Black hole to ‘eat biggest meal’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-25678737
Category: AQA Unit 5 Nuclear/ Thermal
Jan 11 2014
Permanent link to this article: https://www.animatedscience.co.uk/2014/black-hole-to-eat-biggest-meal
Dec 03 2013
What is the second law of thermodynamics?
Thermodynamics is the study of heat and energy. At its heart are laws that describe how energy moves around within a system, whether an atom, a hurricane or a black hole. The first law describes how energy cannot be created or destroyed, merely transformed from one kind to another. The second law, however, is probably better known and even more profound because it describes the limits of what the universe can do. This law is about inefficiency, degeneration and decay. It tells us all we do is inherently wasteful and that there are irreversible processes in the universe. It gives us an arrow for time and tells us that our universe has a inescapably bleak, desolate fate.
Despite these somewhat deflating ideas, the ideas of thermodynamics were formulated in a time of great technological optimism – the Industrial Revolution. In the mid-19th century, physicists and engineers were building steam engines to mechanise work and transport and were trying to work out how to make them more powerful and efficient.
Many scientists and engineers – including Rudolf Clausius, James Joule and Lord Kelvin – contributed to the development of thermodynamics, but the father of the discipline was the French physicist Sadi Carnot. In 1824 he published Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, which laid down the basic principles, gleaned from observations of how energy moved around engines and how wasted heat and useful work were related.
The second law can be expressed in several ways, the simplest being that heat will naturally flow from a hotter to a colder body. At its heart is a property of thermodynamic systems called entropy – in the equations above it is represented by “S” – in loose terms, a measure of the amount of disorder within a system. This can be represented in many ways, for example in the arrangement of the molecules – water molecules in an ice cube are more ordered than the same molecules after they have been heated into a gas. Whereas the water molecules were in a well-defined lattice in the ice cube, they float unpredictably in the gas. The entropy of the ice cube is, therefore, lower than that of the gas. Similarly, the entropy of a plate is higher when it is in pieces on the floor compared with when it is in one piece in the sink.
A more formal definition for entropy as heat moves around a system is given in the first of the equations. The infinitesimal change in entropy of a system (dS) is calculated by measuring how much heat has entered a closed system (δQ) divided by the common temperature (T) at the point where the heat transfer took place.
The second equation is a way to express the second law of thermodynamics in terms of entropy. The formula says that the entropy of an isolated natural system will always tend to stay the same or increase – in other words, the energy in the universe is gradually moving towards disorder. Our original statement of the second law emerges from this equation: heat cannot spontaneously flow from a cold object (low entropy) to a hot object (high entropy) in a closed system because it would violate the equation. (Refrigerators seemingly break this rule since they can freeze things to much lower temperatures than the air around them. But they don’t violate the second law because they are not isolated systems, requiring a continual input of electrical energy to pump heat out of their interior. The fridge heats up the room around it and, if unplugged, would naturally return to thermal equilibrium with the room.)
This formula also imposes a direction on to time; whereas every other physical law we know of would work the same whether time was going forwards or backwards, this is not true for the second law of thermodynamics. However long you leave it, a boiling pan of water is unlikely to ever become a block of ice. A smashed plate could never reassemble itself, as this would reduce the entropy of the system in defiance of the second law of thermodynamics. Some processes, Carnot observed, are irreversible.
Carnot examined steam engines, which work by burning fuel to heat up a cylinder containing steam, which expands and pushes on a piston to then do something useful. The portion of the fuel’s energy that is extracted and made to do something useful is called work, while the remainder is the wasted (and disordered) energy we call heat. Carnot showed that you could predict the theoretical maximum efficiency of a steam engine by measuring the difference in temperatures of the steam inside the cylinder and that of the air around it, known in thermodynamic terms as the hot and cold reservoirs of a system respectively.
Heat engines work because heat naturally flows from hot to cold places. If there was no cold reservoir towards which it could move there would be no heat flow and the engine would not work. Because the cold reservoir is always above absolute zero, no heat engine can be 100% efficient.
