Thorium: The Nuclear Fuel of the Future?

Thorium is described by its proponents as a “superfuel”. Marion Cromb asks what makes it better than what we have now?

Currently, nuclear reactors use enriched uranium as fuel. It is 96% uranium isotope U-238, and just 4% fissile U-235. Fissile isotopes split when hit by a neutron, and are the only isotopes capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction. While uranium power is a thousand times more efficient than fossil fuels, reactors utilise less than 1% of their fuel and generate plutonium waste that is dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.
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X-ray Crystallography

Revealing Structure: Amy Thompson revisits the technique that science has overlooked.

X -ray crystallography is a fundamental method used to study atoms that make up a solid object. As the name suggests it involves the use of X-ray beams, which are fired at the solid that has been made into a crystal form. Information is received from the X-ray beams as they bounce off the crystal; this is recorded as a series of dots. These dots reveal the organisation of the atoms within the solid structure allowing scientists to see how a structure is arranged. It is a complex procedure based on highly intricate, yet fundamental mathematics that enable the prediction of a solid structure to be mapped out.
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Plenty of Room at the Bottom?

Visionary or mere daydreamer? Siddarth Trivedi investigates Feynman’s contributions to nanoengineering.

Richard Feynman was an American theoretical physicist well-known for his work in quantum electrodynamics for which he won a Nobel Prize in 1965, at the age of 47. The famous pictorial representation schemes in quantum physics that he developed, were later named after him as Feynman diagrams. In contrast, his contributions in the nanoengineering field are relatively unknown – in particular, his lecture There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom given at Caltech in 1959. At the time, the atomic scale was mostly inaccessible, yet this lecture identified him as a visionary for the future of engineering. But was Feynman’s contribution actually important or was this simply the ramblings of a daydreaming physicist?
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Astronomical Superstars

Marion Cromb explores the cosmic contributions of the women of Observatory Hill.

“Oh, Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me” is the popular mnemonic used to remember the standard stellar classification system, used by astronomers and astrophysicists all over the world. You might have assumed it was a guy that came up with this aide-memoire in the 1900s, but sources indicate it was the woman who pioneered the OBAFGKM system itself: Annie Jump Cannon.
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Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Anna Westland discusses how the media can provide the general public with a common misconception about a scientific issue by trying to create a ‘shock factor’, and how scientists and journals alike can alleviate the problem by becoming more understandable and accessible.

The science stories that attract the most attention are often the more controversial ones, but sometimes science is simply miscommunicated to the public. While most now realise that much of the research, like that linking MMR vaccines with autism, was fraudulent, people often still believe the views of the mainstream media. Topics such as genetically modified organisms and stem cell research are still painted in a negative light, as often the mainstream media prefers to concentrate on the more shocking aspects of research rather than actually asking scientists what the applications of their studies are. Scientists are infamous for not being able to communicate well, or simply not bothering to, but this is something that is now changing.
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The Future of Affordable Drugs

Imprimis Pharmaceuticals is striving to provide affordable, safe generic drugs in the US, starting with a cheaper alternative to Daraprim for treating infections in HIV-positive individuals. The manufacturing rights to Daraprim were purchased by Turing Pharmaceuticals in September, with prices rising from $13 to $750 overnight, provoking outrage from politicians and HIV/AIDS charities alike. Continue reading “The Future of Affordable Drugs”

The Future of Stem Cell Research

Hannah Richards dives into the depths of stem cell research and explores the latest developments both in the lab and in the clinic.

In the last few years, the explosion in stem cell research amongst scientific and medical groups has sparked interest within political, pharmaceutical and ethical communities. Stem cells offer great potential to treat diseases that cannot be cured with current medicines; however there is much debate surrounding this controversial research. The concern lies in the use of embryonic stem cells, as it involves the destruction of human embryos with the potential to develop into human life. Embryonic stem cell research has truly divided the European Union, with Germany, Italy and Austria keeping this research illegal.
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Printing the Earth

3D printing is fast becoming one of the most exciting technical advances for geological science. The ability to incorporate this into research and industry could have a vast effect on the future of Earth science. For students, 3D prints of types of fossils or topographic models could support understanding without risking valuable resources. The X3D Project hopes to make The Smithsonian Institution’s irreplaceable collections available to anyone and everyone around the world.
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Research at Birmingham: The Institute of Microbiology & Infection

Originally published in our winter 2013 issue

Ian Henderson, is a Professor of Microbial Biology in the College of Medical & Dental Sciences here at the University of Birmingham,  and is also the Director of the newly established Institute of Microbiology & Infection, the IMI. Opened in December 2012, and located in the School of Biosciences, the institute is one of the biggest centres for microbial research in Europe.

SATNAV Co-Editor Emily Dixon talked to him about the Institutes inception, and where they are hoping to go from here.
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AMS and the Search for Antistars

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) is one of the largest and most expensive particle physics detectors of all time.  Unlike its cousins at CERN, it operates thousands of miles above the surface of the Earth, orbiting on board the International Space Station.  It is designed to detect particles of antimatter flying through space as cosmic rays, ultra high energy particles from stars and other sources.

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