $450).
Having said this, it is important to point out that the
energy economy, unlike most of the private sector, is
driven by a multitude of factors in addition to tech-
nology. The next round of iGadgets will succeed in the
marketplace only if they are smaller, run faster and
cooler, cost less and create an addicted user commu-
nity. Technology is, at best, only 50% of the energy
equation, the remaining terms being driven by social
and political policies together with public perception,
which is often not guided by sound science (witness,
for example, the irrational fear of electromagnetic
fields emanating from overhead transmission lines).
A thorough energy makeover must also find ways to
address these other, non-technical factors. That will
arguably be a far more difficult challenge. ■

Physics World October 2009 39

PWOct09tolfree 17/9/09 11:10 Page 40

The energy puzzle: Nanotechnology and energy

Does nanotechnology
have the energy?
From new kinds of solar cells and improved wind turbines to supercapacitors and novel
hydrogen-storage techniques, developments in nanotechnology could transform the energy industry,
as Alan Smith and David Tolfree explain
Alan Smith is The single most important problem facing humanity containing titanium-dioxide nanoparticles that help
managing director of today is the need to secure a supply of sustainable protect against skin cancer. It is even possible to pro-
AZ-TECH Ltd and energy to meet the world’s current and future de- duce strong, thin coloured plastic films where the
David Tolfree is vice- mands. It is indeed the greatest challenge of the 21st colour comes not from pigments but from the diffrac-
president of the Micro
century and how we deal with it will determine the path tive properties of the film’s nanostructure.
and Nanotechnology
of our civilization and dictate the course of the world’s The challenge now is to harness such developments
and Education
future economic development. The aim is simple: to in nanotechnology for the benefit of the world’s energy
Foundation, provide clean, cheap and abundant energy to the six supply. Indeed, in 2006 when the Nanotechnology Law
Manchester, UK, billion people who live on the planet today – a figure and Business Journal published a list of the top 10 ways
e-mail dtolfree@ that is expected to rise to over 10 billion by the middle in which nanotechnology will affect our lives (4 401), of this century. four were concerned with different aspects of energy:
Our best hope lies in exploiting new technology – and solar energy; new batteries; lighter, stronger and more
nanotechnology in particular. Nano-scale materials are conductive materials; and clean water.
not, of course, new. Blood is a nanofluid, milk contains
the nanoparticulate casein, millions of adhesive nano- Look on the sunny side
scale “hairs” on a gecko’s foot let it dash upside down Where nanotechnology will have the biggest impact is
along ceilings, while the colour of a butterfly’s wings on renewables, which currently account for about 16%
arises from light diffracting off crystalline nanostruc- of the world’s primary energy supply. Although the UK
tures. Nanomaterials have also been used in commer- now generates only 4% of its energy from renewables,
cial products for decades, despite not being so named – it and other members of the European Union together
photographic paper and printing inks, for example, plan to increase this proportion to 20% by 2020 as part
contain nanoparticles, as the relatively large surface of a binding target agreed in March 2007. Solar energy,
area allows the solvent to evaporate off rapidly. in particular, is set to benefit from the nanotech revo-
In the last decade, however, research into nano- lution. We know that about 89 PW (89 × 1015 W) of solar
science and nanotechnology has led to over 1000 new power continuously hits the Earth’s surface, and cap-
nanomaterials – many with unique properties – com- turing just 0.02% of that radiation would be more than
ing onto the market, according to data from the Wood- enough to satisfy the world’s current energy require-
row Wilson International Center for Scholars. Tennis ments of about 16 TW (16 × 1012 W).
superstar Roger Federer uses a racket made from a Most of the Sun’s energy is currently captured by
composite material containing nanotubes – tiny, rolled- “first generation” solar cells, which in 2007 accounted
up sheets of carbon – while you can now buy sunscreens for 90% of solar-generated electricity. They are so com-
mon that even the Vatican now has an array of 2000
At a Glance: Nanotechnology and energy solar panels on the roof of one of its buildings, which
were installed in 2007 by the German firm SolarWorld,
● Nanotechnology is set to play a big role in the energy industry – from conversion generating over 315 kWh of electricity each year. In
and storage to transmission and distribution these cells (figure 1a), part of the silicon is doped to cre-
● The renewable sector will be a particular beneficiary through, for example, new ate an excess of holes (i.e. a p-type semiconductor),
kinds of high-efficiency “third generation” solar cells that use quantum dots, while another is doped to contain an excess of electrons
quantum wells and molecular dyes, while new nanostructured materials could (an n-type semiconductor). When photons of sufficient
lead to bigger, stronger but lighter wind turbines energy strike the cell, they promote electrons from the
● Energy-storage devices like supercapacitors and batteries will benefit from valence to the conduction band, thus creating electron–
developments in nanotechnology too hole pairs. Pairs formed on or near the p–n junction
● Durable, highly insulating and light-but-strong nanomaterials could help to reduce separate, with electrons flowing in one direction and
carbon-dioxide emissions by lowering energy consumption holes in the other to create a DC current.
First-generation devices can convert up to 31% of

40 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09tolfree 17/9/09 11:10 Page 41 The energy puzzle: Nanotechnology and energy

Puru Jena, Virginia Commonwealth University

incoming photons in electron–hole pairs – a limit cal- threshold and have efficiencies of up to 60%. One type High potential
culated by the Nobel laureates William Shockley and of third-generation cell involves stacking multiple cells Nanotechnology has
Hans Queisser back in 1961. The downside is that they with different semiconductor band gaps on top of one led to molecules such
are expensive because they need highly pure, single- another, which lets the device generate a current from as this lithium-coated
crystal silicon wafers. “Second generation” solar cells a much wider range of photon wavelengths than a buckyball that can
store hydrogen to
aim to reduce these costs by coating a glass or ceramic single-crystal cell. For example, Gavin Conibeer and
power fuel cells.
substrate with a thin film of semiconductor, such as cad- colleagues at the University of New South Wales in
mium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide, amor- Australia have been able to control the size of the band
phous silicon or micromorphous silicon. gap by using silicon quantum dots (tiny pieces of semi-
But where second-generation cells win on cost, they conductor), the diameters of which can be adjusted by
lose on efficiency, and the main focus of research is varying the thickness of the deposited thin films from
now on “third generation” devices. These are made which they are precipitated. Another option to boost
from thin semiconducting films, which makes them efficiency is to use carbon nanotubes or quantum dots
cheap, but they can beat the Shockley–Queisser embedded in thin-film conductive polymers that are

Physics World October 2009 41

PWOct09tolfree 17/9/09 11:11 Page 42

The energy puzzle: Nanotechnology and energy

1 Solar cells – old and new

a b
sunlight load

current titanium-dioxide
nanoparticles coated
with dye molecules transparent conductor

n-type –
electron flow p-type electrolyte
__ silicon

“hole” flow +
catalytic conductor
(a) Conventional “first generation” photovoltaic cells have a single crystal of silicon containing a p-type region with an excess of holes and an n-type region with an excess
of electrons. Photons striking the cell promote electrons from the valence to the conduction band, thus creating electron–hole pairs. Any pairs formed near the
p–n junction separate, with electrons flowing in one direction and holes in the other. (b) “Dye sensitized” solar cells – also known as “Grätzel” cells – are examples of
“third generation” devices and contain semiconducting titanium-dioxide nanoparticles coated with a layer of dye. Photons are absorbed by the dye molecules, which
become excited and eject an electron. This electron can then be “injected” into the conduction band of the titanium dioxide, from where it moves to the top transparent
electrode and out to an external circuit. The dye then strips an electron from the electrolyte, which recovers its missing electron by diffusing to the bottom of the cell, where
a cathode reintroduces electrons that have flowed through the external circuit.

placed on conventional silicon cells. By varying the size trick is to include an electrolyte – typically an iodine-
of the quantum dots, the cells can be tuned to absorb based organic solvent – from which the dye can strip
different wavelengths, which means that efficiencies an electron. The electrolyte then recovers its missing
of more than 40% may be possible. electron by mechanically diffusing to the bottom of the
An alternative third-generation device that also takes cell, where a cathode reintroduces the electrons after
advantage of nano-scale structures is the “quantum flowing through the external circuit. One of the advant-
well” solar cell, which was first developed by Keith ages of the cell is that the band gap of the semicon-
Barnham and colleagues at Imperial College London ductor does not have to be matched to the spectrum of
in 1989. Such devices typically consist of 50 or so nano- light shining on the cell: the absorption spectrum of the
metre-sized slices of gallium arsenide, each sandwiched dye can be easily tuned to this, which is why the cheap
between slightly thicker layers of gallium-arsenide semiconductor titanium dioxide can be used. Last year
phosphide – a structure that lowers the band gap of the Grätzel, who is now at the Changchun Institute of Ap-
gallium arsenide so that it can capture a bigger fraction plied Chemistry in China, was able to obtain cell effi-
of the incoming photons. Efficiencies of 27% have so ciencies of 8.2% using a new solvent-free electrolyte
far been obtained but this figure could rise substantially consisting of a mixture of three different salts.
with further development. And because a bigger frac-
tion of photons generate electron–hole pairs, fewer The leap from the lab
photons are simply absorbed by the semiconductor and Although third-generation solar cells are currently far
converted into heat. less efficient than the best first-generation devices,
An entirely different kind of third-generation device much of the research is still at an early stage and big
is the “dye sensitized” solar cell, pioneered by Michael strides have been made in recent years. Indeed, those
Grätzel and co-workers at the Swiss Federal Institute working in the field are confident that third-generation
of Technology in 1991. Also known as Grätzel cells, cells can eventually become better than conventional
these devices comprise a thin layer of chemical dye and silicon-based solar cells. But in order to take these
the wide-band-gap semiconductor titanium dioxide, devices from the lab bench and into mass production
which is cheaper than silicon. Mimicking the process of we will need to find ways of manufacturing them
photosynthesis, sunlight enters the device through a cheaply enough. Cost is the main driver: the reason why
transparent top contact then strikes semiconducting we do not see every building covered with solar panels
titanium-dioxide nanoparticles, which are roughly is that they are simply too expensive.
20 nm in diameter, coated with a 10 µm layer of dye (see However, a number of companies are already making
figure 1b). Photons are absorbed by the dye molecules, progress working on a variety of Grätzel cells, especially
which become excited and eject an electron. This elec- for applications where direct sunlight is not available –
tron can then be “injected” directly into the conduction these devices can still work if ultraviolet light penetrates
band of the titanium dioxide, from where it moves to the clouds. Cardiff-based G24 Innovations, for exam-
the anode on top and onward into an external circuit. ple, has developed a series of products in which cells
But as the dye molecule has lost an electron, it will have been incorporated into jackets, rucksacks and
decompose unless another electron is supplied. The other textiles, since the devices can be mounted on a

