2011-2012

The Stephenson Society has had yet another successful year of well-attended talks. As has become tradition in the last several years, we started off with a light-hearted pizza evening at Newnham College, where the newest StephSoc members got to meet the rest of the society.

The first serious meeting of the academic year was a talk on the Desertec Concept, delivered by a former Cambridge undergraduate, Dr. Gerry Wolff. He presented the idea of a pan-European and North African energy grid, aimed at tackling the imminent energy crisis. Second on the list, was Peter Erlanger of SKM Australia, who presented a thoroughly interesting and well-received talk on the practicalities and issues surrounding the supply of fresh water to Australians. To round off the term, Robin Stafford Allen from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, delivered what has been refered to as ‘the best talk in StephSoc history’ on the topic of nuclear fusion reactors, how they work, what are we doing now and the cutting edge scientific and technological issues surrounding this potentially planet-saving technology.

Lent would have begun with a talk on the Crossrail project in London; however, to our misfortune that had to be cancelled and the society president, Commoner Fellow Chris Pyatt stepped in and gave a fascinating and joke-filled lecture on personal rapid transport. This is an exciting new prospect for the world of personal travel, more information here: http://www.ultraglobalprt.com/. The following two talks focused on the area of information and electrical engineering with a picture-filled talk on infrared imaging near and far and a highly accessible talk delivered by a Sidney PhD. student and supervisor Rob Weatherup on his research into growing the electrical supermaterial graphene.

With such a showcase of lecturers, the Annual Dinner could not be delivered by anyone short of a modern engineering legend. We were delighted and honoured to have as our guest speaker, the technical director of FormulaOne McLaren, Paddy Lowe. An ex-Sidneyite and an extremely accomplished engineer, Paddy took us through some of his exciting experiences after leaving Sidney and on a semi-technical tour of some of the most influencial technological leaps in the motor car racing industry.

Organising and attending the Stephenson Society talks this year has been a thoroughly rewarding experience and we wish all the best to the new secretaries of the society, Emma Clement (Newnham) and John Hobbs (Sidney), who we are all sure will make a significant contribution to the further success of the society.

Water Engineering in Australia

Date: 7th Nov 2011

Speaker: Peter Erlanger, Sinclair Knight Merz

Synopsis:

Australia is one of the driest continents on earth and yet for years water has been undervalued as a critical resource. Inefficient irrigation practices and low cost water has lead Australians to think of access to water as their right, not as a privilege. Most Australians think of drought as something that only happens in rural areas and not in highly urbanised cities yet a large proportion of Australians live in one of 6 major cities. The history of water resource planning in Australia has generally been initiated after a severe drought by a flurry of dam building activity.

Lakes Entrance Concept Bridge, Victoria, Australia

The combination of these practices and unprecedented drought across the whole of Australia in the last 14 years has changed the government and the general public’s attitude to water resource planning. Desalination plants have been installed in each of the mainland Australian States capital cities, water systems are to be returned to sustainable levels of extraction, statutory based water planning processes have been put in place and secure water entitlements have been provided for the environment. The Federal Government has committed $12.9 billion in a water for the future plan. The whole of Australia has changed its attitude to droughts and drought planning for ever.

In his talk about managing water resources in Australia, Peter Erlanger will discuss the evolution of thinking about water resource planning in Australia, look at how yield is defined and how the need to trade off high cost drought prevention against low cost, high risk non intervention is dealt with. He will also look briefly at the inter-governmental reform agenda.

About the speaker: Peter works for Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM) and has spent the last 32 years working in the Australian water industry . He has been at the forefront of drought planning in Victoria and has also spent a lot of time building water simulation models of and both rural and urban water supply systems. Peter has provided strategic advice to many rural and urban water authorities on future water supply planning and both long and short term drought planning. Over the past 7 years, Peter has run the SKM South East Australia practice which has over 1200 staff and a turnover in excess of $160 million (about £100million). He is currently working in London integrating the UK based Colin Buchanan business into the SKM fold.

Qualifications

  • Bachelor of Engineering (with Honours)
  • Master of Engineering Science

Annual Freshers’ Squash

Date: 10th Oct 2011, 6:15pm

Synopsis: This year, we’ll be holding the annual freshers’ squash at Newnham College. All StephSoc members old and new are invited for what will be a lovely evening with free pizza, nibbles and drink.

Among the festivities will be the icebreaker challenge, where teams will be set to come up with an engineering solution to a design problem against the clock. The winners will receive some form of edible prize. Details of exactly where the squash will be held will be posted in due course.

