AlbertaSat will bring home world-class data using smaller-than-ever instruments with the fluxgate magnetometer on the Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat.
Smaller, faster, cheaper—miniaturised space technology opens the door to future University-based space exploration.
Researchers with the University of Alberta’s AlbertaSat team present the miniature fluxgate magnetometer, destined to go where no such magnetometer has gone before atop the Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat set for launch in spring 2017.
Designed and built by faculty and students with the University of Alberta Faculty of Science and Faculty of Engineering, the modern, low-cost, and miniature instrument will facilitate cutting-edge space research conducted from its place on-board cube satellites.
Democratizing the space race
“Historically, space research has used one, or at most a handful, of large, expensive spacecraft to explore near-Earth space and our solar system,” explains David Miles, PhD candidate in the Department of Physics and principal investigator for the instrument. “While this has provided stunning insight into our planet and our solar system, it necessarily gives a limited and incomplete picture.”
Nanosatellite technology, such as the fluxgate magnetometer, ushers in the next generation of space research which in future can open the door to swarms of miniaturised spacecraft encircling the Earth.
“Imagine trying to understand and predict the path hurricanes with only a few weather stations dotted around the world” said Ian Mann, professor in the Department of Physics and the co-lead for Ex-Alta-1. “That’s the current challenge for accurate space weather forecasting in the vastness of space around the Earth. However, miniaturised technology would enable swarms of perhaps hundreds of spacecraft or more to pin-point the potentially destructive paths of space storms.”
Weathering the storm
The newest space science instrument from the University of Alberta is a novel fluxgate magnetometer which will fly into space atop AlbertaSat’s Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat early next year. The miniature, low-cost instrument will take world-class measurements of the near-Earth magnetic field which influences space weather, demonstrating the potential of nanosatellite technology to significantly reduce barriers to entry and democratize the space race.
“Once we have a flight-proven instrument, we have several international collaborators interested in flying our instrument for their own research,” says Miles. “Tens or even hundreds of spacecraft can provide a dynamic, three-dimensional, and high-resolution picture of the space we inhabit, thereby improving the understanding of such threating space weather storms.”
Researchers at the University of Alberta have opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in this new space race using hands-on space research involving modelling, data analysis, meteorites, high-altitude balloons, sub-orbital rockets, and CubeSat missions. Interested students should contact the University of Alberta’s Institute for Space Science, Exploration and Technology.
It was founded in 1908 by Alexander Cameron Rutherford, the first premier of Alberta, and Henry Marshall Tory (McGill University alumni), its first president. Its enabling legislation is the Post-secondary Learning Act.
The university comprises four campuses in Edmonton, the Augustana Campus in Camrose, and a staff centre in downtown Calgary. The original north campus consists of 150 buildings covering 50 city blocks on the south rim of the North Saskatchewan River valley, directly across from downtown Edmonton. More than 39,000 students from across Canada and 152 other countries participate in nearly 400 programs in 18 faculties.
The University of Alberta is a major economic driver in Alberta. The university’s impact on the Alberta economy is an estimated $12.3 billion annually, or five per cent of the province’s gross domestic product. With more than 15,000 employees, the university is Alberta’s fourth-largest employer.
