Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The Japanese space industry startup ispace has unveiled its “Series 2” lunar lander, which will have the capacity to carry bigger payloads to the Moon.
Standing at approximately 3.5 meters tall and 4.2 meters wide, including its legs, the Series 2 is larger in both size and customer payload design capacity than ispace’s first-generation lander model, Series 1, which the company is developing for its first and second missions.
That means that the Series 2 will not be utilized until the first half of 2024 at the earliest.
The Series 2 is designed to deliver payloads to both lunar orbit and the lunar surface. The lander has a payload design capacity to deliver up to 500 kilograms to the lunar surface. For missions where payloads are exclusively for lunar orbit, capacity can be up to 2,000 kilograms.
The Series 2 also aims to be one of the first commercial lunar landers capable of surviving the lunar night, and it is designed to have the ability to land on either the near side or far side of the Moon, including the polar regions.
The lander’s guidance, navigation, and control includes precision landing technologies said to be capable of ensuring extraordinary accuracy during descent, including hazard avoidance.
Takeshi Hakamada, Founder and CEO, ispace, commented, “As we look to the near future, Series 2 will enable us to not only increase our capabilities, but also to provide greater access and opportunities for our customers. Series 2 is a positive step toward realizing a diverse and sustainable cislunar ecosystem.”
Kursten O’Neill, the ispace US lander program director, added, “I couldn’t be prouder of our team for what we have accomplished with this lander… this vehicle will truly be a game changer. Due to its ability to adapt to a wide range of customers, after its debut for our third mission, we expect the Series 2 lander to service the market for several years and several missions to come.”
ispace is said to be well along in its preparations for its first lunar mission, using the Series 1 lander, which is supposed to take place sometime next year.
ispace is a Japanese lunar exploration startup that now employs over 150 staff in Japan, Europe, and the United States. The company has raised a total cumulative funding of approximately US$195 million.
We’ve tended to treat the RNA-based vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech as functionally equivalent. They take an identical approach to producing immunity and have a very similar set of ingredients. Clinical trial data suggested they had very similar efficacy—both in the area of 95 percent.
So it was a bit of a surprise to have a paper released yesterday indicating that the two produce an antibody response that’s easy to distinguish, with Moderna inducing antibody levels that were more than double that seen among people who received the Pfizer/BioNTech shot. While it’s important not to infer too much from a single study, this one was large enough that the results are likely to be reliable. If so, the results serve as a caution that we might not want to base too many of our expectations on relatively crude measures of antibody levels.
The new study
The work itself was remarkably simple. A Belgian medical center was vaccinating its staff and asked for volunteers willing to give blood samples. Samples were taken both prior to vaccination and six to 10 weeks after, with the levels of antibody specific to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein tested at both points. About 700 participants received the Moderna vaccine, while roughly 950 took the one from Pfizer/BioNTech.
General Motors has lost confidence in battery supplier LG Chem after defective cells from the company caused a string of fires and sparked a massive recall of Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles and electric utility vehicles.
The automaker recalled more than 140,000 electric cars and crossovers—every single one that the company has made—when it discovered two simultaneously occurring defects in the LG-made batteries. GM suspects the defects are behind the 10 fires the company has identified so far.
LG Chem makes the battery packs for every Chevy Bolt, and while the problem was initially traced to one of LG’s Korean plants, subsequent investigations revealed that other LG plants were pumping out bad cells, too.
Daniel Craig is back for one last stint as James Bond/007. [credit:
One of the first major films to be postponed due to the pandemic was No Time to Die, Daniel Craig’s final outing as 007. Originally slated for an April 2020 release, the film was first postponed until November 2020 and then delayed again until April 2021. While some theaters remain closed around the world, MGM is sticking with its latest release dates: a world premiere at Royal Albert Hall in London on September 28, 2021, followed by a general release on September 30 in the UK and October 8 in the US. And the studio has released one last trailer to remind audiences that yes, this premiere is finally happening.
As we’ve reported previously, this 25th installment in the franchise is co-produced by MGM and Eon Productions, with United Artists and Universal serving as distributors in North America and internationally, respectively. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective, Beast of No Nation), the film takes place about five years after the capture of Spectre‘s archvillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), a criminal mastermind and head of the organization SPECTRE. (Ian Fleming’s original character inspired Dr. Evil and his cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, in the Austin Powers film series.)
The latest legal decision in a years-long fight over how to implement the Clean Water Act has set rules back to where they were in the 1980s. The reversion is the product of the Trump administration’s haste to get rid of Obama-era regulations, leading to action that produced rules running counter to the Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientific findings. As a result, a judge has decided that the rules cannot remain in place for the time that will be needed for the Biden administration to formulate replacements.
The long-running saga is the product of the Clean Water Act’s remarkably vague protections. The act seeks to control pollution via a permitting process that applies to the “waters of the United States,” but it doesn’t define what constitutes said waters.
