N° 2 - June 2001

Free monthly electronic information letter on science and technology in France, edited by the Scientific service of the French Embassy in Norway.
Editor in chief : Jean-Noäl BALÆO - Editor : Jean-Baptiste GOUYON.


Viscerally, what more godlike ambition could a human harbor than acquiring the power to hurl lightning bolts back up where they came from? á Franco-German collaborative research project seems to have found a way to assuage that ambition, and along the way to defuse potentially destructive electrical storms. The central element is a laser capable of reaching energy levels of a Terawatt, or the equivalent of a thousand nuclear power stations. Built by French contractors, the apparatus has just undergone initial testing in Berlin where it was capable of provoking lightning-like electrical discharge from simulated clouds in an abandoned hangar. The laser's tremendous energy ionizes the air along its path, creating the very temporary equivalent of an electric wire in the sky which serves as a pathway for accumulated electricity. Since this stairway down from heaven can be directed with precision, the hope is that the dangerous charges in cumulo-nimbus clouds will be conducted safely into the ground. With this sort of application in mind, the laser's designers made it mobile; Teramobile as it is called weighs 2 tons and sits in a housing weighing 6 tons and measuring 20x8 ft. Project officials are awaiting further financing before taking the Teramobile out for a full-scale spin under real clouds. á good deal of international interest has developed in the project, such as from Canadian electric power officials whose pylons suffer costly damage every year. What's more, if the weather is only smoggy and not stormy, Teramobile can be put to use as a better sort of Lidar for detecting the nature and amount of volatile organic compounds (COV) present in the air. Whether thwarting Zeus or checking up on Vulcan, Teramobile has a promising future.
(Sciences et Avenir, July 1, p7, David Larousserie)
Source : FAST (Embassy of France to the United-States)