Fusion – Energy for the Future?

Date: 21st Nov 2011

Speaker: Robin Stafford Allen FIMechE, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE)

Synopsis: Nuclear Fusion energy has received a mass of varied press over the years and yet still we have no large-scale system in operation. Robin Stafford Allen from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy comes and explains why.

Robin will talk about -

  • Why we are doing Fusion research?
  • The Plasma Physics of Fusion.
  • The JET machine, the European research machine.
  • The MAST machine, The British research machine.
  • ITER, the next generation of Fusion machines.
  • Generating power from a Fusion reactor.
  • Comparison with Laser confinement fusion.
  • The advantages of Fusion over Fission, and fossil fuels.
  • Questions.

About the Speaker:

Robin is a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and started his professional life in the Motor Industry with a branch of General Motors — Vauxhall/Beford. He worked there as a student apprentice and gained his BSc (Birmingham, 1972) in mechanical engineering while training with GM.

After a masters in bio-engineering at Surrey (1976) he worked for several years on the engineering of MRI magnets and cryostats with Oxford Magnet Technology, then part of Oxford Instruments.

He joined Culham in 1992, and has worked in Cryogenics and in the heating and fuelling of plasmas on-and-off ever since. He recently spent a sabbatical six years as Director of Engineering for a small tenant company on the Culham site designing and constructing a large 1-metre-bore special superconducting magnet for the AMS-2 experiment (a mass-spectrometer) which was launched on the penultimate Space Shuttle flight to the International Space Station. Sadly due to damage to the magnet during commissioning, it was not part of the final payload.

Currently he is working at CCFE on the mechanical engineering of the plasma-heating equipment for the ITER machine.

The DESERTEC Concept: Clean power from deserts

Date: 24th Oct 2011

Speaker: Dr Gerry Wolff, Coordinator of Desertec-UK

Synopsis: Every year, each square kilometre of desert receives solar energy equivalent to 1.5 million barrels of oil. Multiplying by the area of deserts worldwide, this is several hundred times the entire current energy consumption of the world.

Map of european energy grid

A view for the future

It is possible to tap in to this cornucopia with the simple, proven technology of concentrating solar power (CSP): using mirrors to concentrate sunlight to create heat and then using the heat to raise steam to drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. There is also great potential in desert regions for photovoltaics (PV) and wind power.

Using CSP, less than 1% of the world’s deserts could generate as much electricity as the world is now using. It is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity for 3000 km or more using highly-efficient ‘HVDC‘ transmission lines. It has been calculated that 90% of the world’s population lives within 2700 km of a desert.

Apart from jobs, earnings and plentiful supplies of clean electricity, there is potential for additonal benefits for host countries. Solar power, or even waste heat from CSP plants, may be used for the desalination of sea water — a welcome bonus in arid regions. The shaded areas under solar collectors may be used for many purposes, including horticulture — with fresh water provided by the desalination of sea water. Land that would otherwise be unproductive may be used to grow food and other products.

These ‘Desertec’ ideas have been developed by the Desertec Foundation and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). They are now being converted into reality by the Desertec Industrial Initiative, a consortium of blue-chip companies.

Further information about the Desertec concept and its development may be found at www.desertec-uk.org.uk, www.desertec.org and www.dii-eumena.com.

Michaelmas Term Card

We can now reveal the meeting schedule for Michaelmas Term 2011. The theme for this trimester is Resources:

10th October - (Newnham)

Freshers’ Squash

24th October – (Sidney Sussex)

Solar Power and the European Energy Grid, Dr. Gerry Wolff of DESERTEC UK

7th November – (Sidney Sussex)

Water Engineering in Australia, Peter Erlanger of Sinclair Knight Merz

21st November –  (Sidney Sussex)

Nuclear Fusion — Energy for the future?, Robin Allen of Culham Centre for Fusion Energy

Booking for formal hall will open closer to the time.

StephSoc interactive launches today!

Today marks the first day of StephSoc interactive. Here, we’ll be uploading all of the latest news from talks and our ongoing research into the history of StephSoc, including (hopefully) some interesting articles/dossiers on various aspects of engineering and the sciences in today’s world.

This all comes with the re-establishment of the StephSoc website and we hope our efforts won’t go unnoticed! Further additions, yet to be added to the website, include Raven login for signing up to formal hall and the issuing of membership accounts.

If you have something you would like to share with the Stephenson Society, please contact us here.