While the process would clearly apply to a flowing river, it’s less clear whether the act would regulate the pollution of a stream bed only filled seasonally or following heavy rains—even though the stream bed can flow directly into a river that is active year-round. Similar issues apply to items like man-made ponds that connect to other bodies via groundwater flow.
Over 135 subreddits have gone dark this week in protest of Reddit’s refusal to ban communities that spread misinformation about the COVID pandemic and vaccines.
Subreddits that went private include two with 10 million or more subscribers, namely r/Futurology and r/TIFU. The PokemonGo community is one of 15 other subreddits with at least 1 million subscribers that went private; another 15 subreddits with at least 500,000 subscribers also went private. They’re all listed in a post on “r/VaxxHappened” which has been coordinating opposition to Reddit management’s stance on pandemic misinformation. More subreddits are being added as they join the protest.
“Futurology has gone private to protest Reddit’s inaction on COVID-19 misinformation,” a message on that subreddit says. “Reddit won’t enforce their policies against misinformation, brigading, and spamming. Misinformation subreddits such as NoNewNormal and r/conspiracy must be shut down. People are dying from misinformation.”
The QuietComfort line has proven popular for Bose over the years, so it may not be a surprise to see that the QuietComfort 45 does not significantly diverge from its predecessor, the QuietComfort 35 II, which launched roughly four years ago.
Nearly a decade ago, Theranos touted a revolutionary diagnostic device that could run myriad medical tests without having to draw blood through a needle. Today, the startup’s founder, Elizabeth Holmes, goes to court, where she’s facing 12 criminal counts for statements she made to investors and consumers about her company’s technology.
Holmes founded Theranos in 2003 after dropping out of Stanford University at the age of 19. Driven by her phobia of needles, Holmes wanted to create diagnostic tests that use blood from finger pricks rather than from needles. The idea caught on, attracting well-connected board members like Henry Kissinger and James Mattis, drawing over $400 million in investments from wealthy investors including Larry Ellison and Rupert Murdoch, and securing lucrative partnerships with Walgreens and Safeway. At its peak, Theranos was worth over $9 billion.
But Theranos’ myth started unwinding in 2015 when a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that the company had been performing most of its tests on traditional blood diagnostic machines rather than its own “Einstein” device. The company’s own employees doubted the machine’s accuracy.
South Korea will soon pass a law banning Apple’s and Google’s app store payment requirements. An amendment to South Korea’s Telecommunications Business Act will stop app store owners from requiring developers to use in-house payment systems. The law also bans app store owners from unreasonably delaying the approval of apps or deleting them from the marketplace, which the country fears is used as a method of retaliation. As The Wall Street Journal reports, the law has passed South Korea’s National Assembly (the country’s Congress equivalent), and President Moon Jae-in is expected to sign the bill into law.
In the rest of the world, Apple and Google get a 30 percent cut of most app purchases, in-app sales, and subscriptions, and the companies don’t allow developers to use alternative payment options. Once the bill passes in South Korea, app developers will be free to search for a payments provider that offers them the best deal. Google’s and Apple’s stores do provide some benefits, like user authentication for purchases, friction-free purchases thanks to stored payment information, and easy data hosting and distribution for digital goods. If developers don’t need any of those things or are willing to roll their own solutions, standard credit card processors usually only take a 1-3 percent cut of sales.
The Verge received statements from both Google and Apple. A Google spokesperson told the site, “Just as it costs developers money to build an app, it costs us money to build and maintain an operating system and app store. We’ll reflect on how to comply with this law while maintaining a model that supports a high-quality operating system and app store, and we will share more in the coming weeks.”
The trailer for Far Cry 6 featuring a very familiar voice for modern TV fans.
Roughly six weeks before Far Cry 6‘s upcoming launch on PC and consoles, Ubisoft elected to unlock the entirety of this first-person shooter’s opening beats for a press-only, hands-on demo. This kind of access differs from the carefully selected “slices” we sometimes play in preview events, as those are meant to show an unfinished game in its best light.
But after going hands-on with Far Cry 6 for nearly four hours, I was reminded why game studios are sometimes cagey about prerelease reveals.
The demo I played was equal parts massive and unwieldy. I couldn’t help but feel like hundreds of Ubisoft staffers’ efforts to create a beautiful and convincing pseudo-Cuban adventure wound up squeezed into a single, tiny clown car of a package. The issues didn’t end with game-breaking bugs and wonky AI, which may very well be resolved on, erm, October 7. At this point, I’m more concerned about uninspiring new loadout systems, a narrative tone that can’t make up its mind, and an absolute yawn of a return to the Ubisoft open-world bloat of old.
The last few years have seen plenty of new innovations come up in the hard-disk drive market. For quite some time, the HDD technology roadmap was shared industry-wide – vendors introduced new technologies at different points in time, but they were all similar in nature. As a recent example, HGST (now, Western Digital) was the first to market with helium-filled HDDs, but both Seagate and Toshiba followed up with similar drives within a few years.