University of Alberta research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Researchers engineer an electronics first opening door to flexible electronics – February 10, 2016
- Silicon-based metamaterials could bring photonic circuits – February 6, 2016
- Breakthrough in machine learning could revolutionize medical screening methods – May 30, 2015
- Poker-playing program knows when to fold ‘em< – January 9, 2015
- Researchers discover solar energy-driven process makes tailings ponds reclamation instant- October 11, 2014
- The new atomic age: building smaller, greener electronics – July 10, 2014
- “Molecular movie” technology will enable extraordinary gains in bioimaging, health research – July 4, 2014
- Discovery could make solar power cheaper, more accessible
- Zebrafish may hold the answer to repairing damaged retinas and returning eyesight to people
- UAlberta medical researchers make key discovery in fight against Alzheimer’s disease
- Magic Finger turns any surface into a touch interface
- Nano nod for lab-on-a-chip
- Hepatitis C breakthrough
- Nitrogen Pollution Likely to Increase Under Climate Change
- Huntington Disease Breakthrough
- Vaccine discovered for hep C
- New Hybrid Technology Could Bring ‘Quantum Information Systems’
- Proposed Extraction Process May Have Economic, Environmental Benefits
Electrical currents can be now be switched on and off at the smallest conceivable scale enabling a new generation of ‘green electronics’ with the potential for great impact on the digital economy
Robert Wolkow is no stranger to mastering the ultra-small and the ultra-fast. A pioneer in atomic-scale science with a Guinness World Record to boot (for a needle with a single atom at the point), Wolkow’s team, together with collaborators at the Max Plank Institute in Hamburg, have just released findings that detail how to create atomic switches for electricity, many times smaller than what is currently used.
What does it all mean? With applications for practical systems like silicon semi-conductor electronics, it means smaller, more efficient, more energy-conserving computers, as just one example of the technology revolution that is unfolding right before our very eyes (if you can squint that hard).
“This is the first time anyone’s seen a switching of a single-atom channel,” explains Wolkow, a physics professor at the University of Alberta and the Principal Research Officer at Canada’s National Institute for Nanotechnology. “You’ve heard of a transistor–a switch for electricity–well, our switches are almost a hundred times smaller than the smallest on the market today.”
Today’s tiniest transistors operate at the 14 nanometer level, which still represents thousands of atoms. Wolkow’s and his team at the University of Alberta, NINT, and his spinoff QSi, have worked the technology down to just a few atoms. Since computers are simply a composition of many on/off switches, the findings point the way not only to ultra-efficient general purpose computing but also to a new path to quantum computing.
“We’re using this technology to make ultra-green, energy-conserving general purpose computers but also to further the development of quantum computers. We are building the most energy conserving electronics ever, consuming about a thousand times less power than today’s electronics.”
While the new tech is small, the potential societal, economic, and environmental impact of Wolkow’s discovery is very large. Today, our electronics consume several percent of the world’s electricity. As the size of the energy footprint of the digital economy increases, material and energy conservation is becoming increasingly important.
Wolkow says there are surprising benefits to being smaller, both for normal computers, and, for quantum computers too. “Quantum systems are characterized by their delicate hold on information. They’re ever so easily perturbed. Interestingly though, the smaller the system gets, the fewer upsets.” Therefore, Wolkow explains, you can create a system that is simultaneously amazingly small, using less material and churning through less energy, while holding onto information just right.
When the new technology is fully developed, it will lead to not only a smaller energy footprint but also more affordable systems for consumers. “It’s kind of amazing when everything comes together,” says Wolkow.
Wolkow is one of the few people in the world talking about atom-scale manufacturing and believes we are witnessing the beginning of the revolution to come. He and his team have been working with large-scale industry leader Lockheed Martin as the entry point to the market.
“It’s something you don’t even hear about yet, but atom-scale manufacturing is going to be world-changing. People think it’s not quite doable but, but we’re already making things out of atoms routinely. We aren’t doing it just because. We are doing it because the things we can make have ever more desirable properties. They’re not just smaller. They’re different and better. This is just the beginning of what will be at least a century of developments in atom-scale manufacturing, and it will be transformational.”
A research team based in the Faculty of Engineering has developed a method of connecting neurons, using ultrashort laser pulses—a breakthrough technique that opens the door to new medical research and treatment opportunities.
The team is the first ever to find a way to bond neurons and in doing so, has given researchers a powerful new tool. Neurons are cells in the nervous system that are responsible for transferring information between the brain and the rest of the body.
“The immediate application is for researchers. They finally have a new tool to do what they have not been able to do before,” said Nir Katchinskiy, a second-year PhD student in Electrical Engineering who led the study. “We’re engineers. We come up with tools that provide potential.”