42 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09tolfree 17/9/09 11:12 Page 43 The energy puzzle: Nanotechnology and energy

flexible substrate. The firm also sells small wallet-type 2 Wind: where size matters
cells that can be used to charge mobile phones in areas
where electricity is not available.
160 m
Meanwhile, the Australian firm Dyesol is collabor- Airbus A380
ating with the steel giant Corus to commercially manu- wingspan 80 m
facture dye-sensitized solar cells on steel so that they 126 m

rotor diameter (m)

can be incorporated into roofs. At a time when virtu- 112 m
ally all of the construction and solar-cell industry is
going through a significant slowdown in activity and
short-term demand, the partnership promises to be the
first solar-cell technology that can produce electricity
as cheaply per kilowatt-hour as conventional gas- or
oil-fired stations in the normal light conditions experi- 15 m
enced in most cities around the world.
We should not forget though that nanotechnology 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 ?
can help other renewable sources of energy too, such 0.05 0.3 0.5 1.3 1.6 2 4.5 5 8/10
as wind power. As the power output of a wind turbine year of first operation and power (MW)
increases with the length of the turbine’s rotor blade,
The power output (red) from wind turbines increases with the diameter of the rotor blade – a
the search is on for light but strong materials that can
15 m diameter blade produces about 0.05 MW, while the most recent 126 m blades generate
be used to make blades as long as possible (figure 2). about 5 MW. Rotor size (and hence power output) has risen steadily over the last 30 years,
For example, researchers at the German firm Bayer such that 160 m blades, producing 8–10 MW, should one day be available.
MaterialScience have developed a new composite ma-
terial consisting of aluminium powder reinforced with
carbon nanotubes that has a tensile strength similar to applied voltage. This makes the charged layers move
that of steel but only half the density. When incorpor- back together and recombine, thereby releasing elec-
ated into a rotor blade, it is some 10–30% lighter and trons into the external circuit. Commercial supercapaci-
20–30% stronger than traditional non-reinforced alu- tors can be charged and discharged over half a million
minium and epoxy blades. times without their performance being degraded.
These and other nanocomposite materials could Chunsheng Du and colleagues at the University of
even replace conventional metallic moving parts in California, Davis, have recently developed a way of
tidal- and wave-power plants. Researchers at the UK storing even more energy in a supercapacitor. Their
firm TidalStream, for example, have designed turbines device consists of a closely aligned suspension of car-
that are mounted on semi-submersible buoys tethered bon nanotubes deposited on nickel foil. The nanotubes
to the seabed – rather than floating on the surface or have such a large storage area that these devices could
mounted on towers attached to the seabed – using tech- have a power density of 30 kW per kg, compared with
nology and components from the wind industry. Else- 4 kW per kg for the most advanced devices currently
where in the renewable sector, nanotechnology could commercially available. The researchers are currently
also play a role in hydro-energy power plants – for ex- seeking to patent their invention.
ample, via novel water-repelling nano-scale materials Many companies are also trying to develop new
that can be coated onto turbine blades to prevent them higher-powered rechargeable batteries, which is not
from corroding. surprising given that the global market for portable
rechargeables – dominated by lithium-ion batteries –
No trouble in store is set to grow from $1bn in 2008 to an estimated $9.1bn
Although some of the developments described so far by 2015. For example, Nanotecture, a spin-off company
are still some way from being widely deployed, nano- from Southampton University in the UK, has devel-
technology has already had a significant impact on oped extremely thin, high power, rechargeable bat-
existing power sources, particularly in relation to teries based on novel liquid-crystal technology. The
“supercapacitors” – devices that not only have a high batteries, which are just 150 µm thick, can be designed
power density, like a conventional capacitor, but also to fit into small spaces and are a cross between batter-
a high energy density, like a battery (figure 3). Super- ies and supercapacitors. Nanotecture’s patented super-
capacitors are common in laptops, where they can pre- capacitor technology uses a hybrid design in which the
vent the memory from being erased if the batteries run negative electrode consists of activated carbon and the To take third-
out. They typically consist of two electrodes made of positive electrode is a nanoporous nickel-hydroxide- generation
highly porous “activated” carbon, which has a high sur- based material.
face area and can store lots of charge, suspended in a With pore diameters of about 3 nm and wall thick- solar cells from
solution of long-chain polymer molecules. nesses of about 5 nm, the anode has a surface area the lab bench
When a voltage is applied across the electrodes, elec- available for electrochemical reactions that is some into mass
trons in the polymer solution move towards one elec- 200 times that of materials without such a nanoporous production,
trode, whereas the positively charged ions move towards surface. The sizes can be controlled and optimized to we will need to
the other. This creates two separate layers of opposite enhance battery properties like power and energy den-
charge in the solution, which are kept nanometres apart sities for specific applications. The device can be
find ways of
using a thin plastic film. The stored energy can be re- charged and discharged very quickly, which is ideal for manufacturing
leased in a matter of seconds – compared with hours high-current pulse applications such as flash photo- them cheaply
for rechargeable batteries – by simply turning off the graphy with mobile phones. enough

Physics World October 2009 43

PWOct09tolfree 17/9/09 11:12 Page 44

The energy puzzle: Nanotechnology and energy

3 Storage factors giant BASF has even developed metal–organic “nano-

cubes” made from terephthalic acid and zinc oxide that
1000 can store and release hydrogen to power fuel cells for
fuel cells laptop computers and other portable electronic devices
for up to 10 hours.
energy density (Wh per kg)

10h conventional Another approach being considered is to find a ma-

batteries 1h 1s terial that chemically bonds to the hydrogen. Using
10 this chemisorption technique, yields of 14% hydrogen
supercapacitors by weight have been achieved by covalently bonding
1 the hydrogen to carbon nanotubes. But as forming and
breaking chemical bonds requires the material to be
0.03 s heated, several research groups are looking at develop-
0.1 ing an intermediate technique between physical adsorp-
capacitors tion and chemisorptions as a working compromise.
10 100 1000 10 000 Save your energy
power density (W per kg) Inspired by developments in nanotechnology, solar
This “Ragone” diagram compares the performance of different energy-storage devices. Energy cells, wind turbines, fuel cells and other devices can all
density is how much energy is available and power density shows how quickly that energy can help to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, provided that
be delivered: conventional capacitors, for example, do not store more energy but can deliver it they are accompanied by a switch away from fossil fuels.
very quickly. A conventional lead-acid battery has an energy density of about 30–40 Wh per kg But another way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions is
and modern lithium-ion batteries about 160 Wh per kg. Nanotechnology is leading to new to use less energy in the first place, and here nanotech-
kinds of supercapacitor that can store and release lots of energy quickly, as well as novel forms
nology can help too. For example, scientists at the Ma-
of batteries. The times indicate how long the devices release their energy over.
terials and Engineering Research Institute at Sheffield
Hallam University in the UK have developed more
Fuel for thought durable, longer-lasting surfaces. Similar harder-wear-
The material that can store more energy per unit ing surfaces were first developed for bowling balls and
weight than any other, however, is hydrogen, and it is are now being used for the final lacquer on Mercedes-
possible to envisage a world where our energy is pro- Benz cars. These materials consist of either alumina or
vided not by burning fossil fuels but by this simple sub- silica nanoparticles. By lasting longer, they save energy.
stance. The idea is to react the hydrogen with oxygen In the automotive industry, light but strong nano-
in a fuel cell, releasing just energy and water, with no composites – consisting of nanoclays (montmoril-
pollution. (As little as 5 kg of the gas could drive a small lonites) – are well-established alternatives to metal
car more than 500 km.) The snag is that, compared with panels, and they reduce fuel consumption by saving
fossil fuels, hydrogen gas (H2) has a low energy density weight. Meanwhile, nanoparticulates have been used
by volume (figure 4). The hydrogen can, of course, be to reduce diesel consumption. For example, the UK
compressed by storing it at several hundred atmo- company Oxonica has developed a technology based
spheres, but this requires heavy, thick-walled tanks; on cerium-oxide nanoparticles called ENVIROX,
while liquefying the hydrogen means cooling it to 20 K, which are high-surface-area catalysts. Adding them to
which produces problems of its own. diesel makes the fuel burn more efficiently – even at
A preferable solution is “chemical storage”, which low parts-per-million levels – lowering fuel costs and
involves encapsulating hydrogen inside highly porous, reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.
high-surface-area materials. It is, for example, possi- Heat losses from buildings can be dramatically
ble to encapsulate hydrogen inside and onto the sur- reduced by using a variety of renewable insulating ma-
face of hollow molecules, such as buckyballs (C60). terials, for example fibreglass or rock wool. Nanotech-
Researchers are also working on a range of nanostruc- nology can also make improved insulating “aerogels” –
ture polymeric materials as hydrogen adsorbents. For highly porous, low-density nanomaterials with a very
example, Martin Schröder and colleagues at the Uni- high surface area and a high dielectric constant. They
versity of Nottingham in the UK have developed a are such good insulators that if you put your hand on
porous copper-based metal–organic polymer made up a sheet of the material you cannot feel the heat of a
of three polyhedral molecular cages that fit together to Bunsen burner placed on the other side. Aerogels are
provide a hollow framework. When cooled to 77 K, it about eight times more effective than traditional in-
can store 10% of its own mass as hydrogen at a pres- sulation materials, and find applications where high
sure of 77 bar – one of the highest uptakes so far for this thermal insulation can protect and safeguard buildings,
Being able to type of porous material. Low temperatures are needed thus lowering costs and saving energy.
manipulate to strengthen the intermolecular forces to hold the
matter at the hydrogen within the material, and further work will be Grasp the solution
molecular level needed to allow these materials to store hydrogen at Being able to manipulate matter at the molecular level
has profound room temperature. has profound implications in almost every area of
Meanwhile, Adam Phillips and Bellave Shivaram of human endeavour – from energy production and trans-
implications in the University of Virginia in the US have been able port to medicine and textiles. Unfortunately, our rapid
almost every to store up to 12% by weight of hydrogen in complex acquisition of knowledge often outstrips our ability to
area of human metal hydrides containing magnesium, sodium, cal- exploit it. If nanotechnology is to provide the answer to
endeavour cium, lithium, aluminium and boron. German chemical our energy crisis, then we do not just need more invest-