The best-designed engines, therefore, heat up steam (or other gas) to the highest possible temperature then release the exhaust at the lowest possible temperature. The most modern steam engines can get to around 60% efficiency and diesel engines in cars can get to around 50% efficient. Petrol-based internal combustion engines are much more wasteful of their fuel’s energy.
The inefficiencies are built into any system using energy and can be described thermodynamically. This wasted energy means that the overall disorder of the universe – its entropy – will increase over time but at some point reach a maximum. At this moment in some unimaginably distant future, the energy in the universe will be evenly distributed and so, for all macroscopic purposes, will be useless. Cosmologists call this the “heat death” of the universe, an inevitable consequence of the unstoppable march of entropy.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.animatedscience.co.uk/2013/what-is-the-second-law-of-thermodynamics
Nov 30 2013
UK China nuclear deal ‘Orwellian’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25156551
Security fears over ‘Orwellian’ Chinese nuclear deal
By Rob BroombyBritish Affairs Correspondent, BBC World Service
It was hailed by UK Chancellor George Osborne as a “new dawn” – but serious questions remain about the security implications of Britain’s nuclear energy deal with China.
The UK government has refused to say whether China’s planned investment in the British nuclear industry was approved by the National Security Council – the body that assess the risks from foreign investment in critical national infrastructure projects.
Chancellor George Osborne announced during his trip to China in October that Chinese state owned companies CGN and CNNC would be allowed to take a 40% stake in the company planning to build the Hinkley C nuclear power station in Somerset.
In the future Chinese firms could become “majority owners of a British nuclear power plant subject to British safety rules and policed by the British,” said Mr Osborne.
Tim Yeo, chairman of Parliament’s energy and climate change committee, said Britain should “warmly welcome investment from China in the nuclear industry” but said he did not know whether the National Security Council had formally discussed or approved the investment.
“It would be a great pity if on some security reason this was thrown back into jeopardy.” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight.
But other members of Mr Yeo’s committee are worried.
Conservative MP Dr Phillip Lee said it was “perverse” and “Orwellian” to allow Chinese state owned firms a role in critical infrastructure projects like nuclear power at a time when questions over Chinese cyber-attacks on the west had not been resolved.
He said future conflicts would not be about the “physical possession of nations” but would involve “control of information, control of infrastructure, water electricity and communication.”
The Chinese could not take away a nuclear power station in the event of tension between the two countries but they could “virtually switch it off” if they wanted to, he claimed.
It would also bind Britain’s hands in respect of China diplomatically, when it comes to speaking out on human rights.
On the website of the China National Nuclear Corporation – one of the companies connected to the Hinkley project – the company boasts openly of its military links.
“China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is the large state-owned enterprise under the direct management of the central government. Historically, CNNC successfully developed the atomic bomb, hydrogen bomb and nuclear submarines and built the first nuclear plant in the main land of China. CNNC is the main body of the national nuclear technology industry, the core of the national strategic nuclear deterrence”.
The company website says it “shoulders the dual historical responsibility for building the national defence force, increasing the value of state assets and developing the society.”
Just days after George Osborne made his nuclear announcement Chinese state-run TV was showing-off its nuclear armed submarines for the first time in 42 years accompanied by rousing music.
Official Chinese news agency Xinhua called the subs an “assassin’s mace that would make adversaries tremble”.
Labour MP Dr Alan Whitehead, also a member of the energy and climate change committee called the Chinese nuclear company CNNC an “arm of the state”.
“There doesn’t appear to be a clear distinction between the role of the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation in developing civil nuclear and developing and forwarding military nuclear,” he told the World Tonight.
“Big corporations particularly national corporations in China are not companies in the way that we would see them in the UK.”
He said the Chinese military – the People’s Liberation Army – would be involved in some of the decisions made by the firm.
He has called on the UK government to state publicly how the investment in critical national infrastructure was approved and by whom.
Nuclear expert Mark Hibbs, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the decision to invest in the British nuclear project would have been a “strategic decision” that would have been approved by China’s State Council – the nation’s ruling executive.
The UK Cabinet Office said in a statement that “the process for dealing with such issues falls under the aegis of the National Security Council”.