Prior to 2017, there was consensus that heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) would help drive the increase in storage density for HDDs after traditional perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) ran out of steam. Western Digital sprang a surprise in Q4 2017 by announcing the decision to go with microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) for future HDDs. Seagate, in the meanwhile, has been all-in on HAMR and also launched 20TB HDDs based on the technology for enterprise customers (those HAMR drives are yet to hit retail, though). In the meanwhile, Western Digital was promising MAMR drives for 16TB+ HDDs, but eventually back-tracked in favor of energy-enhanced PMR (ePMR). Toshiba, on the other hand, introduced flux control-MAMR (FC-MAMR) in its MG09-series of enterprise 16TB and 18TB HDDs.
At the HDD Reimagine event today, Western Digital is introducing OptiNAND – a novel architecture involving the integration of an embedded iNAND UFS embedded flash drive (EFD) on the drive’s mainboard.
In conjunction, the company is also announcing that it has been sampling its first 20TB non-SMR drives based on OptiNAND-enabled ePMR to select customers, and that it would be adopting the OptiNAND platform moving forward for all 20TB+ HDDs. The company also sees a path to 50TB OptiNAND-enabled ePMR drives in the second half of the decade.
While the company did not quantify the amount of NAND in its OptiNAND drives, they are stressing the fact that it is not a hybrid drive (SSHD). Unlike SSHDs, the OptiNAND drives do not store any user data at all during normal operation. Instead, the NAND is being used to store metadata from HDD operation in order to improve capacity, performance, and reliability.
Western Digital’s OptiNAND announcement also conveys the fact that their 20TB 9-platter HDDs will continue to use energy-enhanced PMR (ePMR). In addition to the use of a triple-stage actuator to enable more accurate positioning of the heads over the tracks, the OptiNAND aspect is being touted as the key to enabling 2.2TB capacity for each platter.
The increase in areal density is being achieved by cramming the tracks on the platter closer together (increased TPI), while also moving out some of the metadata (both factory-generated and mid-user operation) out from the platter to the NAND. In particular, Western Digital made a mention of the repeatable run out (RRO) recording of the head jitter / error position as the spindle revolves. This data (running into multiple gigabytes) is generated in the factory during manufacturing. It is typically stored in the disk, taking up space that could have potentially been used for user data. The OptiNAND architecture moves this to the NAND in the EFD.
One of the key challenges to packing tracks closer together is the concept of ‘adjacent track interference’ (ATI). This results in the need to periodically refresh data in the platter’s tracks as it could get corrupted by writes to adjacent tracks. Currently available HDDs triggered these refreshes on a track-by-track basis based on the recording of write operations at the track-level. One of the downsides to increasing areal density by increasing the TPI is the need to do more frequent refreshes. From refreshing once in 10000 write operations in early HDDs, the narrow tracks now need to be refreshed as frequently as once every 6 writes. Beyond a certain point, it doesn’t make sense to increase TPI any further because the increase in the frequency of ATI refreshes has an extreme impact on performance. In present-generation HDDs, these refreshes have been triggered at the track level by recording write operations at that hierarchy. The OptiNAND architecture allows the write operations to be recorded at the sector level. This means that the refresh operations are more spread out both temporally and spatially, allowing the tracks to be packed closer together without sacrificing performance. In turn, this increases the areal density.
Consumers can operate HDDs with the write cache in the device enabled or disabled. Irrespective of the cache enablement, the HDD has to buffer up the incoming data. In the disabled case, the amount of data that could be buffered up is dependent on the amount of data that can be safely flushed out to non-volatile storage in the case of an emergency power-off (EPO) situation. The presence of significant NAND capacity in the HDD means that the drive can use the rotational energy present in the platters to flush out more data in the DRAM into the NAND (Present-day HDDs dump out the DRAM data into serial flash – around a couple of MBs worth – in an EPO situation). The ability to buffer out more data in this case means that the performance of write-cache enabled case and write-cache disabled case approach each other in OptiNAND-enabled HDDs.
Western Digital also claims that the ‘write cache enabled’ case can benefit on the performance front. This is an indirect result of the reduced refresh rates (referencing the observations in the previous sub-section on how OptiNAND handles adjacent-track interference) that allows the HDD to spend more time in servicing user data requests. Again, there was no quantification of the improvement in IOPS for different access patterns over non-OptiNAND HDDs in Western Digital’s event.
The aspects of OptiNAND used to enhance the performance of the drives in the write caching disabled state also contribute to enhancing their reliability under EPO conditions. By including faster non-volatile storage compared to serial flash, Western Digital claims that up to 50x more data can be flushed out compared to previous-generation HDDs.