44 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09tolfree 21/9/09 15:05 Page 45

4 Hydrogen targets
volumetric capacity (g l–1)

liquid hydrogen 2015
chemical hydride
complex hydride
ride cryocompressed
compressed at 700 bar
compressed at 350 bar
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
gravimetric capacity (percentage weight)

With hydrogen set to become a fuel of the future, it is essential to be able to store
as much hydrogen in as small a volume as possible. This figure compares the
merits of compressing hydrogen gas (yellow), with cooling it under pressure in
special tanks (purple), encapsulating it in materials like buckyballs to form
“complex hydrides” (orange) and bonding it chemically to materials like
nanotubes to form “chemical hydrides” (light green). Also shown are results for
two US Department of Energy (DOE) learning demos (green) operating at different
pressures, as well as the DOE’s targets for 2015 and beyond. Source: DOE

ment, but an effective working partnership between

government, industry, academia and the wider public.
That will not be easy as nanotechnology is often a
disruptive technology – be it covering the desert with
solar cells or piping hydrogen to a new global network
of filling stations to charge up fuel cells. Companies
with the capability and resources will need commer-
cial incentives to exploit the new technologies and
make the leap from lab to production line. But eight
years after nanotechnology was dubbed by the White
House as “the next industrial revolution”, it is now
accepted even by the sceptics that the energy industry
will reap huge benefits from the new materials and
processes that nanotechnology can bring.
Even with fossil fuels, where nanotechnology has not
yet had much impact, there is every reason to hope that
it could be used to develop, for example, new materials
to capture carbon dioxide from power plants and store
the gas underground. This and much more can be ex-
pected from nanotechnology in the years ahead, since
we have only just dipped our toe into a huge ocean of
opportunities. In the wake of the recent economic cri-
sis, there is now a need to refocus on how best to use our
scientific and technical resources to solve the energy
problem. The solutions are truly within our grasp. ■

More about: Nanotechnology and energy

E Cartlidge 2007 Bright outlook for solar cells Physics World
July pp20–24
Department of Trade and Industry 2007 Meeting the Energy
Challenge: A White Paper on Energy (TSO, London)
Nanoforum consortium 2003 Nanotechnology Helps Solve the
World’s Energy Problems
Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics The Future
for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology
B Swarup 2007 Energy storage takes off Physics World
July pp42–45
D Tolfree and A Smith 2009 Roadmapping Emergent
Technologies (Troubador, Leicester)

Physics World October 2009 45

PWOct09reviews 17/9/09 17:22 Page 46

Niall MacKay and Roger Edgar

Sustainability made simple

vide us with significant amounts of it.

Phillip Hayson/Science Photo Library

Nuclear power may be problematic,
even dangerous, but it could meet
much of our needs; compared with
the alternatives, the volume of waste
it produces is small. On the domestic
side, building insulation needs to be
improved and heating needs to be
electrified, probably by the extensive
use of air-source heat pumps.
MacKay uses an additional unit –
kilowatt-hours per 100 passenger-kilo-
metres – when discussing transport,
and this illuminates his comparison
of the energy demands of different
modes of travel. Here again, the likely
advantages of electrifying as much of
our transport infrastructure as possi-
ble become clear; in the absence of a
persuasive “green” alternative like hy-
drogen cells, no other option offers
the flexibility of electricity. The author
is at pains not to let politics intrude on
his message, and the book concludes
with a range of “energy plans” to suit
all political tastes – except head-in-
the-sand failure to acknowledge that
Sunset scenario It is not often that a physics book be- slogan “numbers not adjectives”, is an there is a problem.
What lies ahead for comes a publishing phenomenon; and attempt to bridge that gap. However, setting energy policy
the UK when its oil when it does happen, the book is usu- MacKay, a physicist at Cambridge aside, the book also works on a deeper
runs out? ally about strings or cosmology. But University who has just been named level, bringing the concept of energy
David MacKay’s Sustainable Energy – as the UK government’s scientific ad- home to physics through “back-of-
Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air is different. It visor on energy and climate change, the-envelope” calculations. MacKay
– Without the Hot Air tackles a down-to-earth but contro- begins by choosing a single unit for shows how a physicist initially ap-
David J C MacKay versial subject in a remarkably even- power consumption: kilowatt-hours proaches a problem by identifying
2008 UIT Cambridge handed manner; it has been lauded per person per day, rather than the processes and constraints, and getting
£19.99/$49.95pb by a number of national and interna- usual muddle of kilowatt-hours, litres, numerical estimates of them.
free to download tional publications; and it remains BTUs, barrels, tonnes and so on. Naturally, such estimates need to
384pp high in the bestseller lists even though Though at first this seems clumsy, it be refined, but they make a good
it is free to download. turns out to be rather effective. Fig- starting point – as many physicists will
Despite the trendy word “sustain- ures mostly fall in the range 1–100, and know from their own lunchtime con-
able” in its title, this is avowedly not results are easily translated into per- versations. For example, we recall a
a book about climate change, nor is it sonal terms. With this technical detail discussion about recycling in which we
a political polemic. Instead, its pri- firmly in hand, MacKay then builds needed to know the conversion rate
mary purpose is to give decent nu- up two stacks: a red stack for energy of hydrocarbon fuel mass into energy.
merical estimates of the UK’s future consumption and a green stack for sus- For an immediate rough estimate, we
energy production and consumption tainable energy generation. used the calorie content of butter –
after the oil runs out. Such estimates If one accepts a need to balance and indeed this same calculation ap-
are normally only found together in current energy consumption with gen- pears alongside a picture of a pat of
think-tank reports, where they can eration, then conclusions emerge butter on page 29 of the book. The
appear surprisingly frail: their under- quite clearly, and the book summa- butter-derived figure proves to be
lying physics is seldom revealed, and rizes these in a straightforward man- about 20% too low – but since one of
it is difficult to judge their validity. ner. Renewable energy takes up a lot us developed instruments to measure
The mainstream media, on the other of land, and, for the UK, only wind the moisture content of butter, we are
hand, rarely seem to use large num- over our coastal seas and solar power able to improve the estimate by elim-
bers competently. This book, with its from other people’s deserts can pro- inating this moisture mass (which, of

46 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09reviews 17/9/09 17:23 Page 47 Reviews

course, contributes no energy) from enable readers to do their own calcu- ergy is much more positive and em-
the calculation. lations – in fact, its original working powering than either the school phys-
Of course, some estimates in the title was “You go figure it out!”. ics curriculum or most environmental
book are intended only to be good to To this end, MacKay is very keen literature. By exposing both the data
within a factor of two or so, and oc- that the book should be digestible. It from which his book’s conclusions
casionally somewhat poorer, since is well illustrated, and all algebra is are drawn, and the methods and ar-
MacKay’s goal is often just to put a confined to the technical chapters (in guments by which they are reached,
rough upper bound on a potential effect appendices) that make up the MacKay in effect says “You need take
source of energy. His estimate of last 90 or so pages. The physicist will no-one’s word for it. You can work
tidal-stream power, for instance, find much that informs (and occasion- it out for yourself, and this is how.”
combines physical arguments with a ally amuses) in these chapters, partic- Various reviewers have said something
perusal of the tidal charts in a nau- ularly in those on cars and planes. The along the lines of “every policy maker
tical almanac, and seemed to us (as former runs a long way on very little should read it”. We would rather advo-
yachtsmen) to rather underestimate algebra, and in the latter the basic cate it as a book every budding physi-
the ubiquity of strong tides around physics of a jumbo jet’s energy con- cist should read – and perhaps also as
the UK’s coast. Such an approach sumption is shown to scale down quite the one every working physicist would
does open the book to criticism, par- well to fit an albatross. like to have written.
ticularly from specialists; indeed, it In the main text, however, all that is
could easily become a victim of its needed is basic numeracy and famili- Niall MacKay (no relation to David) is a
own success if policymakers and arity with exponential notation. For mathematical physicist at the University of
others begin to regard its figures as this reason the book would be a good York, UK, e-mail
accurate final judgments. That would way of introducing teenagers to how Roger Edgar was co-founder of Infrared
be a shame, for it would traduce one real physicists work – all the more so Engineering Ltd, a spin-off company from the
of the book’s intentions, which is to because MacKay’s treatment of en- physics department of Imperial College London