It said the government had “put in place an approach which enables it to assess the risks associated with foreign investment and develop strategies to manage them.
The National Security Council “brings together the economic and security arms of the government and is the forum that ultimately balances the risks and opportunities of inward investment decisions,” added the Cabinet Office statement.
But despite repeated requests the Cabinet Office has refused to say whether Chinese investment in Hinkley or the possible full majority ownership of nuclear reactors in the future has been formally discussed, assessed or approved by the National Security Council.
Critics fear Britain may be sleepwalking into nuclear relationship with China it will regret especially if in years to come China wants to introduce its own nuclear technology to the UK.
“The Chinese domestic nuclear programme certainly leaves much to be desired” says Dr Paul Dorfman of the University College London Energy Institute.
He is worried by the lack of transparency in the Chinese nuclear industry and cites the arrest and dismissal by the Chinese Government in August 2009 of the President of CNNC in a £260m corruption case involving allegations of “bid-rigging in nuclear power construction”.
Chinese investment in key energy infrastructure is “deeply problematic,” he said and industry experts were worried about “China’s weak regulatory structures”.
The UK Cabinet Office says Chinese firms have a “track-record in delivering safe nuclear power over the past thirty years. And that in the long-term it will deliver lower and more stable energy prices.”
“Any company involved in the UK nuclear power industry does so in accordance with the most stringent regulations in the world. On this basis, we welcome companies which can demonstrate the capability to contribute to safe nuclear power generation in the UK.”
The economics of the Hinkley C project have also been slammed. Peter Atherton of the respected city firm Liberum Capital said they were “flabbergasted” by the deal.
At £8bn per reactor, Hinkley Point is “the most expensive power station in the world (excluding hydro schemes) on a per megawatt basis,” said Mr Atherton.
He said the French and Chinese state owned firms would earn between £65bn and £80bn in dividends from British consumers over the project’s lifetime.
“The UK government was taking a massive bet that fossil fuel prices will be extremely high in the future. If that bet proves wrong then this contract will look economically insane when HPC (Hinkley Point C) commissions” added Mr Atherton.
Tim Yeo said the budget was so high “because they have factored in a much bigger contingency in to this project”.
But he added: “I do believe it is in Britain’s interests to have part of its electricity generated by nuclear power.
“It is a secure, safe, clean, low- carbon source of electricity.”
Permanent link to this article: https://www.animatedscience.co.uk/2013/uk-china-nuclear-deal-orwellian
Sep 14 2013
Nuclear plants’ no cancer risk
Children living near nuclear power plants do not have an increased risk of developing leukaemia, a study says.
Experts looked at data on 10,000 children diagnosed under five between 1962 and 2007, and where they lived.
The British Journal of Cancer study is not the first to rule out a link – but previous studies’ methods were challenged.
Cancer Research UK said the results were “heartening” but added monitoring should continue.
Leukaemia is the twelfth most common cancer in the UK, but accounts for a third of all cancers diagnosed in children.
Around 500 new cases were diagnosed in children under the age of 15 in 2010 in the UK.
Concern over a link between nuclear power plants and childhood cancers was triggered in the early 1980s when a TV investigation reported a higher number of cases among children living near the Sellafield plant in Cumbria.
Since then, there have been conflicting reports from studies in the UK and the rest of Europe as to whether there is a link.
Some anti-nuclear groups have criticised the way previous studies have been carried out.
They point to a German study which suggested there could be a link.
In this latest study, carried out using the same method as the German one, experts from the Childhood Cancer Research Group in Oxford looked at data on almost 10,000 children who were diagnosed with leukaemia or similar cancers in Britain between 1962 and 2007 when aged five or under.
“The incidence of childhood leukaemia near nuclear installations in Great Britain has been a concern ever since the 1980s” Dr John Bithell,Childhood Cancer Research Group
The data was taken from the National Registry of Childhood Tumours, which has kept records on nearly all children diagnosed with cancer since 1962 and which is linked to birth records for children born in Britain.
They looked at where these children were born and where they lived when they were diagnosed.
They also compared the information with data on more than 16,000 children with different cancers.