Western Digital claims that the vertical integration possible with the HDD technology from the WD / HGST side along with the flash technology from the SanDisk side is essential for the creation of a platform like OptiNAND.
There is bound to be a cost-premium associated with the drives due to the NAND integration. New recording technologies (like HAMR and MAMR) require significant investment into the design of the recording heads as well as platters, and need to be revamped every few generations. On the other hand, technologies like OptiNAND are independent of the underlying technology.
Without exact quantification of the increase in areal density enabled by OptiNAND, it is not possible to provide comparative comments on the Capacity aspect of Western Digital’s OptiNAND trifecta – except that the company is now able to introduce 20TB hard drives to the market with the same ePMR technology used in its 18TB drives (around 2.2TB/platter).
The Performance aspect should be easier to evaluate when OptiNAND drives hit retail. While the benefits for the ‘write caching disabled’ case (where the NAND can act as a safe cache in an EPO situation) are easy to verify (essentially acting the same as the ‘write caching enabled’ case), the pure ‘write caching enabled’ case should be much more interesting to analyze against competing drives of the same capacity.
Western Digital indicated that all of their 20TB+ HDDs moving forward will be OptiNAND-enabled. This will be across all market verticals – cloud deployment, enterprise drives (Gold), storage for surveillance recording (Purple line), and NAS (Red line). It must be noted that the company has a 20TB SMR drive already in the market that is not OptiNAND-enabled. The new HDD architecture with its flexible SoC and high-performance NAND integration can also be used to enable customer-specific enhancements in the future. The ability to use the NAND to dynamically remap sectors can increase areal density and improve performance much more in SMR drives. Based on this, we can expect OptiNAND-enabled SMR drives to gain significant capacity advantage over CMR drives in comparison to what is being seen in the market currently.
The HDD industry is not yet in dire need of CPR, but Western Digital’s usage of OptiNAND to address the Capacity, Performance, and Reliability trifecta is yet another unique aspect in the innovation-rich hard-disk drive market. Western Digital has both HDD and complete flash technology (from NAND fabrication to controller) in-house, while the other HDD vendors do not have that advantage. As such, it might take the other vendors some time to catch up on the advantages of using NAND for HDD metadata.
One of the critical deficits Intel has to its competition in its server platform is core count – other companies are enabling more cores by one of two routes: smaller cores, or individual chiplets connected together. At its Architecture Day 2021, Intel has disclosed features about its next-gen Xeon Scalable platform, one of which is the move to a tiled architecture. Intel is set to combine four tiles/chiplets through its fast embedded bridges, leading to better CPU scalability at higher core counts. As part of the disclosure, Intel also expanded on its new Advanced Matrix Extension (AMX) technology, CXL 1.1 support, DDR5, PCIe 5.0, and an Accelerator Interfacing Architecture that may lead to custom Xeon CPUs in the future.
These days, I’m just as excited about electrifying things like school buses and garbage trucks as I am passenger cars. As usual, replacing a hot and noisy gasoline or diesel powertrain with batteries and electric motors makes life better for the drivers (and riders, in the case of a bus), with less noise and vibration—benefits that extend to everyone else in near proximity, too.
Even better news is that school districts around the country are in the process of electrifying their bus fleets. Montgomery County, Maryland, and the Commonwealth of Virginia have both announced ambitious plans that also involve using the buses as vehicle-to-grid energy storage when not in use.
Here in the District of Columbia, sandwiched between Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, the city is also finalizing its electrification roadmap. Unlike its suburban neighbors, its fleet of buses are the smaller Type A buses, but there’s an ever-growing selection of these to choose from.
Publicly NASA is still holding onto the possibility of a 2021 launch date for the debut flight of its Space Launch System rocket. This week, an agency spokesperson told Ars that “NASA is working toward a launch for the Artemis I mission by the end of this year.”
However, a source said the best-case scenario for launching the Artemis 1 mission is spring of next year, with summer the more realistic target for a test flight of the heavy lift rocket and Orion spacecraft. The space agency is already running about two months behind internal targets for testing and integrating the rocket at Kennedy Space Center, and the critical pre-flight tests remain ahead.
NASA’s Kathryn Hambleton acknowledged that the space agency has seen schedule slips. “The agency continues to monitor the rise of COVID cases in the Kennedy area, which combined with other factors such as weather and first time operations, is impacting our schedule of operations,” she said. “Moving step by step, we are progressing toward launch while keeping our team as safe as possible.”
Windows 11 is no longer merely “coming this fall.” Microsoft will begin releasing the new operating system to the public on October 5, starting with newer PCs (and PCs being sold in stores) and then rolling out to other supported systems over the next nine or so months. The company also says that the Amazon-powered Android app support that’s coming to Windows 11 won’t be ready for public consumption at launch; Microsoft will offer “a preview [of Android apps in the Microsoft Store] for Windows Insiders over the coming months.”
