How connections create strength

or “what the Copernicus Space Science Lab is all about”

 

Graphene is an amazing material. It conducts electricity, can bend like rubber and has higher tensile strength than diamond, making it the strongest material currently known to man. Due to these features – and leaving aside for now the current limitations on size and high cost of production – it holds enormous economic potential in areas like construction, high tech, healthcare and many others. Since its discovery in 2004, which won Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov the Physics Nobel Prize in 2010, graphene has become the subject of many studies and experiments in laboratories the world over, where scientists have been working hard to improve on it ever since. After the initial success, funding started to pour in, our knowledge of graphene started to expand, and new inventions such as penta-graphene were made. Now the focus is on developing new approaches for going from strong to “super-strong” and making large-scale production commercially viable.

There are two marvels to behold in this story. The obvious one is graphene itself, the wonder material with impressive properties. The not so obvious one (though just as impressive) is the innovative capacity in the scientific community working with nanotechnology. But how is it possible that graphene (a 2-dimensional material made out of carbon atoms) and the scientific community (made up of humans) can be so “strong”? The answer lies in the connections between each of the constituent parts and the way those connections are structured.

 

Social Technology

In the case of graphene, it is the powerful electrical attraction between carbon atoms and the honeycomb structure in which they are arranged. Atoms are so tightly packed that defects don’t occur easily, and any pressure that is applied is distributed over the whole structure. When measuring the strength of a material we are measuring its tensile strength, which is counted in pascals and discovered by applying pressure until it breaks. Graphene has an intrinsic strength of 130 gigapascals, a little over twice as much as diamond, the second hardest material. Strength in human structures like the scientific community is a little different and not as precisely measured. What we are looking for here is resourcefulness, capacity to innovate, and the ability to work with as little friction as possible. In today’s world, thanks to the internet information flows a little more freely than before and it has become possible for humans to achieve an extraordinary measure of coordination. Allowing each individual to specialize benefits everyone with the efficiency resulting from increased division of labor.

But this strength is also a weakness with regards to solving the big problems facing humanity. To solve those big problems we need scientists from many different fields and businessmen to come together, exchange ideas, do the research, and commercialize their findings. Ideally you would involve young and brilliant curious minds as well to produce a unique environment poised to generate fresh ideas. What we miss is a mechanism to bring (and keep) all of this together. What we miss is social technology.

 

Enter Exosphere

Exosphere is a learning and problem-solving community based in Viña del Mar, Chile, and with active operations across Latin America and Europe since September 2013. In just 24 months, Exosphere has conducted four 8-12 week life & entrepreneurship boot camps and has traveled to 19 cities with its Exobase workshop series and its team has grown to 15 people. Exosphere’s mission is to build a lasting institution that fosters a culture of lifelong learning and creativity by improving education, incubating entrepreneurial endeavors, encouraging scientific research, and bringing people together in community.

What Exosphere has learned in conducting these boot camp programs is not only how to bring very different kinds of people together in one place, but primarily how to build an environment where strangers form strong enough relationships so that productive work is possible in very limited periods of time. So far the focus in these programs has been on entrepreneurship and learning how to learn, but now this methodology is brought to bear on scientific problem-solving in space exploration.

 

The Copernicus Series

The Copernicus Series brings Exosphere’s entrepreneurial and experience-oriented philosophy of learning to science and technology in the aerospace field and intends to bridge the gap between research and business, breaking down the silos of knowledge that have been built up in modern society. Its mission is to expose youths to the exciting potential of science and prepare them for success in a quickly changing world, while helping experienced researchers commercialize and profit from their innovations through entrepreneurship. Through this process, the program should serve as an ongoing, productive platform for building the requisite brain trust of experts and practitioners in academia and industry to provide the resources and know-how necessary for further development of space related technology into commercializable endeavors while advancing space research and raising awareness for space exploration.

The pilot program in this series of problem-solving laboratories is Copernicus I, a 3-week program taking place this summer in the countryside of Hungary. From July 13 to 31 participants in this program will design, build, and test virtual models and software libraries that model the technical development and surrounding economic environment of an Endogenously-Powered Space Elevator, which would utilize the energy generated by gravity using materials brought back to earth by space mining companies. This process would create an electrical loop, allowing satellites, scientific equipment, and other materials to be taken to space at near zero marginal cost. Split into two teams, the Technical Team and the Economics Team, the participants will further build mathematical models for an architecture capable of delivering these payloads into orbit.

 

The confidence that a room full of strangers can come together, build strong relationships, exchange ideas, and produce valuable results, all within a very short amount of time – it comes from our experience with previous programs, where we have seen it happen time and time again. Aliaksei Rubanau, Team lead for the economics part of the program, has this to say about it:

“I see the community of Exosphere as something socially very similar to how extraterrestrial bases will be made. A relatively small number of 20 to 50 people, who don’t know each other before the process, are put in a challenging situation. Big achievements in little time. Given these circumstances, people need to raise their communication skills very fast, exponentially even. These conditions are very similar to the ones you will find in every extraterrestrial base. It’s a very special social life.”
Strength in human affairs comes from being connected to other people, be that via social technology or “normal” technology. It is our hope that by bringing both together we will create a community of people “strong” enough to generate new knowledge about what would be the biggest infrastructure project humanity has ever attempted to realize, but more importantly to spark a change in the way we think about and conduct research.

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