The study found there was no apparent increased risk of developing childhood leukaemia or non-Hodgkin lymphoma among children living near nuclear power plants.
Dr John Bithell, honorary research fellow at the Childhood Cancer Research Group who led the study, said: “The incidence of childhood leukaemia near nuclear installations in Great Britain has been a concern ever since the 1980s when an excess of cancer in young people near Sellafield was reported in a television programme.
“Since then, there have been conflicting reports in the UK and Europe as to whether there is an increased incidence of childhood cancer near nuclear power plants.
“Our case-control study has considered the birth records for nearly every case of childhood leukaemia born in Britain and, reassuringly, has found no such correlation with proximity to nuclear power plants.”
Cancer Research UK said the study did support previous findings, but said its small numbers and the fact it did not look at plants which carried out other work such as fuel processing – plus the finding of an increased risk in the German study – meant more work was needed.
Hazel Nunn, head of health information, said: “It’s heartening that this study supports the findings of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE), that being born or living near a nuclear power station doesn’t lead to more cases of leukaemia and similar cancers in children under five in the UK.
“But these results can’t rule out any possible risk, so it’s still important that we continue to monitor both radiation levels near nuclear power plants and rates of cancer among people who live close by.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.animatedscience.co.uk/2013/nuclear-plants-no-cancer-risk
Aug 07 2013
‘Critical phase’ for fusion dream https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23408073
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Apr 17 2013
Physicist’s atom struggles revealed https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22174013
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Mar 27 2013
Synchrotron yields ‘safer’ vaccine https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21958361
Producing vaccines against viral threats is a potentially hazardous business and that’s why manufacturers have to operate strict controls to ensure that no pathogens escape.
British scientists have developed a new method to create an entirely synthetic vaccine which doesn’t rely on using live infectious virus, meaning it is much safer.
What’s more the prototype vaccine they have created, for the animal disease foot-and-mouth, has been engineered to make it more stable.
That means it can be kept out of the fridge for many hours before returning to the cold chain – overcoming one of the major hurdles in administering vaccines in the developing world.
The research, published in the journal PLOS pathogens, was a collaboration between scientists at Oxford and Reading Universities, the Pirbright Institute, and the UK’s national synchrotron facility, the Diamond Light Source near Oxford.
Diamond is a particle accelerator which sends electrons round a giant magnetic ring at near light speeds.
The electrons emit energy in the form of intense X-rays which are channelled along “beamlines” – into laboratories where they are used to analyse structures in extraordinary detail.
Synchrotrons have been used before to analyse viruses at the atomic level, but the technology has advanced considerably to enable scientists to create a stable synthetic vaccine.
“What we have achieved here is close to the holy grail of foot-and-mouth vaccines.
Unlike traditional vaccines, there is no chance that the empty shell vaccine could revert to an infectious form,” said Dave Stuart, Life Sciences Director at Diamond, and MRC Professor of Structural Biology at the University of Oxford.
“This work will have a broad and enduring impact on vaccine development, and the technology should be transferable to other viruses from the same family, such as poliovirus and hand-foot-and-mouth disease, a human virus which is currently endemic in South-East Asia.”
These human disease threats, like foot-and-mouth, are all picornaviruses.
Viruses are inherently unstable and fragile, but picornaviruses can be studied using X-ray crystallography.
This enables the protein shell of the virus to be analysed at the atomic level – something a billion times smaller than a pinhead.
As with any vaccine, the aim is to prompt the immune system to recognise this outer shell and destroy the pathogen before it has time to lock onto cells and infect them with its genetic material.
In this research the scientists created a synthetic viral shell, but lacking its pathogenic RNA interior – the genetic material the virus uses to replicate itself.
Crucially they were able to reinforce the structure of the viral shell to make it stronger, to improve the stability of the vaccine.
Pre-clinical trials have shown it to be stable at temperatures up to 56C for at least two hours. Foot-and-mouth is endemic in central Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia, so this would be a significant improvement over existing vaccines.
With current foot-and-mouth vaccines it is difficult to distinguish between immunised livestock and those which have been infected.
That proved to be a major hurdle in controlling the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the UK in 2001 because it would have prevented the export of livestock.
