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  • star power

    in the middle of the night, as the rest of America sleeps, a small group of physicists in California stand in a hushed control room. the clock steadily counts down towards zero and then, in a fraction of a second, everything happens at once

    a bank of powerful lasers unleash their beams, which travel through a series of tunnels at the speed of light. bouncing back and forth, they pick up more and more energy before converging on a central sphere. inside, all 192 beams meet, focussing their power on a tiny capsule no bigger than a peppercorn. it’s all over in a matter of seconds, but in the heat and pressure at the centre of that sphere, researchers at the National Ignition Facility believe they can see the future: a world powered by the ultimate clean energy source

    their goal is to show that nuclear fusion – the same ultra-efficient force which powers our sun – can be initiated with laser beams, and they’re inching closer and closer to that day. in this piece originally published in House Magazine, we caught up with Director Mike Dunne to talk about the greatest prize in physics…

    Why is fusion power so exciting?
    The reason people have spent decades and billions of dollars on fusion research is that the prize is really quite compelling. There are no greenhouse gas emissions, it’s inherently safe as there’s only a tiny amount of fuel being used at any given time, but that tiny amount can deliver the same output as a very large coal station or a big nuclear power station. But unlike nuclear there’s no enrichment, no reprocessing and no high-level waste – so you don’t have any of those proliferation concerns.

    You were working in the UK until quite recently – why did you move to the National Ignition Facility? Are they on to something?
    
I’ve spent the last five years assembling a European consortium to develop this technology and make it a reality, and having worked through that, you get to realise what it will take to convert the dream into reality. That’s really what drew me here: this is the one place in the world that has the technology systems, the lasers big enough and operational enough to demonstrate once and for all that the science works. This is a concept that was born actually just three or four days after the laser itself was demonstrated. There was a guy here, quite a young researcher at the time, who had the idea of “hey you could actually make use of this to heat up a little bit of fuel to such a high temperature that you get fusion”.

    Was he right?
    With a laser, you can focus energy down to a really small spot – smaller than the width of a hair – and focus it in really short periods of time, we’re talking billionths or even trillionths of a second. When you do that you get very high power, very extreme conditions. And it turns out it’s sufficiently extreme you can mimic what goes on at the centre of the sun. So this guy had an idea fifty years ago, and it’s taken all those decades ever since to get to the point where we’ve now built a system that we strongly believe is now big enough and capable enough to achieve that dream – to get significantly more energy out than the laser itself delivers.

    How close is that goal?
    We’re now starting the final phase of the project, which we believe will take about a year. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, but our high expectation is that, yes, we will prove the scientific break-even point, where you get more energy out than you put in. And then of course it’s still a considerable task to take that scientific proof and configure it into a power plant. We’re now working on the basis that we know the science is laid to rest, we know that’s a done deal, so this really will mark the end of that fifty year journey. Then we set about talking to the power utility companies, and the large-scale industrial vendors – Hitachi, GE, Westinghouse, Toshiba – to convert that scientific proof into engineering reality.

    Given that somebody thought of it right away, why has it taken 50 years to reach this point?
    It’s a strange combination of science, sociology and politics. The idea of how you would do it was formed in 1960 and broadly that idea hasn’t changed in all of these decades. There were some difficult pieces of physics and engineering that came along that made it much harder, but it has also strongly been influenced by geopolitics and by energy prices. So we’ve seen the amount of focus that’s gone into this research ebb and flow over the decades, but we’re now at a point where the hurdle has finally been cleared, and we’re performing the experiments to figure out exactly how to activate this energy. If money were no object at the time and there was a real strategic need to drive it, could it have happened in less than fifty years? Absolutely; probably significantly.

    What about other fusion projects, like the international ITER project? Is it still worth pursuing them?
    No matter how wonderfully well laser fusion performs there is a finite rate at which it can grow and impact the energy economy when you’re talking about hundreds or maybe even thousands of terawatts of energy the world will need. So magnetic fusion – which is the ITER approach – advanced fission, offshore wind, solar thermal, photovoltaic, not to mention energy conservation – all of these things will be needed. We need to pursue every possible option.

    + + +

    for more on the National Ignition Facility, visit http://lasers.llnl.gov


    this article was originally published in House Magazine #15.

    credit

    all images: NIF/LLNL

    deep impact

    Meteor Crater by Joe King

    in the first in a series of articles, we explore some of the places we’ll be visiting on our upcoming Total Solar Eclipse Expedition this August. first up is Meteor Crater, a massive hole in the ground in Arizona that helped scientists establish techniques for identifying meteor strikes…

