Physical Sciences

Compact System Detects Potentially Explosive Gas Mixtures

This system can be used in environments too severe for conventional leak detectors. The figure depicts selected aspects of a "smart" microelectronic-based hazardous-gas-detection system that simultaneously measures concentrations of hydrogen and oxygen. Unlike conventional gas-leak-detection systems built around mass spectrometers, this system is not restricted to operation in relatively mild and controlled laboratory or shop environments; instead, this system can operate over a range of temperatures and pressures. Also, in comparison with conventional mass-spectrometer-based leak-detection systems, this system is more robust and compact, weighs less, and consumes less power.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences

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Scanning Thermography

Large objects can be scanned fairly quickly. Scanning thermography is a noncontact, nondestructive technique that makes it possible to find defects hidden inside structural components in a variety of settings. Scanning thermography can be used to perform inspections of objects that may have large areas and a variety of shapes and that are found in a variety of settings that include, but are not limited to, production lines, industrial tanks and pipes, aircraft, power plants, and bridges. Scanning thermography is applicable to diverse structural materials, including metals, plastics, laminated polymer-matrix composites, and bonded aluminum composites, to name a few. Defects that can be detected by scanning thermography include cracks, disbonds (delaminations), corrosion, and wear.

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Ultrahigh-Vacuum Arc-Jet Source of Nitrogen for Epitaxy

Electron-excitation and translational energies can be selected. An arc-jet source of chemically active nitrogen atoms has been developed for use in molecular-beam epitaxy (MBE) to grow such III-V semiconductors as nitrides of gallium, aluminum, and indium. This apparatus utilizes a confined arc to thermally excite N2 and to dissociate N2 into N atoms. This apparatus is compatible with other, ultrahigh-vacuum MBE equipment commonly used in growing such materials.

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Lightweight Mirrors for Orbiting Earth-Observing Instruments

A report discusses selected aspects of a continuing program to develop thermally stable, lightweight mirrors for planned Earth-observing spaceborne instruments. These mirrors are required to retain precise concave or convex surface figures required for diffraction-limited optical performance, even in the presence of transient, asymmetric thermal loads, which include solar heating and radiational cooling. In the first phase of the program, preliminary analyses were performed to select one of three types of mirror structures: one made of SiC, one made of Be, and a hybrid comprising a lightweight composite-material substructure supporting a glass face sheet that would be a substrate for the required precise optical surface. The hybrid structure was selected for further development because it would offer a combination of high stiffness and low mass and because, relative to the Be and SiC structures, (1) the coefficients of thermal expansion of its constituent materials and the resulting wavefront error would be smaller, and (2) it could be fabricated at lower cost. A prototype hybrid structure with an aperture diameter of 0.3 m was fabricated. Planned efforts in the next phase of the program include optical polishing of the glass face sheet and testing.

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Electrostatic/Electrodynamic Nanoparticle-Capture Vessel

Particles could be sampled under remote or automatic control in harsh environments. A proposed simple, portable, robust apparatus, capable of automated operation, has been proposed for collecting samples of selected biological or chemical species in harsh environments. The sampled species could range in size from molecules to nanoparticles (that is, particles with dimensions of the order of nanometers). The apparatus would select a biological or chemical species of interest for sampling by utilizing a combination of (1) electrostatic or electrodynamic fields and (2) a sieve containing holes of predetermined size.

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Radiometer for Measuring Cirrus-Cloud Ice and Water Vapor

Accurate measurements would contribute to understanding of weather and climate. An airborne submillimeter-wavelength radiometer, expected to be built and tested in the near future, is designed primarily to yield measurement data that can be processed to quantify the ice contents and mean sizes (and, to some extent, the shapes) of ice crystals in cirrus clouds that range from optically thin to opaque. Secondarily, this radiometer is also designed to enable the characterization of watervapor profiles in the presence of optically thick clouds. The ice and water-vapor data are needed to improve understanding of processes that affect weather and climate.

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System For Measuring Osmotic Transport Properties of a Membrane

Membrane-testing operations are performed automatically. The membrane test cell (MTC) is an automated laboratory apparatus that applies a known osmotic potential across a membrane and measures the kinetics of the resulting transport of solvents across the membrane as a function of time. Data acquired by use of the MTC should prove especially helpful in designing industrial processes that rely on membrane separation techniques. Examples of such processes include desalination, recovery of designated chemicals from process streams, and some recycling operations.

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