6 February 2011

Sir Patrick Stewart Explains Spallation

Sir Patrick Stewart is best known for his roles in the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series and the X-Men movies.  So, when the people behind the European Spallation Source were looking for a spokesman to explain the science behind spallation (not to mention to big themselves up!) who better that the physical presence of Jean Luc Picard and Charles Xavier? A more benign Locutus here presents the science behind one of Europe’s most advanced and exciting scientific projects.

For the past twenty years Europe has been designing and developing the European Spallation Source (ESS for short which does make it sound a little like some HTML hybrid, but there you go), a major science facility that will supply the world's most concentrated beams of neutrons for the study of the structure and dynamics of materials at the atomic level. The potential of the uses we can apply to the discoveries that ESS will provide are, to say the least, electrifying.

ESS has been depicted as the Hubble telescope of neutron sources – and that is a really good every day comparison.  It is able to probe into the very essence of materials with unparalleled clarity. It is thought it will be one of the most significant, influential and prominent scientific research facilities on the planet.

The applications of this science are myriad.  It will enable developments as miscellaneous and as momentous as drug design, innovative magnetic materials for data storage and super strong, super light ceramics for engineering.  Interestingly too, given Sir Patrick Stewarts portrayals of various science fiction heroes it may provide us with new biocompatible materials for repairing our fragile bodies.

It may also lead to the way to the full development of hydrogen as a fuel for clean transport and, also environmentally significant, it is hoped that the ESS will develop innovative processes for capturing carbon.