Science fair boost in Bath this weekend

March 7, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Events, News 

Over 800 local school pupils will be getting to grips with science in unusual ways in a two-day hands-on science fair opening at the University of Bath on Friday 9 March.

The Bath Taps into Science fair provides school children and their families with the opportunity to discover science at a fun, hands-on fair. Everything from making a special type of ’slime’ with very odd properties, trying out lego robotics, finding out about the life of a bee, magical mathematics, digging up dinosaur bones to astronomy, and liquid nitrogen will all feature in this two-day science fair.  Stalls will be run by staff and students from the University of Bath, Bath Spa University, Bristol University and the University West of England (UWE) and other colleges. Some stalls are also run by school children from local schools and societies like the Galenicals.

Day two of the Science Fair (Saturday 10 March) is held for the public in the city centre, with lots of families coming year after year. Based in Green Park Station, the venue is smaller with fewer stalls but this year will feature a brand new event – a maths and Morris dancing workshop from 2.30pm.

Mathematics professor Chris Budd said: “This year we are bigger than ever, with many schools coming and presenting, a team of science communications experts from Ireland and even a Morris Dancing Group. We will truly be dancing with science.”

The Bath Taps into Science event opens with a bang with a showcase lecture by Professor Budd on Wednesday 7 March. Titled Maths in and out of the zoo, Professor Budd will challenge guests to use their imagination and follow him as he takes a tour of a zoo in order to look at mathematics from a completely different perspective. The lecture will take place at the University of Bath Claverton campus in the University Hall and starts at 7pm. It is aimed at families and young people.

The fair is organised, run and supported by hundreds of volunteers from the University of Bath, Bath Spa University, Bristol University and the City of Bath College together with Keele University Earth Sciences Education Unit and organisations including the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, The Ethical Property Group, B&NES Waste Services, the Herschel Society, Wessex Setpoint, the Propioception Trust and Science City Bristol.

On Friday 9 March the fair will be held at the University of Bath’s Founders’ Sports Hall (10.30am to 3pm). The second day will take place at Green Park Station on Saturday 10 March (10am to 4pm). The event is funded by the University of Bath’s Widening Participation and HE STEM Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programmes.

Enhanced by Zemanta

SouthWest grows as hotbed of 4G technology testing

March 5, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Exclusive, News 

The SouthWest is extending its position as the key areas for testing the latest LTE (long-term evolution) 4G technology, writes Sian Harris. Cornish trials to deliver broadband in rural areas are being extended until June, while commercial trials of 4G technology are happening in Bristol, Swindon and the Thames Valley.

In Cornwall 180 customers living in and around St. Newlyn East are testing a unique combination of mobile and fixed technology. It was due to end at the end of January but Ofcom has granted an extension to the temporary radio licence until the end of June so that the partners – Everything Everywhere and BT Wholesale – can continue the study.

The trial users previously had no broadband or struggled to get speeds of 2 Mbps. According to the partners, the trial is now giving these participants an average download speed of 7 Mbps, which is enabling them to access a range of content including on-demand television, HD video and VoIP services.

Providing broadband to rural users is a hot topic in the UK today, with the government pushing for every home in Britain to have at least a 2Mbps connection by 2015.

“The industry needs to work together to tackle the issue of rural broadband for the last 10% very hard-to-reach areas. Two or three thousand premises in the UK really don’t receive broadband at all, said Dave Axam, director of managed services business development for BT Wholesale, at the LTE/EPC & Converged Mobile Backhaul conference in London.

With this target in mind the two partners – a mobile operator and a fixed operator – launched a trial in October 2011 to see whether LTE wireless technology could provide the infrastructure to meet this need. The partnership enables Everything Everywhere’s wireless technology to be used in combination with BT’s fibre network.

The partners chose Cornwall for the trial because of its largely-rural nature and because the digital television switchover was complete in the county, freeing up the 800MHz radio spectrum for the trial. This spectrum is good for rural areas because it has a relatively long wavelength and low attentuation by obstacles so can serve a longer range than higher-frequency spectrum. In addition, Cornwall recently received a European Union grant for superfast fibre rollout.

In addition to trying out LTE as a way of providing rural broadband, the trial experimented with another concept: the idea of a fixed operator and a mobile operator sharing the same network. The partners set up two eNodeB trial sites, for which BT provided dedicated fibre backhaul.