Like recent Windows 10 updates, Windows 11 will have a phased rollout through Windows Update—most PCs won’t begin to see and automatically install the update on October 5. Microsoft says that new PCs will be the first to upgrade, followed by older compatible PCs, “based on intelligence models that consider hardware eligibility, reliability metrics, age of device and other factors.” As with Windows 10 updates, you’ll be able to download an ISO file to initiate the upgrade yourself (Microsoft also offers tools like the Windows Update Assistant to manually trigger upgrade installs, which we assume it will do for Windows 11, too). All compatible PCs should be offered the update by mid-2022.
For PCs that don’t meet Microsoft’s stringent system requirements—a recent 64-bit Intel, AMD, or Qualcomm processor, enabled Secure Boot support, and a TPM 2.0 module along with 4GB or more of RAM and 64GB or more of storage—Microsoft has been cagey. Neither today’s announcement nor a post from last week explaining the security requirements mentions being able to install Windows 11 on unsupported PCs. But Microsoft told reporters that it won’t disallow installation on incompatible systems as long as you install the operating system manually, before the company can later assert its right to withhold security and driver updates on those PCs if it wants to.
Wind power isn’t the largest part of the United States’ energy mix, but it grew over the last year, according to the Wind Technologies Market Report. The renewable energy source grew to more than 8 percent of the country’s electricity supply—reaching 10 percent in a growing number of states—and saw a whopping $25 billion in investments in what will translate to 16.8 gigawatts of capacity, according to the report.
Put out by the US Department of Energy, the sizeable report draws upon a variety of data sources for its finding, including government data from the Energy Information Administration, trade data from the US International Trade Commission, and hourly pricing data from the various system operators. “The report itself covers the entire gamut of the US wind industry,” Mark Bolinger, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and one of the authors of the report, told Ars.
Bigger is sometimes better
According to the report, the performance of wind power operations in the US has improved a great deal. We can measure this based on capacity factor, a ratio of the amount of energy a turbine actually produces compared to the amount it could have produced if it ran at its peak constantly. For recently constructed wind power projects, the average capacity factor has now cleared 40 percent. The biggest gains in this area, however, are seen in the US’ “wind belt,” a region that receives a large amount of wind, stretching from the Dakotas to Texas.
That subdued Aviator nameplate is much better than spelling out the model name across the front of the hood. I’m looking at you, F-L-E-X. [credit:
Eric Bangean ]
Temptation comes in different forms, especially behind the wheel. With a plug-in hybrid SUV, there are two competing urges. Sometimes, the move is to put it in sport mode and scream down the highway to take full advantage of the hybrid powertrain. In the case of the Lincoln Aviator, the urge was to ignore the engine altogether, instead relying on electrons rather than hydrocarbons for propulsion. To Lincoln’s credit, the Aviator made that an easy choice.
In revamping its SUV lineup, Lincoln has gone hard for big grilles and classic styling, both of which the Aviator has. It sports classic SUV contours, but the slope of the windshield and the tapering top, paired with the Aviator nameplate on the front quarter panels, give it a light art deco vibe. The mid-size, three-row Aviator plugs into Lincoln’s lineup between the full-size Navigator and the compact Nautilus.
Unfortunately the Aviator’s comfortable interior doesn’t show the same level of design elegance. The materials all feel high-quality—there are scads of leather and wood trim—but it’s busy. A massive center console makes what should be a spacious front row feel slightly cramped. But the seats are excellent, and both front row occupants can sink into the Aviator’s 30-way (!) adjustable seats. The second-row captain’s chairs are roomy and comfortable, but the third row is difficult to get into and is best suited for kids.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Earlier this month Japanese shipping company Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) announced that it is launching a joint study with Australian company Origin Energy to investigate the possibility of importing green ammonia from Australia.
Green ammonia is an energy source which produces no carbon dioxide in either production or combustion, and can also be used to transport hydrogen energy. As the Japanese government pushes a carbon-zero goal for 2050, companies like MOL and Origin have been incentivized to develop green energy solutions such as green ammonia as an alternative to fossil fuels.
An Origin executive asserted that Australia’s closeness to Asian markets and its renewable resources have made the country “the box seat to develop a world-leading hydrogen sector, exporting low emissions energy all over the world to meet demand for clean energy.”
The companies expect their study to be completed by the end of the year.
Last month, multiple Japanese companies, including the state-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), entered into an agreement with Australian company Woodside Petroleum to study the creation of a blue and green ammonia supply chain from Australia to Japan.
According to the Japanese government’s 2050 decarbonization strategy, released last December, it is foreseen that 10% of all power generation in the country will be produced by hydrogen and ammonia within thirty years.
In the latest issue of HackSpace magazine, Andrew Gregory meets Anna Ploszajski to explore the bit of the Venn diagram where making and materials meet.
