Most of you will remember the PM Inventors Conference, an annual event that brings together some of the country’s most fertile minds for one-and-a-half days of practical advice, thought-provoking presentations, hands-on demonstrations and valuable networking opportunities – all aimed at inspiring inventors and equipping them with the tools they need to take their ideas from concept to commercial success.
It’s back in 2011, this time forming part of a bigger, better and far more ambitious programme titled INVENT 2011. For starters, the conference will be run over one exciting and inspirational day, followed by an awards evening at which we will honour the country’s most accomplished ideas people and name the first South African Inventor of the Year.
Within the coming weeks, we’ll be calling for entries in two divisions, Industry and General. In the Industry Awards division, the categories are: Consumer Tech, Automotive and Science. In the General Awards division, the categories are: Stepping Up (high schools), Breaking Ground (university students), Emerging Genius (previously disadvantaged and minimally resourced entrants), Going Green (for inventions in the field of sustainable energy and environmental conservation), and Cutting Edge (open to the general public).
We look forward to hosting you again this year, and to providing you with a memorable experience.
Now for the July issue. Our cover story, “Star power”, describes government and private-sector programmes aimed at developing practical fusion power technologies – in essence, the process that powers our Sun and other stars. Scientists and engineers have been working on the problem for decades, adopting a variety of approaches with varying degrees of success.
Now, however, it appears they may be edging closer to conquering the ultimate challenge: a fusion reaction that produces more energy than is required to start it.
As writer Elizabeth Svoboda explains, fusion has some important safety advantages over nuclear fission. To produce energy from fission, atoms such as uranium-235 are split into radioactive elements, some of which have extremely long half-lives. Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, produces helium and neutrons, and no super-long-lived radioactive waste. Plus, fusion cannot cause runaway reactions because it requires a steady input of energy for the isotopes to fuse; any plant malfunction would cause near-immediate shutdown (considering recent events in Japan, this is of more than passing interest).
Over the long term, fusion power might reduce pressure on fossil fuels such as oil and coal while complementing clean but intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar. And how’s this for an environmental advantage: in future, fusion plants may be able to burn nuclear waste as fuel. US start-up Helion Energy calculates that 50 fusion engines could incinerate the entire US stockpile of nuclear waste in 20 years. Does all of this suggest that our planet may not be doomed after all? Absolutely.
Closer to home, associate editor Sean Woods signs up for a hot and intense knifemaking course under the tutelage of master craftsman Hylton Rutherford, a man who really understands metal. As he tells it: “Forging metal is a bit like working with putty; you have to be able to envisage how and where the metal’s going to move.”
Starting with a leaf spring from an old Land Rover, Sean emerges after 2½ days of forging, pounding, grinding, quenching and sweating with a beautifully crafted, finely honed fishing knife that he has every intention of taking to sea aboard his newly acquired day sailer. His summation: “Making a knife from scratch was a fascinating process. For the record, mine was perfect.”
– Alan Duggan (email@example.com)