“The uniqueness of the trial is that both ourselves and BT have deployed our own packet core networks. This enables the customer experience to be controlled independently across the two mobile and fixed service sets, allowing for an optimised use of the radio resources available,” said Tim Rawling, principal solutions designer at Everything Everywhere and one of the team involved in the trial.

He explained that each eNodeB trial site is connected via a BT Openreach circuit (Etherway), supporting a 300Mbps capacity into the site. Separate VLANs provide connectivity via the BT 21 CN network back to separate packet core networks at Bristol for the mobile dongle customers and Adastral Park near Ipswich for the BT fixed customers. He added that the technical design and build of the network took around six months from concept to going live.

At the customer end, the BT triallists gain access to their network using one of three different types of router, the smallest of which looks much like any broadband router – except that its fixed position is near a window rather than a telephone socket – and the largest is similar to a small television aerial (a similarity that is not surprising given what the radio spectrum was used for until recently). Everything Everywhere’s trial customers access mobile broadband via an LTE dongle.

Of course the trial has met challenges. According to Rawling, “a key challenge was in selecting sites that provided a suitable trial area (filling significant ‘not spots’) without compromising the current network coverage or stability, and getting sufficient backhaul to these sites.”

Another challenge, he added, was “finding a way to combine fixed and wireless technologies whilst providing a stable and consistent experience to our trialists. A main initial finding is that the complementary technical assets of Everything Everywhere and BT can work together to enable a consistent broadband experience for our customers,” said Rawling.

The customers are unlikely to be too concerned about the network details but so far triallists seem happy with their experiences. One triallist Mark Jose, commented that the trial has enabled his family to enjoy streaming movies and participating in fast online gaming, which was previously not possible for them.

Another triallist, Tamasin Battell, noted: “Before the 4G trial downloading anything was impossible; it was so slow. Now, we can watch on-demand television and stream music. Better still, my fiancé’s sister in Australia has met her four-month-old nephew for the first time over Skype. The extension of the trial is a godsend for me, as I really don’t want to go back to the digital dark age.”


Enhanced by Zemanta

SouthWest startup Xsilon launches in Barcelona

March 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

A startup from Bath has launched its technology to the world at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona aiming to connect up all the different bits of electronics in the home.

Xsilon’s HANADU “Whole Home, Every Home” technology is aimed at service operators and equipment makers and can handle any communications link whether it is wireless or wired, with low cost and low power.  It is initially aiming at smart meter connections in the home as s well as in difficult building deployments, in-home energy management solutions, appliance monitoring and maintenance applications, and telemedicine services.

A lot of wireless links struggle to reach devices that are located inside homes, as external wireless networks struggle to penetrate the shell of the building and internal wireless networks continue to face challenges with the obstacles, clutter and coverage deadspots within a typical home environment.

HANADU plus into the growth of machine-to-machine, or M2M, technology where machines in the home all talk to each other and so is low cost enough to work in your fridge or washing machine as well as with your phone or iPad. The key is that it reaches within the home to every point where M2M connectivity might be needed, and overcomes the deadspots and range problems typically associated with previous inhome  deployments. Unlike equivalent wireless offerings, costly but underused repeater points are not needed.

All sorts of different ‘ad hoc’ approaches are supported with auto-discovery routing algorithms where the system looks around for waht avaiable and then connects to it automatically, and the bandwidth scales to support many dozens of connected endpoints within a single home.
HANADU comes with a radically lower power consumption than legacy approaches and state-of-the-art network security keeps householders’ privacy fully secure.

Xsilon’s experienced technology team in the South West has created HANADU using more than two man-centuries of communications technology development and product experience. Other communications technologies deployed in the home were originally designed for other areas, and compromises in performance or connectivity have inevitably been encountered during deployment as an In-Home M2M offering. Rather than accepting such compromises, the Xsilon team designed HANADU using a cleansheet approach with three design goals in mind: superior performance within the home environment; direct relevance to the needs of in-home M2M applications; and, compatibility with all
legacy in-home technologies.

Xsilon has generated its own intellectual property in designing HANADU, and it will be opening the technology up to standardisation activities in the near future. The first products will allow vendors and service providers to evaluate the connectivity advantages of HANADU technology, followed by connectivity modules for integration into equipment.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Experts warn of catastrophe risks of GPS system

March 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Exclusive 

Safety critical experts are calling for an alternative network for timing alongside the GPS satellite network to avoid catastrophic system failures.