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    ✺ solar eclipse expedition

    sc_eclipse

    14-22 August 2017

    join a small group of creative explorers as we travel across the spectacular deserts, forests and mountains of Western America to witness one of nature’s most incredible sights: a total solar eclipse

    click here to register

    after meeting in Los Angeles, we’ll head out into the high desert to explore the natural beauty of Joshua Tree and camp overnight under the stars. we’ll then venture into Arizona to visit the Biosphere 2 experiment and spend a night at Arcosanti, Paolo Soleri’s ecological city in the desert. after stopping at the legendary Lowell Observatory for a briefing about the eclipse we’ll visit Meteor Crater, a massive impact site with an awesome gift shop. next up is the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon, after which we’ll spend the night amid the iconic sandstone buttes of Monument Valley

    from then on in it’s all about the total solar eclipse – a surreal sight that everyone should witness at least once. as the Moon slowly covers the sun during this rare alignment, the morning of 21st August will slowly dim until the face of our nearest star is completely obscured. the sun’s faint corona and the planets Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury will become visible in the daytime, and birds might start singing again thinking it’s dawn

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    seeing science

    SS1

    launched in September last year, Seeing Science is a year-long project at the University of Maryland that examines and documents the ways in which science is represented through the visual medium of photography

    with online platforms, essays, events and exhibitions, the project looks at the ways in which science is represented as an industry and as an academic subject; the people involved and its myriad interactions with our everyday life. from Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering studies of animal locomotion to NASA’s rich photography archive through to augmented reality goggles for surgeons, Seeing Science seeks to examine the various forms scientific images take, what they reveal and how they transform the disciplines they serve. Bobby Jewell spoke with the project’s curator and producer, Marvin Hieferman, to find out more

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    a planet of oceans

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    from the depths of the Marianas Trench to the remote beaches of the Chagos Archipelago, we’ve rounded up five incredible places from around the planet in honour of World Oceans Day

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    L’Indifférence Des Etoiles

    L'Indifférence Des Etoiles

    88 pages / 26 × 19 cm / hardback
    41 photographs / full colour offset
    first edition of 500

    L’Indifférence Des Etoiles (The Indifference of the Stars) is French photographer Julien Mauve’s first book. filled with juxtaposed images of deep space and our world, it is about the quest for meaning and the difficulty to live with the knowledge that we exist. somehow, the stars become a shelter for the mind and help us bear the briefness of human life

    £25
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    the cosmic desert

    largest-salt-pan-in-sahara-chott-el-djerid-tunisia

    stretching more than 7000 square kilometres across the barren deserts of Western Tunisia, Chott el Djerid is a vast salt lake that extends to the stars. an ‘endorheic’ basin, it floods in winter with rainwater and run-off from the distant Atlas Mountains, with dissolved minerals forming delicate pinks, soft greens, baby blues and other subtly beautiful colours. as spring turns to summer, crystalline structures emerge as the fierce Saharan heat turns the shallow waterways into glittering desert once more…

    read more about Chott el Djerid’s cosmic connections in our latest Where On Earth column for AnOther

    SUPER/COLLIDER X BOOK B

    CRCO

    to mark the Hong Kong launch of our retrospective book, super/collider presented a two week pop-up shop at Book B, located inside the new mixed use space common room & co. in Hong Kong

    following on from this, our books have been now been added to the shop’s permanent selection, and we have more in the pipeline. next time you’re in Sham Shui Po, stop by to browse a selection of publications at the intersection of art and science…

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    Time Traveller by Seana Gavin

    TimeTraveller

    34x34cm glicée print
    limited edition of 50

    our collaborative collage series with artist Seana Gavin is inspired by our mutual love of vintage science books, world encyclopaedias and other educational treasures. combing the super/collider library for inspiration, Gavin’s meticulous hand-made collages reposition and reinvent Earth and space-based objects as new forms in surreal, otherworldly landscapes – strange realms devoid of a fixed time and place

    full series here

    £50
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    art and sci-fi in the Atacama

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    in one of the highest, driest and most remote landscapes on the planet, astronomers have constructed a series of megalithic devices to peer deep into space. these complex, futuristic artefacts and the strange landscape that surrounds them are what drew French artist Caroline Corbasson to the Atacama, where she’s currently shooting a new short film. you can read more about the project in our latest article for Amuse and check out this series of exclusive location scouting photos…

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    ten

    104-page retrospective book (2006-2016)
    first edition of 1000
    170mm x 240mm
    printed with vegetable-based inks on FSC-certified paper made from 100% post-consumer waste

    in 2006 we published our first fanzine and began a journey into science and culture. from the depths of interstellar space to the limitless subatomic horizons of particle physics to the most beautiful places on our planet, we’ve been privileged to spend the past decade exploring the wonders and aesthetics of science from a creative standpoint

    full of short stories and facts, ten is more than just a retrospective of our work. it’s a visual record of where science has taken us all in the last decade – told through 100 beautiful images from the worlds of astronomy, chemistry, mineralogy, physics, ecology, biology… and beyond

    £10
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    Platular ring by Noemi Klein

