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Technology pioneers

Last week saw a ‘solid state’ plane, with no moving parts in its propulsion system, undertake a successful test flight.

Described as a breakthrough in ‘ionic wind’ technology, the plane is powered by wires on the wings of the plane having 600 watts of electrical power pumped through them, inducing an “electron cascade”, charging air molecules. These molecules then flow along the electrical field towards a second wire at the back of the wing, bumping into neutral air molecules as they move, and imparting energy to them. As they are expelled they create the thrust needed to fly the aircraft.

London born Steve Barrett, an aeronautics professor at MIT, and the lead author of the study said that his inspiration came from ‘Star Trek’, the 1960s classic science fiction TV series.

“I thought the future looked like it should be planes that fly silently, with no moving parts,” he said.

An amazing feat of electronic and mechanical engineering and one that, in the longer term, could see flights powered purely through electricity.

I mention this because it’s this kind of achievement that can help to create a buzz around an industry.

The announcement last week that the UK Electronics Skills Foundation has launched a new initiative to encourage more students to enrol in electronic and electrical engineering degrees talked of wanting to “create a buzz around the UK electronics industry” with the aim of boosting the 3,330 UK students who enrolled in 2017.

The skills shortage that’s affecting the UK is well documented and while the ‘TurnOnToElectronics’ campaign should be welcomed and encouraged, I do wonder whether it’ll achieve the hoped-for results that so many previous campaigns have sought, and failed, to deliver.

I remain optimistic that more young people will start to look at electronics and pursue careers in what is an exciting and fast-growing market.

Because, if we get it right, not only will young people have the skills to get great jobs, but they’ll also have the opportunity to be pioneers in innovation, the like of which we saw fly at MIT last week.

Neil Tyler

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