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Shielding Grids From Solar Storms

Geomagnetic disturbances are a real danger to some grids—being prepared for one requires assessment of local conditions, as well as monitoring and warning systems

17 min read
Photo: Julian Baum/Science Photo Library
Photo: Julian Baum/Science Photo Library

The magnetic storms that flare up on the surface of the sun are known to afflict electric power systems with everything from minor upsets to major outages. In one extreme case, in March 1989, such a geomagnetic disturbance took down the entire Hydro-Québec power grid, leaving six million customers in the Canadian province without electricity for 9 hours, and also knocked out power stations in the Northeastern United States. That disturbance occurred at one peak of an 11-year solar cycle, the 22nd to be recorded since soon after the mysterious ebbing and flowing of sunspots first was recognized in the 17th century.

Sunspots, or solar storms, are basically magnetic field lines looping out of and into the sun [photograph below]. Their appearance often is associated with the discharge of huge amounts of matter, called coronal mass ejections, consisting mostly of ionized hydrogen and helium. The ejections, about a million degrees Celsius at the surface of the sun, appear as bursts in the otherwise rather steady flood of ions and subatomic particles moving toward the earth—the solar wind—at a velocity of about 450 km/s . The interaction of those particles with the earth's magnetosphere kindles the spectacular auroras seen periodically in the polar regions.

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Video Friday: Humanoid Soccer

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
Humans and human-size humanoid robots stand together on an indoor soccer field at the beginning of a game

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
ICRA 2023: 29 May–2 June 2023, LONDON

Enjoy today’s videos!

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Computing With Chemicals Makes Faster, Leaner AI

Battery-inspired artificial synapses are gaining ground

5 min read
Array of devices on a chip

This analog electrochemical memory (ECRAM) array provides a prototype for artificial synapses in AI training.

IBM research

How far away could an artificial brain be? Perhaps a very long way off still, but a working analogue to the essential element of the brain’s networks, the synapse, appears closer at hand now.

That’s because a device that draws inspiration from batteries now appears surprisingly well suited to run artificial neural networks. Called electrochemical RAM (ECRAM), it is giving traditional transistor-based AI an unexpected run for its money—and is quickly moving toward the head of the pack in the race to develop the perfect artificial synapse. Researchers recently reported a string of advances at this week’s IEEE International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM 2022) and elsewhere, including ECRAM devices that use less energy, hold memory longer, and take up less space.

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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.