Though many say the world is only getting smaller, scientific breakthroughs and new developments in technology seem to suggest quite the contrary. With the right education, the opportunities for research and discovery are all but limitless. The time has never been better to pursue a masters degree. Particularly in the sciences, advanced degrees — that is, education above and beyond the bachelor level — is fast becoming essential. Cutting-edge masters programs are championing all sorts of new breakthroughs. The Suaineadh project out of Scotland is just one example of the doors education can open for curious minds.

In December 2010, an elite team of students and professors from Scotland’s University of Strathclyde set out to design a device that could support satellite-generated solar power. The first step of this process – a web-like satellite support system dubbed the Suaineadh project – underwent a successful launch into space last spring. Now, the scientific community is one step closer to harnessing levels of renewable energy once believed impossible.

Dr. Massimiliano Vasile, a faculty member of the university’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, led the team’s research efforts.  He told Cable ABC that desert areas, such as the Sahara, generate high-quality solar power. However, capturing energy from these remote areas and transporting it elsewhere has proven difficult. The Suaineadh project arose from a theoretical solution to this problem: using satellites to capture solar energy from space and displacing it elsewhere, thereby eliminating the need to store or transport solar energy on land. “Space provides a fantastic source for collecting solar power and we have the advantage of being able to gather it regardless of the time of the day or indeed the weather conditions,” Vasile said. Initially, he noted, smaller satellites would generate enough power to sustain a small village. Ultimately, the goal is to create a structure capable of powering a metropolitan area.

Such results are not easy to attain, however.  First, a device to support these satellites must be created. It was from this necessity that the Suaineadh project was born. The model was simple: a spinning web that measured only 4 square meters in area, and was affixed to the nosecone of a rocket. The nosecone would eject from the rocket during the micro-gravity stage of the flight. The web would then deploy as well, and a reaction wheel would cause it to spin. “Suaineadh” is Gaelic for “twisting.”

The rotational spin would eventually stabilize, thanks to a part called the Central Hub and Daughters Section (CHAD). The mechanism was outfitted with cameras and flash drives to record the entire procedure. Eventually, the rocket and the CHAD returned to Earth, the former by parachute and the latter via direct impact. The launch happened in March 2012 , which gave the team roughly 15 months to complete the design.

In early March 2012, the team traveled to Kiruna, a remote town in Northern Sweden near the Arctic Circle. The rocket was initially scheduled for a March 22 launch; however, according to the Suaineadh team weblog, the launch took place three days ahead of schedule. In early April, photos from the Suaineadh were released, confirming that both the launch and CHAD deployment were successful.

Soon afterward, Suaineadh was hailed worldwide as a landmark scientific victory. In May 2012, Dr. Vasile told Midwest Technology News that his team has begun designing the next step of the project: reflectors that could be used to capture solar energy.

Though the completed structure is still years away, the Suaineadh team’s efforts have the potential to yield groundbreaking results. Their work could not be more timely; in an age defined by limited resources and global demand for energy, unlimited solar power is a most welcome notion.