BBC: The UK’s Harwell Science and Innovation Campus near Oxford is gaining two more space-related facilities. The European Centre for Space Applications and Telecoms (ECSAT), the European Space Agency’s first major research center in the UK, will be a center for innovation and cutting-edge research in different space and terrestrial technologies, particularly telecommunications. The Satellite Applications Catapult will develop new satellite-based products and services. Harwell already houses several major companies and organizations, including the Diamond synchrotron facility and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which builds satellite equipment. The new facilities are expected to boost the UK’s economy and strengthen the country’s presence in space.
Ars Technica: CERN’s original data center for handling the data created by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is located in Geneva and is limited to 3.5 MW of power because of the amount the LHC itself draws. The 11 000 servers are primarily used to provide virtual machines to CERN scientists working with LHC data. To expand capacity, CERN opened a second data center, with 700 servers, in Budapest in January. Tim Bell, CERN’s infrastructure manager, expects the 2.7-MW data center will hold 5000 of the servers by 2015, which will bring CERN’s total to 16 000. The final goal will be to have 150 000 virtual machines using OpenStack, an open-source platform for developing infrastructure-as-a-service cloud networks. The new infrastructure will greatly speed the creation of custom virtual machines for CERN scientists. OpenStack will allow both data centers to be managed from a single location and automate a lot of the customization and configuration tasks.
Scientific American: The Hanford Site in Washington State began storing nuclear waste created by the Manhattan Project and continued stockpiling waste until its last reactor shut down in 1987. Of the 177 underground tanks holding 208 million liters of waste, 60 have leaked in the past, though only 6 are currently leaking. The US Department of Energy began construction of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant in 2000, with a plan to separate the various types of waste and store them via vitrification—turning each radionuclide into stable glass rods and wrapping them in steel. However, the methodology of that process was not fully established when construction began, and many difficulties have arisen. Because the waste has self-separated into solids, liquids, and gases of varying densities, each type has to be handled differently, and some of them pose significant safety concerns. Until the safety issues are addressed, construction of the plant is at a standstill. It will likely not begin operating until at least 2022.
Quantum Diaries: A 15.24-m-diameter electromagnet built and used in the 1990s at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York is to be moved to Illinois later this year. The ring-shaped electromagnet and other parts of that original experiment will now be used in the Muon g−2 to study the properties of muons. Transporting the large magnet to Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, will cost almost 10 times less than building a new ring from scratch. The ring will sail on a barge down the East Coast, pass around Florida, and then head up the Mississippi River before being transferred to a specially designed flatbed truck for the final drive to Fermilab. The ring itself is used to trap and store muons, which “wobble” when held in a magnetic field. Although the amount of wobble measured in the older experiment did not match scientists’ predictions, Fermilab’s more intense and pure beam of muons may help attain a more definitive measurement.
Wall Street Journal: A massive $21 billion plutonium-reprocessing plant that has been in the works since 1992 is finally nearing completion, according to Japanese officials. Once up and running, the plant at Rokkasho in northern Japan will be capable of producing 9 tons of weapons-usable plutonium annually. Although Japanese officials insist the plutonium will be used for power generation only, just two of the country’s fifty reactors are back online since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. The Obama administration is not pleased with the timing in light of North Korea’s recent atomic weapons tests. Many in the US fear Rokkasho’s going on line will spark a nuclear competition among nearby countries, such as China and South Korea.
New York Times: To prepare for a possible catastrophic gas leak, such as from a terrorist attack or accidental chemical spill, the New York City police department has commissioned Brookhaven National Laboratory to conduct several city-wide tests this summer. On three separate, nonconsecutive days in July, invisible and odorless gases will be released in seven different locations—three above ground and four in the subway system. Monitoring equipment positioned throughout the city will track how the gases get dispersed. Because of the city’s extensive subway system, airflow through the city can be affected both below and above the ground—sometimes in surprising ways. The tests are designed to monitor airflow so that officials can better determine what to do should a catastrophic gas event occur, such as whether to shut down certain subway lines to limit the spread of the hazardous material.
Los Angeles Times: Yesterday at 5:00pm, Orbital Sciences Corp successfully launched its Antares rocket on a first test flight. The largest rocket ever to launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, it is carrying a dummy cargo capsule similar to the one Orbital will use to resupply the International Space Station. The test mission was the first of two that Orbital has scheduled before it launches its first space station resupply mission later this year. Another company under contract with NASA—Space Exploration Technologies, known as SpaceX—successfully tested its Falcon 9 rocket in 2010 and recently launched its second resupply mission to the space station. The two craft differ in that SpaceX’s is reusable, whereas Orbital’s is disposable and will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of the mission.
BBC: The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) Observatory, being built near Puebla, Mexico, is already detecting cosmic- and gamma-ray particles in Earth’s atmosphere. HAWC will consist of 300 tanks of pure water with detectors at the bottom. As the high-energy particles enter the atmosphere, they strike molecules in the air, setting off a chain-reaction particle cascade called an extensive air shower. When those faster-than-light particles enter HAWC’s water tanks, they emit the electromagnetic equivalent of a sonic boom. It is those flashes of light that can be used to determine the type, energy, and direction of the primary cosmic- and gamma-ray particles. With just 30 tanks up and running, HAWC is already producing images, according to HAWC collaboration member Thomas Weisgarber of the University of Wisconsin–Madison during his presentation Saturday at the April meeting of the American Physical Society in Denver. The full array should be in place by 2014.
Chronicle of Higher Education: Joshua M. Pearce of Michigan Technological University and his colleagues attempted to produce as much of the equipment for their lab as possible using a 3D printer. They found that costs for equipping the lab that way could possibly be cut by up to 97% as opposed to purchasing parts from traditional suppliers. One of the pieces they re-created for less than $100 normally costs almost $2500. And the team also found inexpensive metal fasteners and rails for assembling the printed parts. Pearce says that the potential benefits of using 3D printing to equip labs are significant. Aside from reducing costs, 3D printing can allow for easy customization and easier sharing and reproduction of experimental setup designs. And even some commercial lab equipment vendors see the growth of 3D printing as a good thing. There will always be a need for specialized metal and glass products, such as lenses for optical experiments, and not having to provide as many other products will allow companies to focus on the parts that can’t be reproduced.
BBC: The US Department of Energy’s IBM Roadrunner was the first supercomputer to sustain a calculation speed of 1 petaflop, or 1015 calculations per second. Roadrunner began operation at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in 2008 and was used for simulations that ranged from virus modeling to nuclear weapons to distant parts of the universe. The supercomputer used 12 000 modified versions of the processor originally designed for Sony’s Playstation 3 videogame console. It used 92 km of fiber optic cable, filled 288 refrigerator-sized cases, and cost $121 million to build. Though Roadrunner was still one of the 25 fastest supercomputers when it shut down on 31 March, DOE built a faster computer at LANL in 2010, and more recent computers have made speed increases to more than 17 petaflops.