Lancaster University

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Lancaster Scientists research into Aviation Safety

01/14/2004 09:39:37

Lancaster University is part of a consortium which will develop an instrument to measure the radiation particles that affect tiny microchips in aircraft.

Microchip elements are now so small that radiation particles can cause them to fail. Radiation becomes more of a problem and increases in intensity with height and is 300 times greater at aircraft cruising altitudes.

The problem is so serious that leading microchip manufacturers have said that some microchips are unsuitable for any avionics application.

Malcolm Joyce from Lancaster’s Engineering Department is researching into why and how electronic systems respond in the upper atmosphere, with the aim of making civil aviation safer. “Avionic systems are extremely complex and rely upon significant amounts of computer memory which can be susceptible to the effects of cosmic radiation. The SPAESRANE project is a very exciting research opportunity for the Departments of Engineering and Environmental Science at the interface between complex electronic systems and the natural environment in the upper atmosphere. “

Lancaster’s role, is to develop an instrument that will measure the cosmic neutron spectrum at high altitudes, which it is planned will then be flown on a specialised high-altitude aircraft called the Geophysica.

This Russian ex-spyplane can fly at up to twice the altitude of conventional passenger jets, and so can sense how cosmic radiation strength changes throughout the atmosphere. The research is funded by the DTI and BAE SYSTEMS to a total of £1.9M for the consortium which includes MDBA, BAE SYSTEMS, Goodrich Electronics, Smiths Systems, Lancaster University, UCLAN and Surrey University. The Geophysica is provided by a consortium of leading European research institutes, of which Lancaster University is a member.