Web life: Clim’City

What is it like to play? Who is it aimed at?
The main screen of Clim’City shows a model city With its cartoon interface and easily mastered
with mountainous outskirts, a populous coastline gameplay, Clim’City looks like a kids’ game.
and various structures in between. Clicking on Indeed, the French-language site contains a wealth
these structures brings up menus of possible of educational graphs, maps and interviews that
actions, along with information about their are not yet available in translation; science
consequences. For example, at the city’s power teachers on good terms with their school’s French
station, you can choose to burn cleaner fuel oil or department might find some opportunities here for
natural gas instead of coal, or to research (and then jointly taught lessons. But be warned: this game is
implement) carbon capture and storage. Some far easier to play than it is to win, and adults as
actions are contingent on others: you can also well as children will struggle to meet the
make the power station run on wood, but only if you demanding (some might say impossible) targets
URL: have already developed the city’s biomass for victory.
production facility. Each action consumes political,
So what is the site about? enterprise or citizen “points”, which represent the How realistic is it?
Like the popular SimCity computer-game series cost of getting different parts of the city to adopt Very – almost to the point of being discouraging.
that inspired its name, Clim’City puts players in your plans. When you run out of points, time moves Consider the following. If you do nothing, both
charge of a virtual city and allows them to choose forward by a year. A series of graphs lets you see emissions and energy use will tick inexorably
how it develops. To win, players must reduce your city’s chances of meeting its goals. upwards, in line with current trends. Some of the
greenhouse-gas emissions by 75%, slash energy most effective actions – like closing the city tip or
consumption by 40%, boost the share of renewable This is harder than it looks. Any tips? producing hydrogen at the solar power station –
energy by 60%, and help citizens and businesses The game provides numerical information about are really expensive, and require action on multiple
adapt to changing climate conditions – all within how long each action will take to implement, and fronts. It is far easier to run out of “enterprise
50 years. The game offers a number of different how much energy consumption and/or emissions points” than any other type, so even when you have
ways to do this (developing wind power, insulating will fall as a result. Paying attention to these plenty of political will and an enthusiastic citizenry,
buildings, improving public transport, etc), but it is quantities – rather than simply picking actions there is still only so much change that industries
up to the individual player to decide which changes that sound nice – will improve your final score. In can absorb each year. In fact, the game’s only
to implement, and in what order. addition, graphs showing how much energy/ unrealistic aspect may be the relative ease of
pollution each sector of the economy is using/ meeting its target for “adaptation”; if the current
Who is behind the site? producing can help players identify which areas furore over energy-saving light bulbs is any
It was launched in early 2009 by the Cap Sciences require more action. It is also worth noting that a indication, people are far less willing to change
museum in Bordeaux, France. The full site is still few actions, like reinforcing sea defences, do not their habits than this game assumes. Still, as a
only available in French, but the game itself has reduce emissions or energy use. However, they can simple (and addictive) demonstration of the
been translated (imperfectly but adequately) prevent players from losing valuable points if, say, a difficult energy choices facing the world, Clim’City
into English. massive storm strikes the city later in the game. is hard to beat – in more ways than one.

Physics World October 2009 47

PWOct09reviews 17/9/09 17:23 Page 48


Dan Falk

Profiles of genius and persecution

erer, especially in mathematics, than

Emilio Segrè Visual Archives/AIP/Science Photo Library

they were”. Sylvester left England for
the US in 1841, at one point attempt-
ing to secure a position at Columbia
College (now Columbia University)
in New York, an institution with a
charter explicitly forbidding religious
discrimination. Even so, James writes,
he was told that “the election of a Jew
would be repugnant to the feelings
of every member of the board”. A
college spokesman pointed out that
the sentiment “was not at all on the
grounds of him being a foreigner; it
would have been the same had he
been born of Jewish parentage in the
United States”.
Women, of course, faced obstacles
of their own. James has included
three Jewish women in the collection:
Hertha Ayrton (born Phoebe Sarah
Marks), who studied maths at Cam-
bridge University and was the first
woman to read a paper before the
Royal Society; Emmy Noether, des-
cribed by Einstein as “the most sig-
nificant mathematical genius since
the higher education of women be-
gan”; and Lise Meitner, whose work
on nuclear fission, many historians
Against the odds It is no secret that Jewish scholars 1940s made the university’s Claren- believe, ought to have earned her a
Lise Meitner faced the have made enormous contributions to don Laboratories into the leading Nobel prize.
dual prejudices of science, achieving far more than one centre for low-temperature physics. Meitner’s case illustrates just how
being both Jewish and might expect given their relatively Yet obscure or otherwise, none of formidable were the obstacles facing
a woman. small numbers. They have also faced the 35 had an easy life. Many had to a scholar who was not only Jewish
a staggering array of obstacles, culmin- flee the countries of their birth to but also a woman. When she earned
Driven to Innovate: ating in the near-total destruction of escape persecution. One of the most her doctorate from the University of
A Century of Jewish European Jewry under the Nazis in tragic figures is German mathemati- Vienna in 1905, she was only the sec-
Mathematicians the Second World War. These two cian Felix Hausdorff, who, together ond woman to do so; at that time a
and Physicists themes – genius and persecution – are with his wife, committed suicide in female student was “regarded as a
Ioan James the twin currents that flow through 1942 to avoid the inevitability of freak”, James writes bluntly. Later,
2009 Peter Lang Ioan James’ compelling Driven to capture by the Nazis. But the hard- Meitner was told she could not work
£25.00hb 288pp Innovate, uniting a series of profiles ships began long before Hitler came in the lab run by Nobel laureate Emil
that might otherwise be of interest pri- to power. Five decades earlier, Tsar Fischer; women were banned because
marily to a more specialized audience. Alexander III instigated waves of per- “they might set fire to their hair”. (She
The book profiles 35 physicists and secution, known as pogroms, against was later permitted to work in an old
mathematicians whose lives span the Russia’s Jews; in the 1930s and 1940s carpenter’s workshop.) Years later,
period from the mid-1800s to about Jews faced the horror of Stalin’s when she was working at the Kaiser
1950. Many of those featured, like “purges”. The fascists who seized Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, a talk she
Max Born and Albert Michelson, are power in Hungary in 1919 were also gave on “cosmic physics” was repor-
relatively well known, while Albert rabidly antisemitic. The list goes on. ted in the press as “cosmetic physics”.
Einstein is, of course, a household Even in Britain and the US – surely Though raised as a Protestant, Meit-
name. Many others, however, are safe havens by comparison – anti- ner was too honest to keep her Jewish
more obscure: the Prussian mathe- semitism was never far below the ancestry a secret. When Germany
matician Gottfried Eisenstein, for surface, as highlighted by the plight of annexed Austria, the country of her
example, whose intellect was des- mathematician James Joseph Syl- birth, in 1938, she fled to Sweden.
cribed by Carl Friedrich Gauss as vester. As a student in Liverpool in James does not try to find the root
being on a par with that of Archi- the 1820s, a classmate recalled, he was causes of the seemingly endless tide of
medes and Newton; or the German “hunted by his schoolfellows, in the hostility directed at Jewish thinkers.
physicist Franz Simon, whose stellar open street, for no worse reason than He does, however, do an admirable
career at Oxford in the 1930s and that he was a Jew, and very much clev- job of outlining the recent history of

48 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09reviews 17/9/09 17:23 Page 49 Reviews

European Jewry in a thoroughly re- tury, many Jews left Europe for the make a compelling essay in its own
searched introductory chapter. He US, and their influence on culture and right), James, who is not Jewish,
also reminds us just how important society came with them. Their role points to a variety of factors. “[It is]
Jews once were to the intellectual life was felt particularly during the Sec- reasonable to suppose that there may
of Europe. Before the Second World ond World War, when Jewish scien- be genetic factors,” he concludes.
War, some European cities were as tists played a significant role in the However, cultural factors along with
much as one-quarter Jewish. Many Allied war effort. And it continues “certain traditions and values which
Jews were doctors, lawyers, business- today. As James points out, currently are distinctively Jewish” may also play
people or professors. In Germany, more than 40% of the members of the a role. No wonder people are squeam-
well-educated Jewish families estab- physics division of the National Aca- ish about such matters. After all, one
lished salons in the capital. “Poised demy of Sciences are Jewish. might argue that it is the notion of
precariously between the nobility and One thing is clear: when barriers to “being different” that has fed so much
the bourgeoisie,” James writes, “they their success are removed, Jews do hatred over the years.
succeeded in transforming Berlin into very well indeed, particularly in the
a major cultural centre.” He also adds sciences. In a thoughtful analysis that Dan Falk is a science journalist based in
that, in Vienna “Jews began first to runs for about a dozen pages, James Toronto, Canada. His latest book, In Search of
enter and then dominate intellectual attempts – bravely, perhaps – to ad- Time: Journeys along a Curious Dimension,
cultural life”. dress the question of why this is the was published earlier this year by the National
In the early decades of the 20th cen- case. In this section (which would Maritime Museum, e-mail