Anna Ploszajski (pronounced Por-shy-ski) is a cross-channel swimmer, a materials scientist, a writer, and a breaker-down of barriers to scientific understanding. 50% of the HackSpace editorial team listen to her podcast, Handmade, from which has arisen a book: Handmade: A scientist’s search for meaning through making. Naturally, we wanted to talk to her to find out why we humans do what we do when we turn object A into object B. That’s a pretty big question, but if anyone can answer it for us, Anna can.
HackSpace: Hi Anna! You’ve written a book about making. Before we get on to that, though, we’d like to ask you about something you’ve been working on in your non-writing life – 4D printing. A while ago we saw a box with a hinged lid; the hinges were fabric, and the box was PLA, so you get the benefits of two types of material in one object. I guess what you’re doing is rather more advanced than that?
Anna Ploszajski: You say that, but I’ve been doing quite a lot of experiments in 3D printing onto fabric to try and make a 4D thing, because PLA has a kind of shape memory. I was wanting to do the experiment that I was doing (which actually I described at the end of the book). I’m trying to draw a conclusion about how my adventures in craft had also impacted my scientific research life. And the example that I use is this experiment that I did 3D printing onto fabrics.
What I was doing began with sort of pre-stressing, just normal textiles. I think there was a cotton, linen, pre-stressing it, just stretching them out with my hands, and then attaching them onto the print bed. And so, you already put in a kind of internal strain into the fabric, then 3D-print a very simple design that was either a circle, or just simple lines. And then obviously, when you print onto it, then the PLA plastic is bonded onto the textile. My idea was that if you then heated that material up, then it would soften, and that tension that you’d put into the fabric would be released. So that was my idea.
My project was all to do with exploring this idea of 4D printing. So printing, using 3D printing, to make objects that move in some way after you’ve printed them. The thing about it is, it’s adjacent to this topic of smart materials. There’s a family of materials that have some kind of smart property, usually it’s colour-changing or shape-changing in response to an external stimulus. So, that could be temperature change, or light levels or moisture levels.
And those smart materials are not actually that smart, it turns out, because what they do is really simple. Let’s take the example of a really simple shape change: wood is a really good example. It expands when it gets wet. And it contracts when it dries out. By our definition of a smart material, that is a smart material because it changes shape when there’s a change in environment. And that’s a very simple movement. And these smart materials tend to just have this kind of flip-flopping between two simple states – either, you know, an expanded state or a contracted state in this example. That’s not actually that useful, unless you can do a clever design to use that movement to form a clever kind of motion.
A really good example in nature is the pine cone; the spines of a pine cone have this really ingenious bi-layer structure, where one side of them has a very hygroscopic wood – it expands a lot when it gets wet. And the other side doesn’t expand a lot when it gets wet. So, when the pine cone gets wet, it’s that bi-layer structure that causes that movement. The wood itself is just expanding. But the contrast between the two is what causes that motion. So I was trying to get inspired by that and combine, using clever design, a quite simple, smart material with some design that would combine it with a non-smart material that would cause some kind of motion.
It’s all to do with stored tension, and triggering that tension release. And to be honest with you, I didn’t get very far with it. I understand the material side; that was fine. And I could do all my experiments in the lab, and I could characterise the materials fine, but I just don’t have a designer’s brain.
And that is what the book is about in a way: trying to access or tap into these other skills that designers and makers and craftspeople have which I don’t.
HS: How much have you learned over the course of writing the book? You must have had to speak to all sorts of people to research it.
AP: I think that meeting all those craftspeople, and getting a view into their world, really gave me an appreciation for exactly how much work and time and skill and practice goes into really honing these skills. Wood is a really good example: when I did the wood carving workshop with Barn the Spoon, it took hours trying to make a spoon, but when I did it, mine didn’t look anything like his spoons.
The skills themselves are often not that complicated or difficult to do. It’s the constant practice in refinement and design, which are the skills that I didn’t necessarily have.
HS: What led you to write the book?
AP: A few things. Firstly, I wanted to write a popular science book that didn’t cater to the normal popular science audience, by which I mean people who are already relatively interested in science, the types of people who would browse the popular science sections in a bookshop and pick things up about space, or the gut, or whatever. I feel like that audience is already very well catered for.
What I wanted to do was try and write a popular book that would be read by someone who would never normally read a science book – that’s the whole of the rest of the population. So you’ll notice in the book that there are a lot of scientific analyses and explanations, but they’re all quite short. And my hope was that, if someone’s coming at this with not very much prior knowledge of science, they get to a description of the quantum mechanics behind why glass is transparent. But on the next page, we’re back to the story. And it’s really those stories that were the most important thing to me.
And so, in each of the ten chapters on different materials, the story isn’t the story of the material – it’s the story of something else. So in Plastics, it’s the story of my Polish grandad and, you know, his life story throughout the 20th century, which intertwines with the story of the rise and fall of plastics.
