On November 13 I visited the Catapult Centre in Oxfordshire, near Oxford. I took the train and saw the beautiful English countryside on a sunny day, just as the leaves are all changing colours. The train station is dominated by two large power plants, one coal and one natural gas. The coal power plant recently closed after decades of operation, but, according to the cabbie, the area has low unemployment rates, in part due to all of the technology work.
The Catapult Centre is designed to help link science, research and new technologies to commercial applications that help create jobs. Everyone knows that the UK has always had a strong research base, but this effort seeks to build UK employment.
The Catapult Centre is just part of a large scientific complex, located near the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which studies laser and space applications, and includes the Diamond Light Centre, an enormous round building for experiments in radiation. They are hiring, by the way, as I ran into someone who had just interviewed for a job.
The Catapult Centre that I visited (there are seven) focuses on satellite applications. I took a few pictures of the demonstration, which showed different kinds of satellites. You could touch the screen, and it described the different parts of the satellite. Satellites can range in size from a car, to a refrigerator, to a shoebox.
They also have some very interesting applications. For example, some nuclear plants have intake valves that can be clogged by jellyfish, so that the plant is shut down for several days, and it is none too good for the jellyfish either. With satellite images you can see into the ocean and see when the jellyfish are coming around.
In another example, the Catapult Centre is working with a US company called Zero Gravity on seeds. It turns out that if a seed sprouts in zero gravity, it does not need to use all of its energy fighting gravity, but can instead express itself more fully. Most of these new expressions do not amount to anything, but a few can be breakthroughs. For example, we discussed how useful it would be to have a rice crop that could thrive in salt water.
NASA is teaming with a Texas company to bring astronaut life one step closer to the age of the Jetsons. The space agency recently awarded a Small Business Innovation Research Phase I contract to Austin, Texas based Systems and Materials Research Consultancy. The contract will fund a feasibility study of the use of 3D printers in space to “print” food for astronauts, addressing a major logistical challenge mission planners face as technological progress makes lengthier space missions more plausible. Additive manufacturing, as 3D printing is official known, in space is still far off, but the possibilities for the technology are exciting: aside from food, astronauts could also theoretically print tools or spare parts on-site and on-demand.
The Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) is pleased to introduce our new, updated public website: energy.gov/ne.
The new site was designed to help facilitate users’ access to NE documents, reports and program descriptions, with an emphasis on up-to-date, easily accessible information. The new homepage features our activities and initiatives, as well as links to most recent publications and press releases. The rest of the NE site is structured to match our organization — and enable easier navigation and more direct access to information about our programs.
President’s 2014 Budget Proposal Makes Critical Investments in Innovation, Clean Energy and National Security Priorities
On April 10, 2013, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman detailed President Barack Obama’s $28.4 billion Fiscal Year 2014 budget request for the Department of Energy. Poneman emphasized the President’s continued commitment to an all-of-the-above energy strategy that prioritizes investments in innovation, clean energy technologies, and national security. The Department’s budget request is part of the Administration-wide effort to strengthen the American economy with energy that is cleaner, cheaper and creates sustainable jobs. The FY 2014 budget request represents tough choices aimed at focusing taxpayer resources on areas that will yield the greatest benefit over time.
First Images Released From Newest Earth Observation Satellite: Turning on New Satellite Instruments is Like Opening New Eyes
As we noted in last month’s blog the Landsat Data Continuity Mission was launched on February 11. In mid-March the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) released its first images of Earth, collected at 1:40 p.m. EDT on March 18. The first image shows the meeting of the Great Plains with the Front Ranges of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and Colorado.
The two LDCM sensors collect data simultaneously over the same ground path. OLI collects light reflected off the surface of Earth in nine different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, including bands of visible light and near-infrared and short-wave-infrared bands, which are beyond human vision. TIRS collects data at two longer wavelength thermal infrared bands that measure heat emitted from the surface. By looking at different band combinations, scientists can distinguish features on the land surface. These features include forests and how they respond to natural and human-caused disturbances, and the health of agricultural crops and how much water they use. Data from LDCM will extend a continuous, 40-year-long data record of Earth’s surface from previous Landsat satellites, an unmatched, impartial perspective that allows scientists to study how landscapes all across the world change through time. Read more here.