Between the lines

An awkward genius introduction to both. to highlight its success in persuading
The name of Oliver Heaviside would ● 2009 Institute of Engineering and the candidates to issue formal
not feature prominently on most Technology £30.00/$50.00pb 224pp science-policy statements. But
lists of great scientists. Yet compared with the task at hand, such
Heaviside’s influence on the major A call for communication efforts seem like a drop in the ocean.
scientific questions of the late Readers who pick up Unscientific ● 2009 Basic Books £15.99/$24.00hb
19th century was considerable. America: How Scientific Illiteracy 224pp
His contributions to practical Threatens Our Future expecting a
telegraphy and telephony arguably polemic on public stupidity are in for Snapshots of UK astronomy
make him the founding father of a surprise. True, Chris Mooney and When photographer Lucinda
No crossed wires modern electrical engineering, and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s book does Douglas-Menzies read a newspaper
Oliver Heaviside’s when physicists talk of Maxwell’s contain some grim statistics (see article about the famed amateur
discoveries led to equations today, it is Heaviside’s tidy page 22) on how little many in the astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, she
better sound quality vector formulation they mean, not US know about science. But their was intrigued. Despite having little
on long-distance Maxwell’s ponderous 20-variable main focus is not on the ill-educated previous astronomy experience, she
telephone lines. original. Heaviside is also credited citizenry, but on the scientists whose nevertheless embarked on a quest to
with coining terms like impedance, aloof, hyperspecialized culture, they capture images of people who study
inductance and permeability argue, is making the problem worse. the stars and other heavenly objects.
to describe the electrical They are particularly keen to The resulting book, titled simply
phenomena he and others criticize the so-called New Atheists, Portraits of Astronomers, contains
observed in the early days of who believe that religion is both 38 photographs of noted UK
transcontinental communications. inherently bad and incompatible astronomers, from Mark Bailey of
In Oliver Heaviside: Maverick with science. Such attitudes could the Armagh Observatory to
Mastermind of Electricity, Basil actually harm the cause of science; John Zarnecki at the Open
Mahon offers an engaging account if forced to choose between religion University in Milton Keynes.
of this heady, confusing period when and science, the authors point out, Alongside each portrait is a short
electromagnetism was a young “vast numbers of Americans will paragraph in which each sitter
science and Heaviside was one of its select the former”. The pair also explains how he or she became
greatest – and most eccentric – decry the low regard some scientists interested in astronomy. Their
exponents. For Heaviside’s relative have for colleagues who devote time answers are as different as their
obscurity was at least partly his own to writing popular-science books; facial expressions – some serene,
fault. Although he could be witty even Carl Sagan was denied tenure some intense and a few fairly
and even charming to his friends, he at Harvard in part because senior bubbling with excitement at the
was also a thoroughly awkward scientists felt his outreach efforts subject they love. It is a fascinating
individual who bore grudges like a were inappropriate. Like many calls history, and a beautiful celebration
champion, speckled his scientific to arms, Unscientific America is of a subject half-mocked,
articles with thinly veiled attacks on better at identifying problems than half-praised as “the science of
his enemies and repeatedly rejected at suggesting solutions. However, pretty pictures”. A touring
pleas to make his papers more Mooney, a science journalist, and exhibition of the photographs will
understandable. Mahon is clearly Kirshenbaum, a marine biologist, do visit the Royal Society in October
sympathetic to his subject, but he offer a few. Both were involved in and Armagh County Museum in
does not shrink from the more ScienceDebate2008, which November/December; details are
challenging aspects of either campaigned for more scientific available at the website below.
Heaviside’s character or his science. coverage in the recent US ●
This slim volume is an excellent presidential race, and they are right index2.html

Physics World October 2009 49

PWOct09careers 17/9/09 18:04 Page 50

Of time
and tide
For Stephen Taylor, running a
marine-software company means
plenty of chances to apply
familiar physics to unusual
real-world problems – and being
your own boss is nice too
We often hear of physicists trying to under-
stand, map and explore objects in outer
space, but there are also big opportunities
for physicists where inner space is concerned.
This is particularly the case with the world’s
oceans. For example, while the study of tides
dates back thousands of years and was re- Steering his own course Running a business has proved most fulfilling for marine specialist Stephen Taylor.
garded as a dead subject for most of the last
century, we now realize that tidal physics has I graduated with a physics degree from gically transformed into my clients. I was
an unexpected environmental dimension. Nottingham University in 1975 and then able to use my skills in electronics, comput-
Applications of this revitalized science range worked for the UK’s Water Research Centre ing and design to rapidly produce a system
from the siting of tidal power generators and for some years before the tedium of gov- that fitted the bill. I was also able to set my
the optimization of fuel-saving shipping ernment research drove me to back to aca- own direction and targets. Within a year I
routes, to the effects of tidal height on flood demia. In 1984 I obtained a PhD in applied had produced AutoTide, the world’s first
defences and satellite-based measurements physics from the University of Hull, special- tidal-prediction system compatible with the
of sea level. izing in laser remote sensing. My experience then-new Microsoft Windows operating sys-
This is where firms like mine, Geomatix, with infrared-laser radar systems then took tem. I was enjoying being my own boss.
come in. Recent Geomatix projects include me to the US, where I joined RCA Astro
improving the accuracy of tidal predictions Electronics, which is now part of the defence Branching out
in the Thames Estuary for the Port of Lon- giant Lockheed Martin. I started the company now known as
don Authority, estimating the mean sea At RCA I was expected to work on military Geomatix in 1992 as a one-man operation
level for surveyors in the Persian Gulf, and space projects involving optical commu- with the goal of selling AutoTide in the
providing electronic charts of the sea bed nications. But when I attended a meeting marine market, but I soon moved into other
for the fishing industry. The work extends where some military guys dispassionately areas – notably marine mapping – via a con-
across the related fields of cartography, discussed how using infrared optical com- tract with the UK’s Sea Fish Authority in
hydrography, oceanography and geodesy – munications, rather than radio, could be Hull. The growth of oil and gas production
all areas where physicists are ideally suited a great benefit during a nuclear war in in the North Sea had caused problems for
for tasks ranging from instrumentation to CONUS (military speak for the continental the local fishing industry, as trawl gear would
surveys and mathematical modelling. US), I was disgusted by their callous attitude. sometimes get caught on sub-sea installa-
I realized that a career in military research tions. This led to some nasty accidents and
A long road to the sea was not for me. I therefore left RCA and even fatalities, so I became involved in con-
My career would not have been the same returned to the UK to become a senior lec- verting sea-bed data about oil and gas instal-
without my first physics teacher, the Rev- turer at Humberside Polytechnic’s depart- lations into electronic marine charts for
erend Brother Egbert. A rather eccentric ment of maritime operations, specializing in fishing vessels, so that they can avoid hazards
individual, he would often announce things navigation and radar-simulation training. while trawling.
like “the whole of physics is oscillatory” at Unfortunately, the department closed As part of this work, I spent one summer
seemingly random intervals. On one occa- shortly after I joined it, and in the ensuing frantically driving around harbours and
sion he sprayed his students with a Bunsen chaos I was asked to work as a consultant. At intercepting fishing vessels so I could test
burner connected to a water tap. This may Humberside I had been involved in the the then comparatively new GPS-based
seem like an unlikely inspiration to study design of marine-radar training simulators, electronic charts. On one occasion, I almost
physics, yet I credit him, and my father, an and one of our research sponsors asked me ended up marooned on a fishing vessel as it
early radio ham, for setting me on a career to design a similar system for them. This was was forced to leave harbour by the descend-
path that led – after many twists and turns – my lucky break. Before then, the people who ing tide. This could have been an embar-
to me becoming my own boss at Geomatix. paid me were my bosses; now they were ma- rassing error for someone in the business of

50 Physics World October 2009

PWOct09careers 21/9/09 13:58 Page 51 Careers

tide prediction – especially since the vessel Real-world physics Just as in the field of non-linear optics, non-
was going to be at sea for two weeks – but In this industry, it is not unusual to find physi- linear effects generate additional frequency
fortunately I was able to persuade the skip- cists (many with their own businesses) work- components, producing for example the phe-
per to drop me off as we passed the outer ing amongst hydrographers, mariners and nomenon of standing tides that are found on
pier in Scarborough harbour. oceanographers. Hydrographic topics like parts of the UK’s south coast. In this field,
The business started to expand in the early map projections, navigation and data analy- at least, Reverend Brother Egbert’s phrase
2000s, allowing me to hire a business admin- sis figure high on the list of requirements, about all physics being oscillatory is pretty
istrator and a programmer with an MSc in and all use very similar mathematical skills much spot-on.
astronomy. In 2003 we decided to concen- to those required in physics. On a day-to-day basis, my job as head of a
trate on the specialist area of harmonic tidal For example, the physics problems asso- small-marine software firm involves some
analysis. This is like a first cousin of Fourier ciated with tidal prediction are actually quite programming and some sales work, as well
analysis, and it enables you to work out the similar to those of infrared spectroscopy. as speaking to mariners, port hydrographers
transfer function between the tidal potential Both techniques deal with issues like resolu- and representatives from the oil and fishing
and the instantaneous tidal height. It also tion, line width and modulation – it is just industries. Recently I have also presented a
provides highly accurate figures for mean a matter of changing the frequency band few papers at hydrographic and oceanog-
sea level. So far, our systems for tidal har- from infrared spectral lines at about 1013 Hz raphy conferences, but I am not obliged to
monic analysis have been used in more than to tidal “spectral lines”, or constituents, of churn out publications to meet some bureau-
30 hydrographic offices for tidal prediction about 10–7 Hz. The strongest tidal constituent cratic university target, and am unfettered
and by numerous hydrographic surveyors to comes from the semidiurnal (twice-daily) by internal politics. Instead, I have the free-
determine sea level. Given the threat of cli- tide and has a frequency of 2 × 10–5 Hz. In dom to use the skills I gained as a physicist to
mate change and its associated predicted rise long-duration datasets of tidal height, in benefit clients in the wider world, where I
in sea level, systems like ours are a useful tool contrast, significant tidal components can be have found there is a great need for the prac-
for examining recent trends. The good news resolved down to events that occur about tical application of physics and which can be
is that even with our advanced analysis soft- once every 18 years, or 10–9 Hz – a frequency outstandingly rewarding.
ware, any rise in sea level is almost entirely in line with theoretical models based on the
masked by noise on the tide gauge data from known orbital parameters of the Sun–Moon– Stephen Taylor is managing director of Geomatix Ltd,
storms and surges – so far. Earth system. e-mail, Web