    Platular ring by Noemi Klein

    inspired by the intersection of earthly geology and crystalline geometry, Noemi Klein crafts intricate pieces in a range of fine metals. in her Epoch 5 collection, geological structures in the form of precious mineral clusters crystallise the natural environment and provide a sharp physical alternative to the ethereal and sensory world of the eye

    £189
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    the in sound from way out

    GOES satellite

    researchers at Queen Mary University in London are inviting filmmakers and creatives to experiment with sounds from space, as part of a new competition launched today. to find out more about these cosmic noises, we caught up with project lead Dr Martin Archer…

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    islands of ice

    antarctic_peninsula_the_larsen_ice_shelf_and_the_sea_ice_covered_waters_around_the_region

    in our latest column for AnOther we overfly the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, which is about to unleash one of the largest icebergs the Earth has ever seen

    treasures

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    unearthing and meticulously photographing artwork and images from 19th and early 20th century astronomy books, Print Science are working to showcase how people used to record the heavens. beyond lunar charts, hand sketches of the solar corona and an early photograph of the Pleiades, the collection includes early impressions of Mars and a beautiful drawing of a comet over London

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    ring world

    manicouagan_crater_iss012e15880

    open up Google Maps and scroll over to Canada – then zoom in and take a look to the right of the ‘Québec’ label. notice something weird? a massive, circular lake? that’s an impact crater from a 5km wide comet or asteroid that hit the area over 200 million years ago, making it the oldest known and largest visible impact crater on Earth

    in our new column for AnOther, we look at Manicouagan Crater and other (potentially related) impact sites across the planet

    Liliane Lijn in conversation with Johanna Kieniewicz

    Ruins of Kasch, 2008, Liliane Lijn

    6 December 2016

    in this talk, artist Liliane Lijn will share her experiences exploring light since the 1960s. beyond discussing her artistic practice, Liliane will talk about her influences and historical understandings of light from the past millennia, drawing on her readings in Tibetan Buddhism as well as her interest in physics and astronomy

    7.30-9.30pm
    Second Home
    68 Hanbury Street / London / E1 5JL
    tickets are free for Second Home members and £3 for non-members – please RSVP here

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    speaking into space

    deep_field

    20 October 2016

    humanity regularly sends information from Earth out into the universe that may be picked up by potential extraterrestrial intelligence – but should we be sending such messages? and if so, how do we represent ourselves? in searching the universe, what do we find out about ourselves?

    join us as we explore these ideas with Dr Jill Stuart – an academic based at the London School of Economics who specialises in the politics, ethics and law of outer space exploration and exploitation. beyond serving as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Space Policy, Dr. Stuart is a trustee of METI International, an organisation that focuses on sending messages from Earth to potential extraterrestrial life

    7.30-9.30pm
    Second Home
    68 Hanbury Street / London / E1 5JL
    tickets are free for Second Home Members and £3 for non-members – please RSVP here

    is our universe a hologram?

    © Mr Div

    © Mr Div

    Tuesday 20 September 2016

    join Dr. Andrew O’Bannon on a journey to the cutting edge of theoretical physics. holography is the bold idea that all the information in our 3D universe may be contained in a mysterious 2D image, like a hologram. promising not only to unite Einstein’s relativity with quantum physics, it also has the potential to provide us with cleaner energy, faster computers, and novel electronics

    7.30-9.30pm
    Second Home
    68 Hanbury Street / London / E1 5JL
    £5 | book here

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    rooftop astronomy at Ace Hotel

    with the skies getting darker earlier, our ever-popular astronomy nights are back high atop the Ace Hotel London Shoreditch. come take a close up look at the planets, the lunar surface and other wonders through the hotel’s in-house 203mm Dobsonian telescope, customised by super/collider

    the season kicked off on August 9th with a session featuring the Moon, Mars and Saturn overhead. the evening featured astronomer Jeni Millard, art installations from Isobel Church and Dario Villanueva and a talk by Louise Alexander, a planetary scientist from the University of Birkbeck

    sign up for updates on future events

    making plastic precious

    Studio Swine

    inspired by nautical craftsmanship and folk art, the designers at Studio Swine went in search of plastic in the ocean for their Gyrecraft project – and found a lot to choose from. sailing 1000 nautical miles from the Azores to the Canary Islands, they passed through through the North Atlantic Gyre: one of five points on the planet where swirling megacurrents concentrate vast quantities of floating debris, including plastic

    “it’s one of the biggest problems facing our civilisation,” says Studio Swine’s Alex Groves, “plastic is in every part of the ocean and the effect it’s having on plankton is only just beginning to be investigated. plankton are the base of the entire planet’s food chain, and they are responsible for producing one third of the oxygen we breath. if we lose plankton we are headed for another mass extinction. in the swirling gyre, most of the plastics have broken down into tiny fragments which are spread over massive stretches of the ocean. due to their size, they are incredibly difficult to recover in any large quantity – making this once disposable material very precious”

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