In his State of the Union address last month President Obama called on the nation’s high schools to forge new partnerships with colleges and employers and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math—the “STEM” subjects – calling them “the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.” The Obama administration is taking bold steps to train 100,000 new math and science teachers in the next 10 years, and increase the number of students who receive undergraduate STEM degrees by 1 million over the next decade. With the right tools, skills, and opportunities, the next generation of coders, inventers, explorers, and engineers will help form the backbone of a strong American economy.
The longest-running satellite program recording the Earth’s landscape will launch its eighth Landstat Data Continuity Mission on February 11. Landstat’s mission is to increase public awareness of environmental and scientific issues, foster greater international cooperation and facilitate inter-disciplinary research. The U.S. does so by ensuring free and open access to Landstat data. http://ldcm.gsfc.nasa.gov
The United States has submitted a proposal to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), that would restrict commercial trade of the polar bear by the 176 signatory countries. The conference is scheduled for March 3-14 in Bangkok, Thailand. CITES is designed to enssure that international trade in animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Adoption of the proposal will place the polar bear on the list of species threatened with extinction if measures are not taken to protect it. http://www.fws.gov/international.
On January 21, President Obama was sworn into office and took the opportunity of his second inaugural address to call upon the American people to stay true to the founding principles of the nation, and to be responsive to the opportunities and demands of our ever evolving world. He asked them to “…believe that our obligations as Americans are not just for ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” To climate change sceptics, President Obama pointed to the devastating and costly result of our inaction saying “…none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought and more powerful storms.” [See: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/01/21/inaugural-address-president-barack-obama]. The President’s statements came on the heels of the first draft of a new National Climate Assessment (NCA) issued by the U.S. Global Change Research Program which coordinates and integrates federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society. See: www.ncadac.globalchange.gov.
The President’s commitment to tackling climate change in his second term was underscored by in-coming Secretary of State John Kerry, who provided a broad definition of American foreign policy interests, including “…food security and energy security…[and] leadership on life threatening issues like climate change…” Under questioning during his Senate confirmation hearing regarding the economic costs of environmental regulation, Senator Kerry said “…I would say that climate change is not something to be feared.” Instead, Kerry insisted that our failure to respond to the threat of climate change makes us more vulnerable.
As documented in the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s National Climate Assessment, 2012 was the tenth warmest year on record since 1880, when recording keeping was instituted. . The effects of climate change have, according to Senator Kerry, been observable in over 3,000 communities in the United States which broke records for heat this past year. He also attributed the $70bn in damages caused by Hurricane Sandy along the densely populated Eastern seaboard states, to the climatic changes our planet, and said “…If we can’t see the downside of spending that money and risking lives for all the changes that are taking place, to agriculture, to our communities, the ocean and so forth, we are ignoring what science is telling us.” Summing up his approach to climate issues, Senator Kerry said “I will be a passionate advocate on this based not on ideology but based on facts and science, and I hope to sit with all of you and convince you that this $6 trillion market is worth millions of American jobs and we better go for it.”
U.S. Highlights: President Obama’s Continued Commitment to Clean Energy Investment and Climate Change
Earlier this week, President Obama held his first press conference following his reelection during which he emphasized his ongoing priority to keep the U.S. “at the forefront of research, technology, and clean energy.” He pointed to some recent success stories where the U.S. has now doubled its fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks, doubled the U.S. production of clean energy, and continued national investment in “potential breakthrough technologies that could further remove carbon from our atmosphere.” In the weeks ahead, the President announced plans to hold a “wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what… we can do to make a short-term progress in reducing carbon…” Acknowledging that the process will be difficult, requiring “tough political decisions,” he reaffirmed that “there’s no doubt… for us to take on climate change in a serious way.” Watch his full press conference below.
In this week’s U.S. highlights, I focus on successes seen over the past couple of weeks in American clean energy investment. For example, the Department of Energy (DOE) released data showing that American energy use dropped from 2010-2011 due mainly to investment in higher-efficiency energy technologies. Read more