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Physics World October 2009 51

PWOct09careers 17/9/09 18:05 Page 52


Once a physicist: Kathryn Jackson Careers and people

Kathryn Jackson is senior technology is insufficient unless you can be
vice president and chief articulate about its benefits to energy security and Simulation experts win Dirac Medal
technology officer at environmental sustainability. Condensed-matter theorists Roberto Car
Westinghouse Electric of Princeton University in the US and
Company, a provider of fuel, How do you tackle that gap? Michele Parrinello of the Swiss Federal
services, technology and I think there is a growing recognition that nuclear Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) have
equipment for the commercial energy should represent a significant portion of a won the 2009 Dirac Medal for their work
nuclear-power industry, based low-carbon economy. Compared with the amount on numerical-simulation techniques. The
in Pennsylvania, US of waste produced by a coal-fired plant, the pair began developing new methods of
quantity that comes from a nuclear-energy facility modelling molecular dynamics in the
Why did you choose to study physics? is very, very small. But the public perception of mid-1980s, using elements of density
I find it fascinating to understand how things work, nuclear spent fuel is what matters. In terms of functional theory and Newtonian
and physics provides a fundamental understanding articulating the relative risk involved in various molecular dynamics to calculate the
of so many things by blending how they work with forms of energy production, I believe that the mechanical motion of atoms and
the theory of why they work. The breadth of physics, nuclear industry needs to become much more molecules in real time. Now known as
from optics to astrophysics, really appealed to me. effective. We need to be able to describe the the Car–Parrinello method, their
My favourite class was optics. I could see optical technology in ways that decision-makers and the technique has become a standard tool in
applications all around me and there were new public can understand. This is even more important computational physics and chemistry. The
technologies becoming available, like low-cost in the discussions regarding climate change. award, which is announced each year on
lasers, that had obvious implications for industry Renewables and energy efficiency are important, 8 August, Dirac’s birthday, carries a cash
and society. Physics was not esoteric – you could but we need a baseload energy source that is prize of $5000 and is sponsored by the
see how it would impact on people’s lives. reliable and carbon-free. Nuclear must be part of Abdus Salam International Centre for
the solution. Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy.
What did you do next?
I actually started my career at Westinghouse, where What is the role for physicists in this debate? Chinese scientists unhappy in careers
I worked on reactor-vessel radiation analysis for There is no-one better able to talk about this than Almost one-third of science and
just less than five years. Then, in 1983, I earned a someone who understands the technology. My technology workers in China would like to
Masters degree in engineering management and daughter is 16 and she is studying physics now, change careers, according to a survey of
moved away from a solely technology-based focus. and some classmates started talking about nuclear 30 000 researchers, technicians and science
I went back to academia and received my PhD in power. Some said it was terrible; my daughter teachers carried out by the China
engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon asked why, and it was about Chernobyl. She Association for Science and Technology
University in 1990. After this I started working at pointed out – because we have talked about this – (CAST). Only 49% of those surveyed said
the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which is a that Chernobyl could never happen in the light- they were satisfied with their jobs, and
government-owned corporation in charge of things water reactors used in the US. The physics teacher more than half do not want their children
like flood control and electricity generation in that was not aware of this. We have done our job badly to follow them into scientific research.
area of the country. I came full circle when I if we cannot communicate to those who have an Study author Zhang Xiaomei cited low
returned to Westinghouse in 2008. influence on the young people who are going to income, intense career pressure and a lack
shoulder the problems that this generation leaves. of career prospects as reasons for the
What sparked your interest in policy? Those of us who are fluent in technology need to be widespread dissatisfaction. Salaries for
I had a fascinating experience at the beginning of armed with data that can provide a sound basis for roughly 32% of science and technology
my graduate career, when one of my professors the trade-offs we need to make. workers are below China’s national
said something to me like, “Once I get this average, while 8% work more than
computer code perfect, I’m going to be rich What is your advice for physics students? 70 hours per week. China’s science and
because everyone’s going to buy my product.” The most important thing I learned – and it took me technology sector employs 52 million
And I thought, “Well, that doesn’t sound right to a long time to absorb it – is that the best technical people, of whom 25% hold a Masters or
me.” As I began thinking about this, it became solution is not necessarily the one that gets PhD degree.
apparent to me that the context of how we design implemented. You have to take business and
technologies and incorporate them into products political realities into account, and this often results Movers and shakers
makes such a difference to whether the technology in the implementation of a sub-optimal solution, String theorist Jaume Gomis of the
is accepted. Having an elegant technology, while from a technical perspective. But if a technology Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
appealing to a physicist, is not sufficient to make gets used to solve problems, that is a win! So I in Ontario, Canada, has won an Early
that technology useful. would advise physicists to recognize that their Researcher Award from the Ontario
knowledge is incredibly valuable, but to temper their Ministry of Research and Innovation. The
What drew you back to the nuclear industry? need for perfection. You can do absolutely anything C$150 000 award is aimed at helping
As the nuclear-energy industry has developed over as a physicist, because you can not only understand scientists to build strong research groups
the years, there has been a focus on lessons the technology, but also put it into context and ask early in their careers.
learned and on improving designs to make the really pertinent questions. It is that questioning Five amateur astronomers have won
plants safer, more reliable and more cost-effective. attitude that I think provides such value. the 2009 Edgar Wilson Award for
But historically, the industry has not been very good discovering new comets. Robert Holmes of
at communicating these improvements to the US, Koichi Itagaki of Japan,
policymakers, so there is a gap between the Stanislav Matricic of Slovenia, Michel Ory
technology’s realities and public perception. I think of Switzerland and Dae-am Yi of South
we need people who understand the electric Korea will each receive a small cash prize
industry – which I do thanks to my 17 years of To make the most of your physics degree, visit from the Smithsonian Astrophysical
experience at the TVA – and who recognize that Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
which administers the award.

52 Physics World October 2009

The Institute of Physics Awards Committee is now seeking For the Awards 2010 we are seeking nominations for the
nominations for the Institute Awards 2010, and we need your following medals and prizes:
help to nominate the most outstanding physicists in their
respective fields. International medal Subject awards
Isaac Newton medal. The following Subject awards
The awards exist to recognise and reward outstanding are made in even-dated years
achievements by physicists in their respective fields, working International bilateral awards only and so are sought for
in industry, business or research. In 2008 the awards Born medal; Holweck medal; 2010:
portfolio expanded, so we now have 27 medals that span all and Occhialini medal. Appleton medal; Franklin
areas of modern physics as well as contributions made to medal; Gabor medal; Hoyle
physics outreach, physics education, the application of Gold medals
Business and Innovation medal; Rutherford medal; and
physics and physics-based technologies. The Institute also Thomson medal.
awards medals with other international societies, including medal; Dirac medal;
the Occhialini medal, which is awarded jointly with the Italian Faraday medal; and The following Subject awards
Physical Society. Glazebrook medal. are made in odd-dated years
Education and outreach only and so will next be
Closing date: 8 January 2010 awards awarded in 2011:
Bragg medal and Kelvin Chadwick medal; Joule
Full details of the awards, eligibility, terms of reference and medal; Payne-Gaposchkin
the nomination procedure are available on the website. Go to medal. medal; Mott medal; Tabor and select Awards. Alternatively, contact the Early career awards medal; Rayleigh medal; and
secretary to the Awards Committee (tel +44 (0)20 7470 Maxwell medal; Moseley Young medal.
4800; e-mail medal; and Paterson medal.

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Graduate Opportunities
Scottish Universities Physics Alliance
Postgraduate Opportunities

Fifteen fully funded Prize PhD Studentships

+ over 100 other funded PhD places in physics in Scotland
The Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA) is opens a single door into all physics PhDs in POST-DOCTORAL FELLOWSHIPS FOR NON-ITALIAN CITIZENS
Scotland. When you apply for SUPA Prize PhD Studentship you will also be considered for all other IN THE FOLLOWING RESEARCH AREAS
funded places available in physics departments in Scotland.
Major themes pursued by researchers in SUPA are:
• astronomy and space • particle physics EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICS (N. 20)
• condensed matter and material physics • photonics
• nuclear and plasma physics • physics and life sciences The INFN Fellowship Programme 2009/2010 offers 35 (thirty five) positions for non-Italian
citizens for research activity in theoretical (n. 15) or experimental physics (n. 20).
UK and overseas students are invited to apply for fifteen fully funded SUPA studentships and more
than 100 other funded PhD places in physics in Scotland for 2010. Fellowships are intended for young post-graduates who are under 35 years of age by
November 15, 2009.
Each fellowship, initially, is granted for one year and then maybe extended for a second
The annual gross salary is EURO 28.000,00.
Round-trip travel expenses from home country to the INFN Section or Laboratory will be re-
imbursed and lunch tickets will be provided for working days.
SUPA Prize Studentships
SUPA is offering fifteen fully funded PhD studentships for outstanding students from both the UK Candidates should choose at least two of the following INFN sites, indicating their order of
and overseas. These prestigious and competitive awards are intended to attract top students preference.
from around the country and around the world to study for a PhD in Scotland.
– INFN Laboratories:
SUPA Prize Students are registered for a PhD in physics at one of the participating universities: Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati (Roma), Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso (LAquila),
• University of Aberdeen • University of Glasgow Laboratori Nazionali de Legnaro (Padova), Laboratori Nazionali del Sud (Catania)
• University of Dundee • University of St Andrews
• University of Edinburgh • University of Strathclyde – INFN Sections in the universities of:
• Heriot-Watt University • University of the West of Scotland Bari, Bologna, Cagliari, Catania, Ferrara, Firenze, Genova, Lecce, Milano, Milano Bicocca,
Napoli, Padova, Pavia, Perugia, Pisa, Roma La Sapienza, Roma Tor Vergata, Roma Tre,
The considerable physics expertise within Scotland is made available to PhD students through Torino, Trieste.
the excellent training environment of the SUPA Graduate School, which uses:
• video links between dedicated teaching rooms • tutorials and discussion classes The research programmes must be focused on the research fields of the Section or
• computer mediated resources and tools • lectures by distinguished visitors Laboratory selected (
• practical activities (e.g., programming labs) • summer schools Applications, in electronic form, must be sent to INFN no later than November 15, 2009.
• collaborations with major research facilities • knowledge transfer opportunities
• entrepreneurship training To register, candidates must use the website
All physics PhDs in Scotland are considered SUPA Graduate School students and are eligible to
The application form requires:
attend offered trainings.
Applications should be made at by 31 January 2010. • statement of research interests;
• curriculum vitae:
Further Funded PhD places in Scotland • three reference letters (specifying name, surname and e-mail of each referee).
Applicants for the fifteen SUPA studentships will also be considered for the other physics stu-
Theoretical fellowships must start from September to December 2010. Requests for starting
dentships available within Scotland. When you fill in the application form for the SUPA Prize PhD
Studentship, please indicate which of other 100 funded places are of interest to you. earlier accepted.
Experimental fellowships must start no later than April 2010. Requests to participate
(Prof. Roberto Petronzio)