I wanted to draw all these other audiences in by storytelling, and then hopefully, sneak the science in when they weren’t looking.
The story of the book itself is to do with feeling very inadequate, I suppose. I had this realisation, having walked into the Institute of Making for the first time, that I was supposedly this expert in materials, having studied the science of it, having studied all on paper, but actually, there were all of these different people that had so much more in-depth knowledge than me. The craftspeople and the makers and the artists and the historians and the designers and the architects… And so it was them that I really wanted to spend time with and learn from.
That was four years ago. That was when I started my podcast, which is also called Handmade. And that was where I started interviewing makers and craftspeople. And the book just grew from that. Quite a few of the people that I interviewed on the podcast have ended up being featured in the book as the very, very, very kind craftspeople that took me under their wing and showed me the ropes of what they do.
To take blacksmithing as one example – I thought I was an expert in materials, but I had never felt metal softening under my fingers. Yes, I knew the theory, I could draw you the iron-carbon phase diagram, I could talk about the phases and melting, and all of the ways that carbon and iron interact at the atomic level inside steel. But I’ve never done it. And I didn’t know how hard you had to hit it to make it change shape. Agnes, the blacksmith who taught me, is just so, so brilliant. I’m such a huge fangirl of her. And it was very humbling, actually, to spend time with people like that.
HS: Getting to touch and feel the materials rather than study them, was there any one in particular that you gained an appreciation of?
AP: My favourite chapter in the book is Sugar, because it was the most fun story to write. And it’s the story of my English Channel swim. [Yes, you read that right – Anna has swum the English Channel.] One of the reasons was, I think, it already is one of the strongest chapters for storytelling. Because it is this kind of archetypal physical journey from A to B, but also a journey of discovery about yourself. And intertwined in that story is the story of sugar, and all its different forms, and how it affects the body and the mind.
In terms of the crafts, it was really wool that caught my imagination, and I’ve stuck with it. The story of wool is the story of my camper-van trip around Scotland and the north of England. I acquired wool from all these different places that I went to on my trip, and then knitted a patchwork blanket with all the wool I got from the different places. And through doing that, I taught myself how to knit and I met all of these kinds of amazing knitters and wool-craft people throughout Scotland and the north of England, and chatted to them and got an insight into this amazing world of women who knit – and they were all women – and what it means to them, and how it connects them. And it’s very meditative, I find, and that’s the craft that I’ve taken through since finishing the book a year ago. That’s the craft that I’ve continued with.
I don’t know what it is about it. It just feels so nice to create something, you know, especially in the last year when we were all sitting at home watching Netflix and trawling through the movies and TV shows on there. Although that felt like perhaps a bit of a waste of time, actually, if I was knitting while watching TV, it wasn’t all a waste of time; I had something to show for it at the end. And I think that’s what craft gives us – it’s a sense of purpose almost, and a sense of achievement at the end.
You know, to have that sense of achievement of ‘I’ve made this’ and now I can wear it, or now I can use it. I haven’t had that in science before. I only got that when I started entering this world of craft.
HS: It sounds like you see a disconnect between science and making. Is that fair to say?
AP: I’ve thought a lot about this: this kind of compartmentalising of making and science, or art and science as I talk about in the book (and I know that art and making are absolutely not the same thing). And I think there are a lot of reasons why the arts and sciences have been sort of severed from each other. In formal education, we separate them. At school, we have to often choose between those types of subjects. I ended up going down the science route, but I did A-level music. I love writing and music and history, and I was always crap at art, but I enjoy it. I think it’s really unhelpful that we do that, because it means that we brand people as ‘you’re a scientist’, or ‘you’re more of an artist’. And actually, I think the majority of people are probably somewhere in the middle. Actually, they have interest in both.
It’s a real shame that we often get siphoned off into these different camps, and often don’t get the chance to rediscover the other one. As someone who was siphoned off into the scientific track, it was really liberating to be able to discover the craft and artistic world. It was, like I say, very humbling. It was also really nice to be a complete beginner again at something, to be able to ask the silly questions from a place of curiosity, with no pressure, no educational pressure. I wasn’t trying to achieve anything apart from trying to make a spoon, or forge a knife, or throw a pot, or whatever it was.
Materials is a really interesting subject because it can sit at this intersection between the artistic world and the scientific world. Materials, perhaps uniquely in the sciences, is a really lovely way to explore the more artistic side. And what I’ve discovered through the book and through the podcast, is that we all understand these materials, maybe in slightly different ways. But quite often, it’s just that we use different language to talk about them. I remember interviewing a silversmith on my podcast called John Cussell, who described cold-working silver metal to me as making the atoms angry. So, when you cold-work silver, it becomes more and more stiff. I would describe that as putting dislocations into the material and putting internal stresses and strains to make them more brittle. We’re both talking about the same thing in different ways. And I think that, really, the wonderful thing that I love about materials is that it can be this common substance, literally, through which all sorts of different people can talk to each other.
