Tag: radiation

British school kid corrects Nasa’s figures

A British teenager has been on the blower to Nasa scientists to point out an error in a set of their own data.

Miles Soloman in Sheffield found that radiation sensors on the International Space Station (ISS) were recording false data. The correction was said to be “appreciated” by Nasa, which invited him to help analyse the problem.

“What we got given was a lot of spreadsheets, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds,” Soloman told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.

The research was part of the TimPix project from the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), which gives students across the UK the chance to work on data from the space station, looking for anomalies and patterns that might lead to further discoveries.

During UK astronaut Tim Peake’s stay on the station, detectors began recording the radiation levels on the ISS.

“I went straight to the bottom of the list and I went for the lowest bits of energy there were,” Miles explained.

Miles’s teacher and head of physics, James O’Neill, said: “We were all discussing the data but he just suddenly perked up in one of the sessions and went ‘why does it say there’s -1 energy here?'”

What Miles had noticed was that when nothing hit the detector, a negative reading was recorded. Since you cannot get negative energy. So Soloman and O’Neill contacted Nasa.

It turned out that Miles had noticed something no-one else had – including Nasa.

Nasa said it was aware of the error, but believed it was only happening once or twice a year but Solomon noticed it was happening several times a day.

Radiation resistant MEMS could survive nuclear attack

MEMS devices could be used for computer and robotics circuitry to withstand radiation in a damaged nuclear power plant or deep space, even keep infrastructure working in a nuclear attack.

According to researchers at the University of Utah, MEMS developed logic gate devices have been developed which can survive intense ionizing radiation that would fry most circuitry.

Robots have already been used in areas of extreme radiation, such as the nuclear power plants which were severely damaged as a result of the tsunami in Japan last year. But despite heavy shielding it is only a matter of time before essential electronics cease to work.

The team at Utah claims to have developed MEMS which could create circuits able to withstand such conditions.

Tradional silicon semiconductors rely on channels to carry electrical current.  However radiation creates its own current and this can disrupt the ability of the semiconducting material to perform.

MEMS, on the other hand, do not have a semiconducting channel, and instead function by electrical charges causing electrodes to touch each other, acting like a switch. This means that they are not as susceptible to the effects of radiation.

There are downsides to MEMS, with silicon electronics around a thousand times quicker and substantially smaller.  MEMS devices also require larger voltages to switch from one state to another.

However, the team has worked to reduce the number of devices need to create a computer, and have also succeeded in reducing by a factor of 10 the amount of voltage needed to switch.

The next steps for the team, which has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is to start to create small computers based on the simplified MEMS circuits.

According to the researchers the end result could mean that the circuits, which survived 277 degree heat and two hours in the Utah university research reactor, will be able to withstand “cosmic ionizing radiation”, or to “help robotics to control troubled nuclear reactors without degradation”.

Mobile phones to come with radiation detectors

Mobile phone operator Softbank has started selling smartphones with radiation detectors.

Apparently people are so concerned that radiation is spreading out along Japan’s eastern coast more than a year after the Fukushima crisis that they need re-assuring.

Parts of north-eastern Japan are still off-limits due to high radiation levels after the Fukushima nuclear plant and anti-nuclear sentiment is high.

According to Reuters, groups in Tokyo and other cities are calling for radiation monitoring at schools and other public facilities.

Softbank thinks that the threat from the nuclear accident is a concern for particularly for those with small children.

Softbank founder and president, Masayoshi Son, standing in front of an aerial photo of the crippled plant thinks that this means that people will want a smartphone which tells them if radiation levels are too high.

The smartphone in the company’s “Pantone” series will come in eight bright radiative colours. In each will be customised IC chips made by Sharp that measure radiation levels in microsieverts per hour.

The phone will hit the shops in summer will keep track of each location a user tests for radiation levels.

Son is a critic of nuclear power and advocate of renewable energy sources. He told hacks that the smartphone was more portable and user-friendly than conventional Geiger counters. 

San Francisco backtracks on tough mobile phone laws

San Francisco has decided that it does not really need to tell its citizens how their mobile phones are melting their kids’ brains or turning their inner ears to jelly.

The city was all set to force telcos to tell punters how much radiation their gadgets produced, but suddenly got cold feet after it was told that it might be sued into the Pacific Ocean by cash rich telcos.

The San Francisco Chronicle said that the mobile phone radiation disclosure bill has been put on “indefinite hold,” and a “watered-down version” will probably be enacted instead.

The telephone makers do not like the idea of a league table of radiation levels being put on boxes. It would make some of them look like mad scientists experimenting with the brains of children. After all parents everywhere would not give a kid a mobile phone which has a higher radiation rating out of the fear that they might mutate.

They claim that the radiation labels were inaccurate and might lead shoppers to buy phones that emit more radiation than others.

Under US law, telephone manufacturers have to tell the government how much radiation their phones emit. The San Francisco Mayor at the time the bill was bought in, Gavin Newsom, thought it was fair that the great unwashed knew about these figures.

The telcos said that mobiles have different radiation rates depending on what they are doing. If you are running one flat out it might have a Fukushima rating. But if it is in your pocket on standby it might have the same rating as a butterfly at rest.

We are told that one version of the iPhone logs in at 1.19 which is close to the radiation limit when it is being held in a particular way, to just 0.16 if it is used in another.

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos has announced that when the law comes back from the drawing board it will require “somewhat less” information of retailers. It might also order device makers to more prominently post the safety advice that they include in the fine print. 