Untitled-10 1 18/9/09 11:19:03

PWOct09Cl INFN 15x2.indd 1 22/7/09 10:48:22

Lighting the way.

Research Centre The International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for Quantum Dynamics in
PhD in Photonics Physics, Chemistry and Biology is a graduate school offering a doctoral degree program
in these disciplines. The IMPRS is a joint initiative of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear
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(GSI) in Darmstadt.
Considering a career in lasers, optical communications, nanophotonics, Applications of students from all countries are welcome. To be eligible for PhD studies at the
biophotonics, fibre optics, integrated optics, or sensors? University of Heidelberg, applicants should have a Master of Science degree (or equivalent).
Come and work with some of the world’s leading photonics scientists in our International applicants whose mother-tongue is not English or German are advised to
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Fully funded places are available for UK students including tuition fees and a
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Fully funded places are also available for EU and International students; for initiate his/her application by registering online at and
details please visit our website. following the steps outlined there. In particular, applicants should not send any material until they are encouraged to do so.

54 Physics World October 2009

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OctoberClassified.indd 54 22/9/09 09:09:38
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Physics World October 2009 55

PWOct09ClUCLAN 13x2.indd 1 21/9/09 08:53:06

OctoberClassified.indd 55 22/9/09 09:09:52

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The Master of Research (MRes) in Medical technology is a new one

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56 Physics World October 2009

Untitled-14 1 21/9/09 13:53:06

OctoberClassified.indd 56 22/9/09 09:10:09
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MSc Courses in Physics A>E"AVWdgVidgn[dg>chigjbZciVi^dcVcY:meZg^bZciVaEVgi^XaZE]nh^Xh!A^hWdc
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The Physics Department leads three Doctoral Training
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MRes in Plastic Electronic Materials; VcYjaigVhdjcY^bV\^c\^hWZ^c\YZkZadeZY^cXdaaVWdgVi^dcl^i]i]Z:jgdeZVc
MRes in Controlled Quantum Dynamics; 8ZciZg[dgBZY^XVa>bV\^c\8:G>B:9VcY8:GC#I]ZE:IYZkZadebZcihVgZ
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MSc in Physics; nZVgh#HZaZXiZYXVcY^YViZhl^aa]VkZi]Zedhh^W^a^inidVeeaniddcZd[i]ZA>E
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MSc in Optics and Photonics (The MSc is also a partner FjVa^ÒXVi^dch gZfj^gZY ^cXajYZ V E]9 VcY V XaZVg YZbdchigVi^dc d[ i]Z
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Physics World October 2009 57

PWOct09Cl LISBON.indd 1 21/9/09 11:42:19

OctoberClassified.indd 57 22/9/09 09:10:34

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58 Physics World October 2009

OctoberClassified.indd 58 22/9/09 09:10:47

Recruitment Advertising Tel +44 (0)117 930 1264
Physics World Fax +44 (0)117 930 1178
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The place for physicists and engineers to find Jobs, Studentships, Courses, Calls for Proposals and Announcements

The Cyprus Institute ( is a novel, non-profit research and Computing Support Specialists for the Computation-based
educational institution, with a scientific and technological orientation, Science and Technology Research Center (CaSToRC) -
pursuing issues of regional importance and of global significance in CaSToRC-09-04
the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa. The We have two Computing Support Specialist positions available. These
development of CyI involves the progressive launching of several cross- positions will provide computational expertise and technical support
disciplinary research centers. CaSToRC is being jointly developed with for the development of high performance computing facilities, data
the University of Illinois and its National Center for Supercomputing repositories and web and video collaboration services.
Applications and is intended to serve as an important research resource Required Education and Experience:
for CyI, Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean region, and as a gateway • BS degree (MS degree preferred) in a computer science, natural
between the EU and the region for advancing computational science, science, or engineering field required. Alternative degree fields will
engineering and technology. be considered if accompanied by equivalent experience (depending
on nature and depth of experience as it relates to the current project).
• At least 2 years of experience with at least two of the above mentioned
Research Associate for Software Development for the areas.
Computation-based Science and Technology Research In addition, for a Systems Administrator role, successful candidates will
Center (CaSToRC) - CaSToRC-09-02 need to have:
We are seeking a highly motivated Research Associate to participate • At least 2 years of experience in Unix Systems Administration
in the development of software applications including interactive web • At least 2 years of experience in the hardware maintenance of
applications and online databases within the Atlantis European/US computer systems
project entitled “Building a cyber-Platform for the support of High • Strong knowledge of computer systems and programming with at
Performance computing higher education”. The project is coordinated least 2 years of programming experience with one or more of the
by the Cyprus Institute and has as partners NCSA of the University of following: C, C++, Fortran.
Illinois, Penn State University, the Jülich Supercomputing Center, the
German Research School and the University of Wuppertal. Computational Scientist to work in atmospheric and climate
Required Education and Experience: modelling Computation-based Science and Technology
• MS degree in a computer/computational science, natural science, Research Center (CaSToRC) - CaSToRC-09-05
or engineering field required. Alternative degree fields will be We are seeking an outstanding computational scientist to participate in
considered if accompanied by equivalent experience (depending on the development of software and algorithms for atmospheric and climate
nature and depth of experience as it relates to the current project). modeling. The successful candidate will work with the research group of
• At least 2 years of experience in development, modification, Prof. Jos Lelieveld that pioneers research in Climate Change. S/he will
maintenance, porting and administration of web-based applications; be engaged in projects involving challenging algorithmic problems and
UNIX and/or LINUX and programming with one or more of the analysis techniques for large complex data sets.
following: C, C++, Fortran. Required Education and Experience:
• The candidate must have a Ph.D. in physics, computer science, or
related scientific discipline. Experience with numerical methods,
Project Manager for the Computation-based Science and parallel algorithms, software development for High Performance
Technology Research Center (CaSToRC) - CaSToRC-09-03 • Computer systems and strong programming skills are required.
We are seeking a Project Manager to take responsibility of the Experience in climate modeling is a plus but it is not required.
management of its research and educational projects. Most of these
projects are funded from the European Union, from NSF, US and from For further information, the full job descriptions and salary details
the Cyprus Research Promotion Foundation (RPF). please contact
The successful candidate will work with Prof. C. Alexandrou, who chairs
the Interim Governing Board of CaSToRC, to oversee and coordinate For full consideration, interested applicants should send a CV, a sample
the planning of the various projects, monitor the progress, design and of their work and the names of three contactable referees by e-mail to
implement appropriate tracking procedures including enabling software by the following dates:
and administer the financial and budgetary aspects. These projects
involve partners from Europe, the US and the Eastern Mediterranean CaSToRC-09-02 - 10th Oct 2009 CaSToRC-09-03 - 30th Oct 2009
and the successful candidate is expected to work with their respective CaSToRC-09-04 - 30th Nov 2009 CaSToRC-09-05 - 30th Nov 2009
administrations for the optimal implementation of the projects. Recruitment will continue until the positions are filled.

Physics World October 2009 59

PWOct09ClCyprus22x4.indd 1 21/9/09 10:45:34

OctoberClassified.indd 59 22/9/09 09:10:58

Project3 19/3/07 10:59 Page 1

 European Synchrotron Radiation Facility

The European
Light Source
Executive Director
SEPnet is a consortium of six partner Physics Departments at the
Universities of Kent, Queen Mary, Royal Holloway, Southampton,
Surrey and Sussex, working together with the common objective
of advancing and protecting Physics as a strategically important
subject in the UK. The consortium is governed by a board of senior
representatives from the partner universities, with a part-time
independent Chair, Professor, Sir William Wakeham. The Chair will
represent the consortium in dealing with HEFCE, Research Councils,
education authorities and regional organisations such as SEEDA and &!!!" & !
GOSE at a strategic level. 
$ "
Responsible for executive management of the SEPnet consortium, you !#  " !!
will play a major part in implementing the agenda for the development # .+)* (1(#+)-+)($-$)($&$-1
of Physics in the six HEIs, in the region and nationally; liaise at national $,.+)* ,'),-*)/ +!.&&$"#-,).+ # 
and international level with the principal stakeholders; and take the )!! +,1).( 0$-$(")**)+-.($-1-)/)+%
lead in allocating the consortium’s discretionary resources to achieve /$-#$(- +(-$)(&- ',.,$(",1(#+)-+)(&$"#-$(
+ ()& $(-# # +-)!-# + (#&*,
its goals. Responsible to Professor, Sir William Wakeham, you will
co-ordinate the steering groups which will manage the operations
$"# $!"
of the partnership, and also be responsible for the work of the non-
academic staff holding posts to carry out joint functions for SEPnet %%%! #!
including outreach and employer engagement. ""#!"  #""! #
Essentially you will be educated to higher degree level in a physical
!" %! !"#"!

