Friday, 27 January 2017

UK Leaving Euratom. What does it mean?

According to official explanatory notes accompanying the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, the withdrawal of the UK from the EU will mean withdrawal from the Euratom programme.  

As an academic nuclear physicist, my knowledge of Euratom comes from its role within the European research mechanism.  The Euratom page at the European Commission website says that "Euratom is a complementary research programme for nuclear research and training" and goes on to describe its role in research into decarbonisation, nuclear fission research, nuclear waste management, fusion energy, and radiation protection.  Its most high–profile project is the ITER fusion reaction; the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, based in France, to which Euratom contributes, with other partners.

But as well as being a scientific research programme, Euratom is also a very high-level treaty that the UK has just confirmed it will leave at the same time as it leaves the EU.  What I have not seen anything about is whether and how the UK will step in to replace the funding of research in these areas.  Will we re-join ITER as an independent partner?  What about pursuing the other goals of the Euratom research project for UK scientists?  Will they have increased funding via the UK Research Councils to replace Euratom?  The UK Government need to state the position on the wider consequences of departure from Euratom, if they wish to inspire confidence to the UK scientific community in the management of the Brexit process.  

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Buy Lego. Save the world.

A friend of mine who works at Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited alerted me to this pretty neat thing:  Lego has a scheme whereby proposed kits and designs can be produced by them if they receive enough support on a community website.  Someone has proposed a kit for the Galileo Global Navigation Satellites, parts of which are made here in Guildford.  If you'd like to see the kit made available, please add your support at the Lego Galileo Spacecraft page.  It doesn't oblige you to buy one when it gets to market, but Lego is pretty cool stuff, and Lego are also a place where at least I feel comfortable spending my money, given that every time we spend money we are undertaking an act about as political as anything else we do.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Applications of Nuclear Physics

A really nice and extensive article on many of the uses of nuclear physics appeared on the arXiv this week, written by Anna Hayes of Los Alamos Lab.  As well as including the most obvious applications (weapons and power) and perhaps the most widespread, as well as the first, application (medical), it also covers some of the neat uses in areas like geology, where the study of isotopic abundances in things such as groundwater can tell you what it going on far underground.  I've yet to read the whole thing yet, but it looks definitely worth bookmarking as a go-to piece whenever you are looking to discuss the range of things nuclear physics is applied to.

The figure attached to this post is from the paper, showing some of the ancient (pre-historic) natural nuclear fission reactors that existed in what is now Gabon, detected by the unusual isotope ratio of the remaining uranium, as well as some fission products.  See Anna's paper for more details!