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For Love of a Gun

The tumultuous history of electromagnetic launch

20 min read
Harry D. Fair
True Believer: Harry D. Fair, director of the Institute for Advanced Technology, has for the past three decades championed research into electromagnetic guns. Refining the technology has proved thorny, but renewed interest in the United States, China, and elsewhere could finally lead to usable systems in the near future.
Photo: Jack Thompson

One day in 1977, researchers at Australian National University were putting the finishing touches on an experiment that they hoped would cap nearly a decade’s worth of groundbreaking research on electromagnetic guns. Tantalized by the prospect of unleashing the pure power of electromagnetism to accelerate projectiles at rates never before achieved, countless ­researchers had been pursuing the technology since the turn of the century. But without much success.

An engineer loaded a 3-gram Lexan cube into the 5-'meter-long barrel of a contraption that looked like a cross between a cannon and a particle accelerator. He threw the switch on a huge 550-megajoule generator and then took a few steps back as the generator hummed up to speed over several minutes, its giant flywheel rotors spinning and singing as they stored kinetic energy. He threw another switch, releasing the generator’s charge in a stupendous 2-million-ampere pulse [see photo, "Ready to Launch," below].

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IEEE President’s Note: Looking to 2050 and Beyond

The importance of future-proofing IEEE

4 min read
Photo of K. J. Ray Liu

What will the future of the world look like? Everything in the world evolves. Therefore, IEEE also must evolve, not only to survive but to thrive.

How will people build communities and engage with one another and with IEEE in the future? How will knowledge be acquired? How will content be curated, shared, and accessed? What issues will influence the development of technical standards? How should IEEE be organized to be most impactful?

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The Device That Changed Everything

Transistors are civilization’s invisible infrastructure

2 min read
A triangle of material suspended above a base

This replica of the original point-contact transistor is on display outside IEEE Spectrum’s conference rooms.

Randi Klett

I was roaming around the IEEE Spectrum office a couple of months ago, looking at the display cases the IEEE History Center has installed in the corridor that runs along the conference rooms at 3 Park. They feature photos of illustrious engineers, plaques for IEEE milestones, and a handful of vintage electronics and memorabilia including an original Sony Walkman, an Edison Mazda lightbulb, and an RCA Radiotron vacuum tube. And, to my utter surprise and delight, a replica of the first point-contact transistor invented by John Bardeen, Walter Brittain, and William Shockley 75 years ago this month.

I dashed over to our photography director, Randi Klett, and startled her with my excitement, which, when she saw my discovery, she understood: We needed a picture of that replica, which she expertly shot and now accompanies this column.

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Get the Rohde & Schwarz EMI White Paper

Learn how to measure and reduce common mode electromagnetic interference (EMI) in electric drive installations

1 min read
Rohde & Schwarz

Nowadays, electric machines are often driven by power electronic converters. Even though the use of converters brings with it a variety of advantages, common mode (CM) signals are a frequent problem in many installations. Common mode voltages induced by the converter drive common mode currents damage the motor bearings over time and significantly reduce the lifetime of the drive.

Download this free whitepaper now!

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