  !!!" "$!"
science and be experienced in holding budgetary responsibility.
Located at one of the campuses of the six partner Universities or at    

  ()&   0
the Science and Innovation Campus at Harwell, you will be expected  &   
 /// ,+! .
to travel frequently to London, the six partner universities and other
organisations relevant to SEPnet activities.
For informal discussion, please contact Professor Robert Allison,
Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Sussex: or
+44 (0) 1273 678212; or Professor Steve Williamson, Deputy Vice
Chancellor, University of Surrey:
or +44 (0) 1483 689864.
For further particulars and application details, please
contact: Karen Chessman, Deputy Director Human Resources,
University of Surrey: Faculty Position in Theoretical Condensed
Matter Physics, Rice University
or +44 (0) 1483 689159 quoting Ref: 7235.
Closing date: 9 October 2009. Interviews: 22 October 2009.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University
We acknowledge, understand and embrace diversity
invites applications for at least one tenure-track faculty position
XXXTFQOFUBDVLTFQOFUDBSFFSTQIQ in theoretical condensed matter physics. This search is expected
to be at the Assistant Professor level, but consideration of an
appointment at a more senior level may be made in exceptional
cases. The position has an emphasis on fundamental theory, and
will complement and extend existing theoretical and experimental
activities in condensed matter physics (for information on these,
see Applicants should send a dossier that
POST-DOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP or RESEARCH ASSOCIATE includes a curriculum vitae, statements of research and teaching
in Condensed Matter Physics interests, a list of publications, and two or three selected reprints,
Physics Department : University of Johannesburg, and arrange for at least three letters of recommendation to be sent
Auckland Park Campus, South Africa to: Prof. Q. Si, Chair, Condensed Matter Search Committee, Dept.
A contractual position is available for up to 5 years to a skilled and motivated of Physics and Astronomy – MS 61, Rice University, 6100 Main
Street, Houston, TX 77005, or by email to with
experimental researcher in the physics of strongly correlated electrons, rare-earth
magnetism, or thermoelectric properties of correlated systems. A completed Doctorate
in experimental physics is required. Ample opportunities exist for initiating new projects, subject line “CMT Search”. Applications will be accepted until the
as well as to participate in established projects of the students and members of our position is filled, but only those received by November 15, 2009
will be assured full consideration. The appointment is expected to
group. Facilities available include argon-arc, induction, and tubular synthesis furnaces, and a
variety of materials characterization methods. Measurements capabilities within the group
include a broad range of physical properties such as electronic and thermal transport, start in July, 2010. Rice University is an affirmative action/equal
specific heat, and SQUID-magnetometry. opportunity employer; women and underrepresented minorities
Date of commencement: As soon as possible. are strongly encouraged to apply.
Contact: Prof A. M. Strydom,,
Phone: +27-11-559-2320, Fax: +27-11-559-2339.

60 Physics World October 2009

PWSep09 UnivJohanessb 7x2.indd 1 RICE advert.indd

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BQQMJDBUJPOTGSPNEJTBCMFEQFSTPOT If you are unable to apply on-line
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Nominations for Editor in Chief of EPL

Nominations are requested for the Editor in Chief of EPL, a letters journal owned and published by a consortium of national physical
societies. The Editor in Chief (EiC) needs to be a recognised authority and leading researcher in a field of physics, and have a broad
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Nominations may be made by the individual concerned, or by third parties not later than 15 November 2009. Nominations should
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Physics World October 2009 61
PWSep09EPL 13x4.indd 1 21/9/09 15:00:39

OctoberClassified.indd 61 22/9/09 09:11:26

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Faculty Position in Solar Physics, Rice University Faculty of Engineering & Physical Sciences

Department of Physics and Astronomy

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The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University Lectureship in Chemical

expects to have a tenure-track junior faculty position available in Synthesis of Functional
Solar Physics starting July 1, 2010 and invites applications from all
qualified applicants. The successful candidate’s research program
should complement current research in solar physics and related fields Up to £43,622 per annum
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The successful candidate is expected to participate actively and institute that focuses on functional materials and devices.
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You should have a strong track record of synthesis or growth
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For the best careers
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RICE advert 2.indd 1 22/9/09 08:55:36
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in physics in physics
pack or to apply on-line please go to
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Closing date: 30 October 2009.
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Please note e-mail applications/recommendation letters are NOT accepted.
Deadline for receipt of applications: 1st December 2009.

Physics World October 2009

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OctoberClassified.indd 63 22/9/09 09:11:54

PWOct09lateral 15/9/09 16:29 Page 64

Lateral Thoughts: Cormac O’Raifeartaigh

E is for energy
“Energy, power, 101 FM!” This radio jingle is driving me

Chris Sattlberger/Science Photo Library

to distraction. Why are DJs convinced that energy and
power are the same thing? Is there some history to this? I
do wish the jingle writers would consult an encyclopedia
before going public.
Ah, energy. Such a little word, so often misunderstood,
yet such a wonderfully useful concept – and surely the
most ubiquitous quantity in physics. “Energy is the capa-
city to do work” we tell hapless students in their intro-
ductory physics courses. It is probably the first abstract
concept they encounter, but most find it intuitively easy to
understand – as in “I hadn’t the energy to get out of bed”.
Then they learn of kinetic and potential energy, and of
the law of conservation of energy, before going on to cal-
culate the landing velocity of boys falling off cliffs. These
are simple ideas but deep (my favourite type). The con-
servation of energy, for example, arises from the transla-
tional symmetry of time, which is an example of Noether’s
theorem – not something that generally arises in a first
physics course.
As the student progresses in physics, the ubiquity of
energy becomes apparent. From mechanics to heat, from
optics to electrostatics, energy just keeps on turning up.
The history of how energy spread through physics is an
interesting one; apparently the word energeia was first
used by Aristotle, but the concept of energy in the mod- Any surfer will energy operator H makes life a good deal simpler – thanks
ern sense had to wait the late 1600s, when Leibniz defined tell you that to the Irish physicist William Rowan Hamilton.
vis viva as the mass of an object multiplied by its velocity Actually, my favourite sort of energy turns up in the
squared. And it was not until the 19th century that scien- tides are a quantum world: the energy of the vacuum. According to
tists discovered that heat is simply a form of energy – a dis- damn sight the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (ΔEΔt ≥ h –
/2), parti-
covery that paved the way for the laws of thermodynamics more reliable cles can borrow energy to come into existence as long as
and all that followed. they are quick enough about it – a pretty neat trick, if a bit
The ubiquity of energy continues into modern physics.
than wind short-lived. This vacuum energy is particularly important
Consider special relativity. For all its startling predictions or wave in cosmology, as it is thought to be responsible for the cur-
of time dilation and length contraction, it is the discovery rent acceleration of the expansion of the universe (the so-
of the equivalence of mass and energy that is the theory’s called dark energy).
crowning achievement. Mass is a hidden form of poten- Come to think of it, just about all of Big Bang cosmology
tial energy, no less. Even the sacred law of conservation can be stated succinctly in terms of energy: an ultra-hot
of energy becomes a law of conservation of mass–energy. and ultra-dense universe gradually cooling and expand-
This brings us to E = mc2. Much has been written on ing is surely one great conversion of potential to kinetic
the fame of this equation, but for my money, it is all in the energy, from beginning to end. How about that for a brief
E. Anyone can guess that E stands for energy, so it is easy history of time?
to grasp the excitement of an equation that predicts a That was a quick ramble through physics, but of course
whole new form of energy (especially if the equation is the concept of energy is used throughout science. For the
accompanied by a picture of an atomic bomb). That said, public, the most familiar example is surely renewable en-
friends tell me the humble c2 also gives a certain pizzazz ergy. Plenty has been written in this issue on the poten-
to the equation. Incidentally, “ee is mc two” is how the tial of renewables to simultaneously address the twin
equation is pronounced by the younger generation, challenges of energy supply and carbon emissions. I am
apparently. Sigh. no expert, but speaking as a surfer, my money is on tidal
Energy plays an even more important role in the gen- energy: if you have a moon and oceans, then you have a
eral theory of relativity, since the curvature of space–time highly periodic and reliable free lunch, no? Any surfer
on one side of the equations is related to the density of will tell you that tides are a damn sight more reliable than
matter–energy on the other. (Or something like that.) wind or wave.
Sounds completely mad until you remember that effects But wait, wait! Why do we speak of wave power but tidal
such as time dilation in a gravitational field have been veri- energy? No wonder our friends in the media are confused.
fied beyond doubt. Time for some standardization, people. I suggest we stick
And what about quantum theory, that other pillar of with energy...and while we are at it, let’s change that jingle
modern physics? It is not long before one encounters the to “Wave energy, tidal energy, 101 FM”.
Schrödinger equation – the starting point for almost any
problem in quantum physics. Written as Hψ = Eψ, this is Cormac O’Raifeartaigh lectures in physics at Waterford Institute
just another energy equation. While students struggle with of Technology, Ireland, and is the author of the blog Antimatter,
the true meaning of the wavefunction ψ (don’t we all), that e-mail

64 Physics World October 2009


Revolutionary software technology for today –

To power the discoveries of tomorrow.

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