TSA doses passengers with "higher than expected" levels of radiation

The US Transport Security Administration might have been dosing passengers with higher than expected levels of radiation in the name of protecting them from terrorists.

Not satisfied with huge levels of security pat downs, seizing computers, demanding that you buy approved water for your flight, the US has decided it is better to be safe than sorry by exposing you to higher levels of radiation.

According to Wired, the TSA is re-analysing the radiation levels of X-ray body scanners installed in airports nationwide, after testing produced dramatically higher-than-expected results.

There are more than 500 body scanners to at least 78 airports and they have a “calculation error” which means that they are showing radiation levels 10 times higher than expected. The TSA say that you have nothing to fear, the radiation levels are still well below safety standards. However these are the same people who said they would not distribute naked pictures of you.

The Association for Airline Passenger Rights is urging the government to stop using the $180,000 machines that produce a virtual-nude image of the body until new tests are concluded in May.

The AAPR said that passengers were getting worried about the TSA’s haphazard security screenings so they are not sure that they can trust that they are not being exposed to unhealthy amounts of radiation.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has urged a federal appeals court to stop using the TSA from using the machines until further health studies are conducted.

The TSA said that it is not that the machines are belting out too much radiation. It is just that they were supposed to test radiation levels 10 times in a row, and divide by 10 to produce an average radiation measurement. Often, the testers failed to divide results by 10 which is why the figures are all wrong.

Of course airport security is getting increasingly bizarre as it becomes ineffective. After multiple security checks at three airports, we arrived in New Zealand to discover that the Italian Goddess had managed to take her pepper spray on as cabin luggage on three different flights.

Galactic heat wave changed formation of galaxies

Scientists have uncovered evidence that a galactic heat wave 11 billion years ago unleashed such vast quantities of radiation that it changed the entire form of galaxies. Could it happen again?

Researchers discovered a period of time between 11.7 and 11.3 billion years ago when ultraviolet light emitted from quasars caused helium atoms to lose their electrons, resulting in a monumental heat wave throughout the universe.

The intense heat caused detrimental effects to the formation of many dwarf galaxies, stunting their growth for up to 500 million years.

The study highlighted how researchers used the Hubble Space Telescope to come to the conclusion that large quasar activity caused intergaltic helium to more than double in temperature from 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit (around 10,000 degrees Celsius) to a whopping 40,000 degrees Fahrenheith (around 22,000 degrees Celsius).

“In the early universe, this burst of heating, we think, prevented a lot of these low-mass galaxies from forming stars,” said Michael Shull, professor of Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado and head of the study. “This burst of heating goes into the intergalactic helium, heats the gas up, and changes galaxy formation, particularly with dwarf galaxies.”

The report will be featured in the next issue of The Astrophysical Journal, to be released on October 20.

The laser celebrates 50 years

There will be cake, candles, and radiated lights galore this weekend as the laser turns 50 on Sunday.

The first fully-functioning laser was invented on May 16 1960 by Theodore Maiman, but the foundations for it were in place in Albert Einstein’s paper On the Quantum Theory of Radiation in 1917. Several scientists had desperately been trying to get the proposals to work for a number of years, but Maiman beat them to it by using a flash lamp to simulate a pink ruby rod.

In the early 1950s a pre-laser technology had been developed called the maser, or more properly MASER, which is actually an acronym for “microwave amplification by stimulation of emission of radiation.” This allowed a series of atoms or molecules to generate a chain reaction, or amplification, of photons.

The laser, or LASER, on the other hand, stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”, which is all about emitting electromagnetic radiation in the form of light. We commonly think of it as a beam of light, often fired from weapons in science-fiction movies.

The laser has been used in a variety of ways since its invention 50 years ago. It has been used in medicine for surgery and dentistry, with a rising popularity in laser eye treatments. It is widespread in industry for cutting and welding material. It is used by the military for guiding missiles and for defending against missiles, along with the rather nasty use of blinding enemy troops.

The laser is also used more commonly than we might think. For example, there’s your laser printer, where the hint is in the name. Less obvious, however, are CDs, thermometers, and barcode scanners.

Those worried about their appearance can get cosmetic treatments to reduce cellulite or get laser hair removal.

We even have laser light shows just for the visual appeal.

Indeed, if it were not for Theodore Maiman and his predecessors working so dilligently on this technology a lot of the things we use today would not be possible at all.

Let’s all give the laser a round of “For he’s a jolly good fellow.”

Sun rays will bork GPS soon

Boffins are warning that the Sun is about to wake up, stretch and bork the world’s GPS networks.

After a period of dozing, the Sun is about to wreak havoc with the weak sat-nav signals. It will be the first time that it has been a problem as the last time the Sun hreached a peak in activity, satellite navigation was barely a consumer product.

Signals from GPS are incredibly weak and sensitive to solar flares.

The radiation or waves that come from the Sun can make sat-nav receivers unable to pick out the weak signal from satellites from the solar flare’s aftermath.

It is starting to look like Sat-nav receivers will be blinded for tens of minutes, probably a few times a year at the solar maximum.

Cathryn Mitchell of the University of Bath warned that as signals come through the ionosphere, they slow down by an amount that is actually quite variable, and that adds an error into the system when you do the calculations for your position.

With solar flares messing things up it could mean that the GPS signals will be inaccurate.

Ionisation will be different whether it is day or night too.