The team’s findings are published in the flagship scientific journal Nature Scientific Reports. Read the article online.
Katchinskiy had a real-life application in mind when he started the project.
“I was really interested in the nervous system—if you have a severed nerve, you can’t repair it,” he said. “My thought was, what if we could ‘weld’ it back up right after it’s injured?”
An engineering research team at the University of Alberta has invented a new transistor that could revolutionize thin-film electronic devices.
Their findings, published in the prestigious science journal Nature Communications (read the article here), could open the door to the development of flexible electronic devices with applications as wide-ranging as display technology to medical imaging and renewable energy production.
The team was exploring new uses for thin film transistors (TFT), which are most commonly found in low-power, low-frequency devices like the display screen you’re reading from now. Efforts by researchers and the consumer electronics industry to improve the performance of the transistors have been slowed by the challenges of developing new materials or slowly improving existing ones for use in traditional thin film transistor architecture, known technically as the metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistor (MOSFET).
But the U of A electrical engineering team did a run-around on the problem. Instead of developing new materials, the researchers improved performance by designing a new transistor architecture that takes advantage of a bipolar action. In other words, instead of using one type of charge carrier, as most thin film transistors do, it uses electrons and the absence of electrons (referred to as “holes”) to contribute to electrical output. Their first breakthrough was forming an ‘inversion’ hole layer in a ‘wide-bandgap’ semiconductor, which has been a great challenge in the solid-state electronics field.
UAlberta researchers solve heads-up limit Texas hold ‘em poker.
In a world first, researchers in the Computer Poker Research Group at the University of Alberta have essentially solved heads-up limit Texas hold ‘em poker with their program, called Cepheus.
“Poker has been a challenge problem for artificial intelligence going back over 40 years, and until now, heads-up limit Texas hold ‘em poker was unsolved,” says Michael Bowling, lead author and professor in the Faculty of Science, whose findings were published Jan. 9 in the journal Science.
For more than a half-century, games have been test beds for new ideas in artificial intelligence. The resulting successes have marked significant milestones, from IBM’s Deep Blue defeating world champion Garry Kasparov in chess and Watson beating top-earning Jeopardy! champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.
But as Bowling points out, defeating top human players is not the same as actually solving a game—especially a game like poker.
The challenge of imperfect information
Cleaning up oil sands tailings has just gotten a lot greener thanks to a novel technique developed by University of Alberta civil engineering professors that uses solar energy to accelerate tailings pond reclamation efforts by industry.
Instead of using UV lamps as a light source to treat oil sands process affected water (OSPW) retained in tailings ponds, professors Mohamed Gamal El-Din and James Bolton have found that using the sunlight as a renewable energy source treats the OSPW just as efficiently but at a much lower cost.
“We know it works, so now the challenge is to transfer it into the field,” says Gamal El-Din, who also worked on the project with graduate students Zengquan Shu, Chao Li, post doctorate fellow Arvinder Singh and biological sciences professor Miodrag Belosevic.
“This alternative process not only addresses the need for managing these tailings ponds water, but it may further be applied to treat municipal wastewater as well. Being a solar-driven process, the cost would be minimal compared to what’s being used in the field now.”
UAlberta research team developing atom-scale, ultra-low-power computing devices to replace transistor circuits.
(Edmonton) In the drive to get small, Robert Wolkow and his lab at the University of Alberta are taking giant steps forward.
The digital age has resulted in a succession of smaller, cleaner and less power-hungry technologies since the days the personal computer fit atop a desk, replacing mainframe models that once filled entire rooms. Desktop PCs have since given way to smaller and smaller laptops, smartphones and devices that most of us carry around in our pockets.
But as Wolkow points out, this technological shrinkage can only go so far when using traditional transistor-based integrated circuits. That’s why he and his research team are aiming to build entirely new technologies at the atomic scale.