Email of the day on a layman's description of nuclear batteries.
Comment of the Day

August 26 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on a layman's description of nuclear batteries.

I suddenly seem to be bombarding you with communications, after years in the wilderness.    Don't worry, this will only be a brief interlude, I am sure.

   I just wanted to comment on the extract on "nano-diamond self-charging batteries" that you publish today.

I read Loz Blain's whole article, and it seems a very important development indeed.   But in keeping with all articles on technology for the "layman", the story doesn't start at the beginning, but begins a bit down the down the road, and soon focusses on the applications alone.    This applies even more to your extract.

I feel that this patronises the reader unnecessarily.    The average reader should be able to understand a brief well-structured explanation that starts from the beginning.   (This objection applies even more to articles on Covid-19 -- but that is another story.   In that case, I don't believe any politicians, or even some of their scientific advisers, have any real grasp of the subject.)

Re. the batteries, we have to start from the energy source.   There are only 3 (or maybe 4) energy sources:-    Radiation (sunlight), Chemical energy (in fossil fuels, wood etc.) and Nuclear energy (stored in the nuclei of all atoms, and released from the unstable ones).    The 4th source would be Gravitational (hydro-electric power, tidal, possibly wave).

The source in nano-diamond is nuclear, but the products (nitrogen gas) are harmless, and the beta radiation is contained (or so they claim).    The beta radiation (carrying the nuclear energy as kinetic energy) then transfers its energy to electrons, and creates the voltage.

The prefix nano is jargon which could be avoided - it simply means "using minute quantities of material", or possibly "operating with minute quantities of material at a time (i.e. on a very small scale), within a larger structure".    (This is what is happening in living things, and thus in the cells of our bodies, 24/7.     Man has only just caught up with this technology, in a rudimentary manner.)

"Self-charging" is superfluous and confusing.     I suppose it means that electricity is being continually formed from the nuclear energy store.    But this is equally true of a conventional battery;  the energy in that case is chemical, and there is far less than in the carbon-14 nuclei in nano-diamond batteries.

The carbon-14 is nuclear waste - from the used graphite (graphite is a form of carbon) "moderator" blocks from the cores of nuclear power stations, of which there is a huge store apparently.

Well it seems to me that if just 10 or so lines from what I have given above were used, that would be understandable to the average reader, and give them a good working knowledge.     (You may be interested to know, or probably already suspected, that I tutor A level physics and chemistry.   My great passion is communicating these matters clearly.   Granted, it is a great help if the reader has some facility in handling spatial ideas, but that applies to so many technical areas.)

Eoin Treacy's view

Thank you for this informative explanation which I’m sure will be of interest to the Collective. I’m sure your students benefit greatly from the clarity you provide.

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