Prof scores grant

By Anne-Marie Bruzga

La NiƱa can’t touch the kind of project University of Calgary Professor Luc Bauwens is undertaking.

Bauwens wants to build a commercially viable pulse-tube cryogenic refrigerator that would have only one moving part, run on helium and cool to a temperature of -200 degrees Celsius. Bauwens recently received a $285,400 strategic project grant from National Science and Energy Research to pursue this goal.

"The pulse-tube refrigerator has been demonstrated in the lab, and now the challenge is to turn it into an innovation that will succeed in the market," said nserc President Tom Brzustowski. "It will take a first-rate project research and engineering design to accomplish that. Fortunately, Canada excels in this type of innovation. And Canada has thousands of university engineers like Luc Bauwens, who are eager to take up new challenges."

The proposal for the grant was put forth by Bauwens, the National Research Council of Canada and with the support of Quantum Technology Corporation, a manufacturer of low-temperature refrigerators.

Bauwens cautioned that he was not simply building a fridge.

"It’s a cryogenic refrigerator," said Bauwens. "A device that regulates to the temperature of liquid air, more or less."

Bauwens’ project is an offshoot of the Square Kilometre Array project–a project that, if successful, will create a telescope array that will house 30-40 Large Adaptive Reflectors within a 1,000 km area. The lars would collect radio waves from space, reflect them back into a sub-reflector which would be mounted on a type of balloon suspended 500 metres in the air, which would then reflect it back to an antenna located on the ground to collect the concentrated radio waves. It is hoped that the Canadian ska project will help scientists learn more about the origins of the universe, and whether there is life beyond earth.

One of the obstacles facing the ska project is keeping their instruments cool to keep readings more accurate.

"His proposal is part of the ska project," said U of C professor and ska Project Scientist Russ Taylor. "The critical thing about the ska project is to keep the instruments cool–in particular, the receiver needs a small efficient cooling system that doesn’t currently exist."

There are also other applications for the refrigeration system.

"It has space applications where instruments need to be cold–the sensitivity of antennas," said Bauwens. "The other application lies in the cryo-pumping in the manufacturing of semi-conductors, where they need to create a vacuum by liquefying air."

Bauwens said his next step is putting a team together and starting on the design aspects of the refrigeration system, most importantly what size it needs to be.

According to Taylor, if funding continues on track, they hope to have a ska prototype in two to three years.

For more information about the ska, visit the NRC website. For information about possible extraterrestrial life, visit the Search for Extraterrestrial Intellignece.

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