But the synthetic vaccine should allow scientists to show the absence of infection in vaccinated animals.
“The foot-and-mouth-disease virus epidemic in the UK in 2001 was disastrous and cost the economy billions of pounds in control measures and compensation,” explained Dr Bryan Charleston, Head of Livestock Viral Diseases Programme at the Pirbright Institute.
“This important work has been a direct result of the additional funding that was provided as a result of the 2001 outbreak to research this highly contagious disease.”
The potential hazards of working with viruses was underlined in 2007 when the Pirbright laboratory site was identified as the source of a leak which led to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
Polio, another picornavirus, which exclusively affects humans, has been eliminated from nearly every country in the world, although it stubbornly persists in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The need for secure vaccine production will become even more vital should polio be wiped out.
“Current polio vaccines, which use live virus for their production, pose a potential threat to the long-term success of eradication if they were to re-establish themselves in the population.
“Non-infectious vaccines would clearly provide a safeguard against this risk”, said Dr Andrew Macadam, a virologist specialising in polio at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control in Hertfordshire.
“This technology has great potential in terms of cost and biosafety.
“Any design strategy that minimises the chances of accidental virus release would not only make the world a safer place but would lower the bio-containment barriers to production allowing vaccines to be made more cheaply all over the world.”
Permanent link to this article: https://www.animatedscience.co.uk/2013/synchrotron-yields-safer-vaccine
Aug 22 2012
Star is caught devouring planet (from the BBC)
Astronomers have found evidence for a planet being devoured by its star, yielding insights into the fate that will befall Earth in billions of years.
The team uncovered the signature of a planet that had been “eaten” by looking at the chemistry of the host star.
They also think a surviving planet around this star may have been kicked into its unusual orbit by the destruction of a neighbouring world.
Details of the work have been published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The US-Polish-Spanish team made the discovery when they were studying the star BD+48 740 – which is one of a stellar class known as red giants. Their observations were made with the Hobby Eberly telescope, based at the McDonald Observatory in Texas.
Rising temperatures near the cores of red giants cause these elderly stars to expand in size, a process which will cause any nearby planets to be destroyed.
“A similar fate may await the inner planets in our solar system, when the Sun becomes a red giant and expands all the way out to Earth’s orbit some five billion years from now,” said co-author Prof Alexander Wolszczan from Pennsylvania State University in the US.
The first piece of evidence for the missing planet comes from the star’s peculiar chemical composition.
Spectroscopic analysis of BD+48 740 revealed that it contained an abnormally high amount of lithium, a rare element created primarily during the Big Bang 14 billion years ago.
Lithium is easily destroyed in stars, so its high abundance in this ageing star is very unusual.
“Theorists have identified only a few, very specific circumstances, other than the Big Bang, under which lithium can be created in stars,” Prof Wolszczan explained.
“In the case of BD+48 740, it is probable that the lithium production was triggered by a mass the size of a planet that spiralled into the star and heated it up while the star was digesting it.”
The second piece of evidence discovered by the astronomers is the highly elliptical orbit of a newly discovered planet around the red giant star. The previously undetected world is at least 1.6 times as massive as Jupiter.
Co-author Andrzej Niedzielski of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland, said that orbits as eccentric as this one are uncommon in planetary systems around evolved stars.
“In fact, the BD+48 740 planet’s orbit is the most elliptical one detected so far,” he added.
Because gravitational interactions between planets are often responsible for such peculiar orbits, the astronomers suspect that the dive of the missing planet toward its host star before it became a giant could have given the surviving massive planet a burst of energy.
This boost would have propelled it into its present unusual orbit.
Team member Eva Villaver of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain commented: “Catching a planet in the act of being devoured by a star is an almost improbable feat to accomplish because of the comparative swiftness of the process, but the occurrence of such a collision can be deduced from the way it affects the stellar chemistry.
“The highly elongated orbit of the massive planet we discovered around this lithium-polluted red giant star is exactly the kind of evidence that would point to the star’s recent destruction of its now-missing planet.”
Permanent link to this article: https://www.animatedscience.co.uk/2012/star-is-caught-devouring-a-planet