Free-falling into the record books

News editor

Huge congratulations are in order this morning to Felix Baumgartner, who yesterday became the first skydiver to fall faster than the speed of sound.

The Austrian thrill-seeker jumped from a balloon 24 miles above New Mexico in the US, free-falling for over four minutes before parachuting safely to the ground, and claiming the records for the highest skydive and highest manned balloon flight in the process.

His success in testing out a specially designed prototype pressure suit, which you can read about here, could pave the way for astronauts being able to bail out of their spacecraft if something goes wrong. There’s lot’s more information about the technology behind the mission on the official website.

Felix Baumgartner (AUT) - Action
Felix Baumgartner is the first skydiver to break the sound barrier.

Back on Earth, there’s news about the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering that was announced last November.

To recap, the £1m biennial prize will be awarded to an individual or team of up to three people directly responsible for an advance in engineering that has led to ‘significant international public benefit’.

What use, however, such an esteemed prize without a trophy that conveys the magnitude of the award?

In association with the Tate, the Design Museum and the Science Museum, a competition with a prize of £5,000 has been launched for young people in the UK to design the trophy that will be presented to the winner of the international prize. 

Specifically, 16 to 24 year olds are being invited to submit a design that ‘represents the wonder of modern engineering’.

The organizers say the winning entry will ‘reflect the creativity, power and importance of engineering so that the trophy is a symbol of the integral role the engineering profession plays in society.’ Full details can be found here.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) hosts a conference tomorrow that will highlight a technology claimed to be a ‘gamer-changer’ in its field.

Air capture technology scrubs carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air and could prove a viable tool in the battle against climate change.

Air Fuel Synthesis (AFS), based in Stockton-on-Tees, is using air capture to create synthetic petrol using only air and electricity and recently created its first litres of fuel at the company’s Stockton demonstrator plant. You can read about how the process works here.

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AFS’s technology can produce fuel from CO2 and electricity.

IMechE tell us that fuel created from the process is a direct drop-in replacement fuel for existing vehicles and infrastructure.

They add it can also be used to store intermittent ‘wrong-time’ or stranded ‘wrong-place’ energy from renewable sources and has many advantages over biofuels when blended with conventional petrol – a feature that has already attracted the attention of the motorsport industry.

Tomorrow’s conference, Air Capture: Developing Technologies for Carbon Recycling and Negative Emissions will feature a presentation by Peter Harrison, CEO of Air Fuel Synthesis, plus presentations from some of the world’s leading specialists in air capture technology.

Check out our recent feature for more on how the technology for making fuels from CO2 is nearing commercial reality.

Also beginning tomorrow is a two-day summit that will encourage islands around the world to become self-sufficient in renewable energy by 2020, by sharing knowledge from the Isle of Wight Ecoislands project.

The Ecoislands Global Summit 2012 will showcase progress from the scheme and delegates will have the opportunity to learn from Ecoislandsʼresearch and development activities, demonstration projects and community initiatives spanning energy, transport, water and waste management.

Global partners including IBM, Toshiba, Cable&Wireless Worldwide, Sliver Spring Networks,  Scottish and Southern Energy, ITM Power and Southern Water will present a range of technology solutions.

The Engineer will be featuring an interview with the Ecoislands founder, the appropriately named David Green, later this week.

This Thursday 20 high-tech companies vie for investment of between £250,000 and £5m from venture capitalists, angel investors and high net-worth individuals at the SETsquared partnership’s annual Investment Showcase.

The businesses are pitching for investment of between £250,000 and £5m from venture capitalists, angel investors and wealthy individuals. The organizers claim that over the past eight years participants have raised over £120m in investment.

The event includes ten-minute investor pitches from eight of the companies attending, including energy from biomass company Antaco, and cow health monitoring company eCow.

Finally, next weekend sees Battle of Ideas take place at London’s Barbican Centre, an event claimed by its organizers, the Institute of Ideas, to make virtues of free-thinking and lively exchanges of views.

On Saturday visitors will be able to attend debates surrounding two topical issues close to the hearts of readers of The Engineer, namely the resurgence of manufacturing and the use of shale gas in any future energy mix.

The entire weekend is multi-faceted and designed to ‘attract attendees who are willing to challenge and to be challenged’. Click here to learn more