Sunday, 24 October 2010

Judit Nadal, Another of Britain's Experts Falls.

Dr Judit Nadal, who was leading some very important biochemical research at Imperial College, London, has been killed in a car crash. Although news reports make much of the frailty of the "G Wiz" electric car that she was driving (more on that below), it doesn't look as if the other vehicle can possibly have been driven at a speed, or in a fashion, that was legal for that urban road, approaching a junction. So, the police investigation really serves to determine exactly how unlawful her death was; it almost certainly was not an accident unadulterated by criminal action, though it remains to be seen if there was any element of aggression in it, targeted or otherwise. (There are groups in the UK who constantly threaten, plot and occasionally even manage to execute, deliberate harm to researchers in almost any sort of biomedical discipline. Some of them are up for sentencing at Winchester Crown Court this very week.)

But one way or the other, Britain loses an awful lot of its best experts, scientists, economists and, yes, bankers, and yet the only members of society to merit special protection and care, seem to be politicians and "celebrities", some of whom, Peter Doherty, for example, are far more likely to commit violent crime than be a victim of it. More than a dozen armed men guard Antony Charles Lynton Blair (a former prime minister) twenty-four hours a day, lest he strike his foot against a stone. Can't we employ a handful to see our best scientific brains safely home at the end of the working day? When it comes to their relative value to our society, there's no contest at all between Dr Nadal's research and Mr Blair's endless self promotion and "fundraising".

As for the ability of the G Wiz car to withstand a high speed collision:
The problem is not that the G Wiz is very light: so is a Formula One Racing Car, and the drivers of those walk, however unsteadily, away from some quite horrendous crashes. No, the problem with the G Wiz is that the battery pack weighs more than the rest of the car put together, and it forms an immensely strong and incompressible cell just behind the driver's seat.

This means that there's a huge concentration of inertia, and strength, just behind the driver's spine. So any high energy collision sends the rest of the car flying, while the battery pack has the inertia to stay put, cutting the car neatly in half, close to the driver's spine.

Very lightweight electric vehicles may never be especially safe until battery technology, whether nickel-hydride, lithium, or more exotic, such as poly-acetylene, gives way to super-capacitor technology, as being developed at the Universities of Cranfield and Cambridge, that can be integrated into the whole structure of the vehicle. Then, in the absence of any built-in inertial chopping block, it should be possible to build an affordable electric car with crash-worthiness as good, if not better, than a Formula One Racing Car. The power storage device would add strength, rather than provide an instant mechanism for compromising it. You would have a car that bounced, not one that sliced easily in half, executing its occupants.

Inquest has now been held, and some fairly shallow conclusions drawn abotu what is wrong with the Gee Whiz car. See new post on this subject.
Medawar has ntoiced that most reader searches for "Judit Nadal" are taking them to this post and not the latest one, for whatever reason.

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