“Many organisations declare they have no dependence on GPS and hence no need for backup. They are wrong,” said Prof Martyn Thomas, visiting professor at Bristol University and one of the founders of consultancy Praxis, now Altran Praxis, in Bath, speaking to the industry at the Safety Critical Systems Club symposium in Bristol. “Ideally we need a global, diverse source of timing,” he said. “The safety community needs to watch out for accidental systems and I believe they are more common than we currently realise.”

GPS is used as a timing system for lots of systems, and if it were to fail, be jammed or hacked would have catastrophic consequences for transport and mobile networks. These would range from errors in navigation to complete system failure (see links below)  and could be triggered by a huge solar flare called a Carrington event which is increasingly probable. “We have never really had a massive coronal event in the era of satellites so we just don’t know what the effect would be,” he said. The risk of such a storm in the next decade is over 12% (see more links below).

One possible solution would be eLoran, a land-based, low frequency, high power alternative wireless timing signal that would be difficult to jam and cheap to run, he said. “It would cost just £1m to £2m a year to maintain the system across Europe, it’s a no-brainer but the question is who would pay for it,” he said.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Bristol hospitals team with NPL to make breast cancer detection more reliable

March 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

Initial tests show promising results for new ultrasonic screening technique

The main hospitals in Bristol are working with the National Physical Laboratory on a  initial trial of a new, potentially more reliable, technique for screening breast cancer using ultrasound. The team at NPL are now looking to develop the technique into a clinical device.

“Our initial results are very promising. Whilst it’s early days, we’re very excited about its potential and with the right funding, support and industry partners, we may well have something here which could have a huge and positive impact on cancer diagnosis and the lives of many thousands of women,” said Dr Bajram Zeqiri, who leads the project at NPL.

The project was funded by the research arm of the NHS, the National Institute of Health Research, under its Invention for Innovation funding stream and co-funded by the NPL Strategic Research Programme. University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust is a leading UK centre in breast screening using ultrasound and partnered with NPL on the initial tests. They are now working on a demonstrator and will look to work with a manufacturer to commercialise the technology.

Around 46,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year, mostly using breast screening based on X-ray mammography. Only about 30% of suspicious lesions turn out to be malignant. Each lesion must be confirmed by invasive biopsies, estimated to cost the NHS £35 million per year. Ionising radiation also has the potential to cause cancer, which limits the use of X-rays to single screenings of at risk groups, such as women over 50 through the National Breast Screening Programme.

There is a compelling need to develop improved, ideally non-ionising, methods of detecting breast lesions and solid masses. Improved diagnosis would reduce unnecessary biopsies and consequent patient trauma from being wrongly diagnosed.

Ultrasound ticks many of the boxes: it is safe, low cost, and already extensively used in trusted applications such as foetal scanning. However the quality of the images is not yet good enough for reliable diagnoses.

Part of the problem lies with the current detectors used. Different biological tissues have different sound speeds, and this affects the time taken for sound waves to arrive at the detector. This can distort the arriving waves, in extreme cases causing cancellation them to cancel each other out. This results in imaging errors, such as suggesting abnormal inclusions where there may be none.

The new method works by detecting the intensity of ultrasonic waves. Intensity is converted to heat that is then sensed by a thin membrane of pyroelectric film, which generates a voltage output dependant on the temperature rise. Imaging detectors based on this new principle should be much less susceptible to the effects caused by the uneven sound speed in tissues.

This technique, when used in a Computed Tomography (CT) configuration, should produce more accurate images of tissue properties and so provide better identification of breast tissue abnormalities. The aim of tomography is to produce a cross-section map of the tissue, which describes how the acoustic properties vary across the tissue. Using this map, it is possible to identify abnormal inclusions.

An initial feasibility project has proved the concept by testing single detectors using purpose-built artefacts. These artefacts were designed to include well-defined structures, enabling the new imaging method to be compared with more conventional techniques. The results confirmed that the new detectors generated more reliable maps of the internal structure of the artefacts than existing techniques.

NPL is now seeking funding to develop the work further. They hope to produce a demonstrator using a full array of 20 sensors, which should allow more rapid scanning and move the idea towards a system which might eventually be used clinically. It is hoped that this will provide both a suitable resolution and fast enough scanning to become a viable replacement for current clinical scanners.

Enhanced by Zemanta