Lake Geneva region has week of hefty science/tech successes

Travel bargains, solar panels, antimatter detectors, flying boats and an all-new old solar system! unveiled near Lausanne: prototype for world's fastest sailboat (photo ©2010 Gilles Martin-Raget)

Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – The Lake Geneva region has been showing its mettle in science and high tech areas this week. The world’s fastest sailboat project unveiled its new prototype, an entrepreneur has won a major award for his travel bargain’s online database, the region’s largest solar panels park has begun soaking up the sun and an unusual new solar system has been found by a team led by Geneva scientists. And Cern packed off a hulking antimatter detector to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will join the final shuttle in the US space programme.

World’s fastest sailboat, Hydroptere, unveils new prototype, soon sailing on Lake Geneva

Alain Thebault, Hydroptere founder, pilot (photo ©2010 Gilles Martin-Raget) was unveiled 23 August in Ecublens. The sailboat is a water-borne lab that will soon be put into Lake Geneva. It is a prototype for Hydroptère maxi “whose purpose is to beat the most famous oceanic records and to follow Jules Verne’s vision: Flying around the planet”, says Alain Thébault, founder and project pilot. The project is working closely with EPFL, the polytechnic institute in Lausanne.

Hydroptère made sailing milestones in 2009 when the 60-foot trimaran became the fastest sailing craft in the world, beating two absolute sailing speed records: 51.36 knots (95 km/h) over 500 metres and 50.17 knots (93 km/h) over one nautical mile.

Thébault told a press conference early in the week that “The objective of this hybrid sailing boat is versatility. Sailing nearly as fast as Archimedean traditional boats and achieving higher speeds in flight. First on Lake Geneva, then in the Mediterranean and abroad, l’Hydroptè should give answers to precise questions related to flight dynamics and she will be an ambassador of the cross-frontier collaboration.”

Unusual new solar system found sparks “a new era in exoplanet research”

The planetary system around the Sun-like star HD 10180 (artist’s impression)

An international research team led by astronomers at the University of Geneva Observatory in Versoix announced Tuesday 24 August they they have uncovered a new solar system with several intriguing features. It has the smallest exoplanet (a planet that orbits a star other than the Earth’s sun) found to date and it has a configuration of planets never seen before, with five Neptune-like planets.

“We have found what is most likely the system with the most planets yet discovered,” says Christophe Lovis, lead author of the paper reporting the result.

“This remarkable discovery also highlights the fact that we are now entering a new era in exoplanet research: the study of complex planetary systems and not just of individual planets. Studies of planetary motions in the new system reveal complex gravitational interactions between the planets and give us insights into the long-term evolution of the system.”

Largest solar park happily takes the heat in Lausanne

EPFL rooftop with new solar panels (bottom), part of the Romande Energie solar park

Romande Energie and EPFL this week inaugurated their Solar Park, a two megawatt power plant on 20,000 m2 of rooftop at EPFL in Lausanne. The first photovoltaic cells were installed 20 August for the plant which will serve as a major research and development centre, while supplying 2 million kWh (kilowatt-hours) by 2012, at which point it will be Switzerland’s largest solar facility.

In 2005, the average per person energy consumption was 42,000 kWh per person and the figure has been rising at a little over 1 percent a year, according to federal government figures.

Romande Energies owns and will operate the plant, at a cost of CHF15 million a year, while EPFL makes its infrastructure available. It notes in a press release that “One-tenth of the park area will be dedicated to scientific research by the many EPFL laboratories working in the field of new energies (integration of cells into the architectural structure, solar cell technologies with colorants, thin layers or nanocomposites, energy storage and distribution). It will provide an actual research laboratory and act as an impressive modern showcase for the formidable growth of these soft technologies.”

EPFL is committing itself to using 30 percent of the power generated by the plant. Romande Energie, for its part, is using the plant to underscore its commitment to green energy sources: it plans to produce 250 million kWh a year by 2020-2025.

Romande Energie is celebrating the inauguration with an innovative new programme that kicks off in October, called Mon carré solaire, which lets consumers rent a square metre of the rooftop solar park at EPFL. Advance reservations are being taken now.

Time to travel, as cheaply and efficiently as possible

Use route RANK to consider the options when you travel: cheap, efficient, green?

A bright star on the entrepreneurial front in the Lake Geneva region is Jochen Mundiger, who has been named by MIT’s (Massachussetts Institute of Technology) Technology Review as a young innovator of the year. Mundiger works at EPFL, and his work is reflected in his search engine site, which helps travellers find the cheapest and most efficient way to travel between two points in Europe.

He is now at work on an international travel version of the product.

The site provides a wealth of related travel information, such as the greenest travel options, and calculates costs, in four languages. Mundiger’s blog offers suggestions on where and how to use it, for example, for the Paleo Festival and checking it out from your cell phone.

The magazine selects 35 innovators under age 35 each year.