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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

    space age

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    following on from two successful gallery exhibitions, the Vintage NASA Photographs project has just released a new set of photographs for sale, including this one of the Gemini-7 spacecraft as seen from Gemini-6. other highlights of the collection include orbital tests high above the Earth, various Apollo astronauts on the Moon and even some shots from the Voyager probes taken in the 70s and 80s

    so what makes these prints worth so much? as curator Henry Little explains: “the photographs on the website are guaranteed as vintage NASA prints, processed by NASA’s photographic laboratories shortly after the date of the scene depicted. contemporary, original prints of pictures taken by astronaut-photographers such as Neil Armstrong are very rare and difficult to find, especially in good condition. generally speaking, vintage NASA photographs were printed on fibre-based 8×10 photographic paper, mostly on “A Kodak Paper”

    we’ll be publishing more images on our Instagram, and super/collider readers can enjoy a 10% discount on Vintage NASA Photographs until 13 November – just enter SUPERCOLLIDER2017 in the promo code box

    all that glitters

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    from the ancient Aztecs to Versace’s new Spring 2018 collection, gold has transcended fashion and culture to remain relevant across millennia. it’s one of humanity’s most enduring precious metals, but it’s taken science until this week to finally pin down exactly where it comes from

    the short answer is that gold and other heavy elements are formed by the explosions created by merging neutron stars – super dense suns that weigh twice as much as ours but are only about 10km across. the long version of how we figured this out is an amazing story of cutting-edge physics, astronomy and some timely international cooperation.

    read more in our new post for AnOther

    exploring the invisible

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    Monday 20 November 2017

    join super/collider at The Collective to explore the invisible with Dr Simon F Park, Senior Teaching Fellow in Microbiology and Molecular Biology at the University of Surrey. through his talk, Simon will reveal a hidden universe which sheds light on the microscopic processes happening beyond our field of vision. Simon will also talk about his research on bacterial bioluminescence and light sensitive materials

    8pm – 9.30pm
    The Collective
    Old Oak Lane
    London
    NW10 6FF
    free – but please RSVP here

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    deep space

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    deep down in the depths of the Earth’s oceans lies a world in many ways more mysterious than outer space. blanketed by darkness and the crushing weight of billions of tons of seawater, this alien abyss is the focus of the Parley Deep Space Program, which we recently profiled for a special insert inside Dazed Magazine…

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    Cassini: a spectacular end

    Wednesday 22 November 2017

    after two decades in space, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has completed its remarkable mission to Saturn. orbiting the planet and its many moons, the probe captured incredible images and made a number of new discoveries before being deliberately plunged into the gas giant to keep its moons pristine and uncontaminated. although the spacecraft is gone, researchers will be studying the rich trove of data from the mission and its grand finale for years to come

    join us hear Professor Michele Dougherty, the Principal Investigator for the magnetometer instruments for Cassini, discuss what new discoveries came from the probe’s long journey and ‘end of mission’ science

    7-9pm
    Second Home
    68 Hanbury Street / London / E1 5JL
    free for Second Home members
    £3 for non-members – please RSVP here

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    magic mushrooms

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    the complex and mutually-enriching interaction between soil, plants and fungi is similar to the fertile relationship between mushrooms, mankind and art – a dynamic explored in a new show curated by Francesca Gavin that opens tomorrow night in Paris. as she explains, “this simplest of organism has been at the core of ritual, power and ideas around immortality and strength for thousands of years. contemporary artists are continually drawn towards the mushroom for its references to nature, the psychedelic and the spiritual”

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    seeing science

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    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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    THE PLANT

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    a beautiful magazine exploring all things botanical, THE PLANT is ‘a curious observer of ordinary plants and other greenery’ put together by and featuring creative people who love plants

    Issue 9’s cover and monograph is dedicated to the humble yet irresistible geranium, with illustrations by Mélanie Dautreppe-Liermann, Ken Kagami, Jean Jullien, Mrzyk & Moriceau, Tim Lahan and Okamura Yuta. elsewhere in the issue, Brazilian artist Roberto Burle Marx talks gardens, designer Antoni Arola details his passion for seeds and seed pods, photographer Mark Borthwick explores the flora of Jamaica and super/collider provides text to accompany Kuba Ryniewicz’s incredible photos of the Danakil Depression – an arid, alien landscape in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia

    Issue 9 / £12
    SOLD OUT

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    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

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    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 be the first to hear about upcoming fieldtrips and expeditions

    read more

    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
    add to cart (UK)
    add to cart (elsewhere)

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    the cosmic desert

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    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

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    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
    add to cart (UK)
    add to cart (elsewhere)

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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
    add to cart (UK)
    add to cart (elsewhere)

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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
    add to cart (UK)
    add to cart (elsewhere)

    view all items from Noemi Klein

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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

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