Physics Feature

A long way from everything: The search for a Grand Unified Theory

The recent confirmation of gravity waves observed by the LIGO project represents a huge breakthrough in physics, verifying Albert Einstein's predictions regarding the effect of mass on space and time and supporting his general theory of relativity published in 1916. But what of his other grand hypothesis? Einstein's unified field theory consumed the last 30 years of his life without resolution, but how much closer have we come to a theory that brings every known force in the universe together into a single, all-encompassing frame of reference? Read More

Science Feature

Fukushima five years on: The fears, the fallout and the future

Five years have passed since a massive tsunami washed over the seawall around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, sending three reactors and a whole nation into meltdown. The event claimed the lives of 15,891 people and around 160,000 were forced from their homes following the most devastating day in Japan's modern history, but in many ways the country is only just beginning to pick up the pieces. With the cleanup expected to take decades, radioactive materials still unaccounted for and the health effects still very much the subject of debate, what comes next for post-Fukushima Japan?Read More


China's experimental fusion reactor maintains superheated hydrogen plasma for 102 seconds

A bit of friendly competition never hurt anyone. China's EAST tokamak and Germany's Wendelstein 7-X aren't exactly fusion energy's answer to Messi and Ronaldo, but through their own flashes of individual brilliance the reactors might one day command the world's attention in a much more important way. Wendelstein 7-X made headlines last week after generating a quarter-of-a-second pulse of hydrogen plasma, and now scientists at China's Institute of Physical Science have reportedly flexed their fusion muscle to sustain the gas for an impressive 102 seconds.Read More


Germany's Wendelstein 7-X fusion reactor produces its first flash of hydrogen plasma

Experimentation with Germany's newest fusion reactor is beginning to heat up, to temperatures of around 80 million degrees Celsius, to be precise. Having fired up the Wendelstein 7-X to produce helium plasma late last year, researchers have built on their early success to generate its first hydrogen plasma, an event they say begins the true scientific operation of the world's largest fusion stellarator.Read More


Laser X-rays to nab nuclear smugglers

With over 100 million cargo containers in transit each year, screening them for illicit nuclear material is a major problem. To keep commerce flowing while maintaining an eye on nuclear terrorism and smuggling, a team of scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is developing a laser-based X-ray machine that can image a uranium disk the size of a stack of three US nickels hidden between three-inch (7.6 cm) steel panels.Read More


US restarts production of plutonium-238 to power space missions

In an effort to avert an outer space energy crisis, the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has restarted production of plutonium-238 (PU-238) after almost 30 years. The civilian stockpile of the plutonium isotope used to power the radiothermal generators (RTG) that make electricity for US deep space probes has dwindled to only 35 kg (77 lb), so the first 50 g (1.7 oz) of plutonium oxide produced by the laboratory marks a major turnaround in American space capabilities.Read More


First plasma from Wendelstein 7-X fusion reactor

Testing of the Wendelstein 7-x stellarator has started with a bang, albeit a very very small one, with researchers switching on the experimental fusion reactor to produce its first helium plasma at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Greifswald, Germany. After almost a decade of construction work and more than a million assembly hours, the first tests have gone according to plan with the researchers to shift focus to producing hydrogen plasma after the new year.Read More


Wendelstein 7-x stellarator puts new twist on nuclear fusion power

In a large complex located at Greifswald in the north-east corner of Germany, sits a new and unusual nuclear fusion reactor awaiting a few final tests before being powered-up for the very first time. Dubbed the Wendelstein 7-x fusion stellarator, it has been more than 15 years in the making and is claimed to be so magnetically efficient that it will be able to continuously contain super-hot plasma in its enormous magnetic field for more than 30 minutes at a time. If successful, this new reactor may help realize the long-held goal of continuous operation essential for the success of nuclear fusion power generation.Read More


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