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Science
THE MATERIAL WORLD
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Thursday 16:30-17:00
Quentin Cooper reports on developments across the sciences. Each week scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects.
material.world@bbc.co.uk
LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 5 December
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QUENTIN COOPER
Quentin Cooper
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Thursday 5 December 2002
Artists impression of the space elevator
Image copyright Dr. Brad Edwards and Highlift Systems

Space Elevator

Holiday destinations for the year 2020 – Malaga, Florida, the Moon, Mars, Venus, Asteroid Belt.... Science Fiction could become Science fact with the development of an elevator straight into space. Simply put, a space elevator is a revolutionary way of getting from Earth into space, using incredible simple physics. A space elevator is a ribbon with one end attached to Earth on a floating platform located at the equator and the other end in space beyond geosynchronous orbit (35,800 km altitude). The space elevator will ferry satellites, spaceships, and pieces of space stations into space using electric lifts clamped to the ribbon. Previously, massive amounts of energy have been exhausted flinging rockets, and shuttles, into space but the space elevator promises to deliver us into space for only a fraction of the cost in energy, materials, and training.

Returning to the physics. Just like a ball on a string that's swung round and round over your head, the string stays straight. Imagine the earth as your hand holding the string, the string is actually a huge cable and the ball is, for example, the asteroid you are visiting. It is all kept in place by the earth’s rotational acceleration, pulling the space elevator outward and keeping it stable.

Quentin Cooper speaks to Dr Brad Edwards, Chief Technology Officer from Highlift systems who are developing the elevator and Dr David Raitt who is the technology transfer officer in the technology transfer and promotion office at the European Space Agency (ESA).

Origins of Life

Since the 1930s the accepted theories for the origins of cells and therefore the origins of life itself claim that chemical reactions in the earth’s ancient atmosphere produced the building blocks of life – so life came first and cells second. In a paper to be published in Philosophical Transactions B, a journal of the Royal Society on Wednesday 4th December 2002a new and controversial theory claims cells came first and life came second – a key difference to our thinking about the origins of life. The paper says that living systems originated from inorganic incubators deep on the ocean floor – small compartments in iron sulphide rocks driven by the ocean’s convection currents. This could mean that life could happen on any other rocky, wet enough planet.

Quentin speaks to Dr. Michael Russell a geochemist at the University of Glasgow who is a co-author of the paper and to Dr Graham Cairns Smith, Honorary Senior research fellow Department of Chemistry also at the University of Glasgow.
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