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Nuclear Reactor Renaissance

Nuclear reactor design is poised for a desperately needed revival. Here are seven contenders

15 min read
Illustration: Bryan Christie Design
Illustration: Bryan Christie Design

More than half a century ago, the first commercial nuclear power reactors went critical in the United Kingdom and the United States. In the decades since, technology has brought us 3-billion-transistor chips, manned spaceflight, and violin-playing robots. Nevertheless, the basic design of commercial nuclear power reactors has changed not a whit. They seem to be trapped in a land that technology forgot.

Yes, conservatism can be a good thing, perhaps nowhere more so than in the design of nuclear reactors. Electric utilities aren’t known for daring, and you can’t reasonably expect them to risk several billion dollars on a reactor without a track record. On the other hand, you can’t pin hopes for a nuclear renaissance on designs that were fresh back when color TV and transatlantic jet travel were novelties. You need the promise of something much better, and no fewer than a dozen advanced reactor designs are in the running to offer it.

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Paying Tribute to 1997 IEEE President Charles K. Alexander

The Life Fellow was a professor at Cleveland State University

4 min read
portrait of man smiling against a light background
The Alexander Family

Charles K. Alexander, 1997 IEEE president, died on 17 October at the age of 79.

The active volunteer held many high-level positions throughout the organization, including 1991–1992 IEEE Region 2 director. He was also the 1993 vice president of the IEEE United States Activities Board (now IEEE-USA).

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Robot Learns Human Trick for Not Falling Over

Humanoid limbs are useful for more than just manipulation

3 min read
A black and white humanoid robot with a malfunctioning leg supports itself with one arm against a wall

This article is part of our exclusive IEEE Journal Watch series in partnership with IEEE Xplore.

Humanoid robots are a lot more capable than they used to be, but for most of them, falling over is still borderline catastrophic. Understandably, the focus has been on getting humanoid robots to succeed at things as opposed to getting robots to tolerate (or recover from) failing at things, but sometimes, failure is inevitable because stuff happens that’s outside your control. Earthquakes, accidentally clumsy grad students, tornadoes, deliberately malicious grad students—the list goes on.

When humans lose their balance, the go-to strategy is a highly effective one: use whatever happens to be nearby to keep from falling over. While for humans this approach is instinctive, it’s a hard problem for robots, involving perception, semantic understanding, motion planning, and careful force control, all executed under aggressive time constraints. In a paper published earlier this year in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, researchers at Inria in France show some early work getting a TALOS humanoid robot to use a nearby wall to successfully keep itself from taking a tumble.

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Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Modeling and simulation in Simulink and Simscape

1 min read
Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Design and simulate a fuel cell system for electric mobility. See by example how Simulink® and Simscape™ support multidomain physical modeling and simulation of fuel cell systems including thermal, gas, and liquid systems. Learn how to select levels of modeling fidelities to meet your needs at different development stages.