HS: Citizen science has taken huge steps forward recently in broadening access to scientific research, but very often it’s locked away inside university buildings and it’s a real shame. What do you think can be done about that?
AP: That’s my life’s mission, to try and break science out of universities through doing things like writing the book and the podcast, and the talks that I give. I really want to invite people in and show them that science – it’s a huge cliché but science really is everywhere. It’s never been more important than in the last 18 months to understand science, virology, how contagions spread – that’s all science. And the science communication that’s going on around that has been mixed. Some of it’s been really good, but some of it’s been really damaging. That’s what’s important to me is to break science out of these institutions, because a lot of people are turned off science at a very early age. And unlike a lot of other areas, it’s impossible to turn back. If you go down a non-scientific route, through school, and then maybe through university or through a job, it’s impossible to go back on that and pick it up again later. I feel like subjects like history and literature are much more accessible to everybody. Whereas science is considered to be more for a select few, you know, a chosen few who are allowed to do it. And that’s really not fair.
HS: Are craftspeople scientists? There must be a lot of crossover in terms of learning, experimentation, and so on.
AP: I think you’d have to ask them, but whatever it is they do is experimentation, right? And they do experiments all the time – what temperature do I need to make my steel to make it do X? Or, what composition do I need my clay to be to make it do Y? How do I do the settings on my furnace to make sure that my pots don’t explode? And that is exactly the sort of stuff that we would do in the lab, you know: methodical experimentation. So in that way, definitely. I can’t see that there’s any difference at all between that. And in terms of the way that craftspeople and scientists think, that’s much more difficult to answer.
Most science has arisen from craftspeople and early experimenters. The subject of material science arose out of the subject of metallurgy, which arose out of blacksmiths like Agnes. If you go back far enough, it’s all the same thing.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The agreement has been formalized that will see Nagasaki Prefecture tie up with Casinos Austria International in a joint application to the central government to receive one of the three available licenses to open an Integrated Resort (IR) including a casino.
Nagasaki Governor Hodo Nakamura commented, “Nagasaki Prefecture has entered into a master agreement with Casinos Austria International Japan to develop and operate the Kyushu-Nagasaki IR. The operator’s business proposal is backed by a business track record in Europe and other international markets and aims to realize a traditional and luxurious integrated resort of the world’s highest standard in harmony with the landscape of Huis Ten Bosch. We will now proceed with the area development plan to be submitted for approval before April 28 of next year.”
He added, “We will work to realize the Kyushu-Nagasaki IR with the highest regard for strict measures to mitigate public concerns such as gambling addiction. The Kyushu-Nagasaki IR will vitalize the local economy and tourism industry affected by Covid, and also contribute to the development of the Kyushu region and furthermore our country.”
Should it be licensed by the central government, the plan calls for the construction of an IR on a 31 hectare plot of land next to the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Sasebo city.
The theme of the development is “a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures achieving a true Japanese-Western mix.” Its most prominent feature is the high-rise Crystal Tower Hotel within which a Hyatt hotel, one of the projects partners, will evidently be located.
The plan calls for a total of seven accommodation facilities, including a new luxury inn and the renovation of the existing Hotel Europe.
In addition, the master design includes an international conference hall with a maximum of 6,000 seats and an exhibition hall with a total area of 20,000 square meters, all equipped with cutting edge technologies. Beyond that, there are to be multiple indoor and outdoor facilities, including the Palace Huis Ten Bosch Museum, a concert hall, a medical mall, and something called the Japan House, Japan Square, and Japan Street at which “a wide variety of programs” can be featured. These apparently include programs related to kabuki, anime, and various games.
Finally, covering about 3% of the total area of the IR will be the casino, which we are told will be built “with an Austrian design.”
The total construction cost for the facility is estimated to be at about ¥350 billion (US$3.2 billion) and, presuming that the Covid pandemic is overcome by the second half of this decade, the annual number of visitors from both Japan and abroad is anticipated to be about 8.4 million people.
“Based in Nagasaki, we will realize a ‘tourism industrial revolution’ and aim to become a world city where Kyushu, Japan, Asia, and the world all merge,” proclaims one of the documents of the prefectural government.
The decision to quickly sign the master agreement with Casinos Austria, however, does not sit well with the two rival consortiums which have alleged improper behavior on the part of the prefectural government.
Koji Ishikawa, acting as an attorney on behalf of the Oshidori International Development consortium, told the local media that the allegations are “problems related to our trustworthiness and honor” (apparently referring to the Japanese people in general) and he added that “the investigations to confirm the relationship with antisocial forces have not been conducted based on facts.”
A senior executive within the Niki Chyau Fwu (Parkview) consortium, responding to an interview request from Akihabara News, responded by saying, “we still do not think the process was properly done, but too bad.”