Physical Sciences

Freeze-Tolerant Condensers

Two designs offer similar advantages.

Two condensers designed for use in dissipating heat carried by working fluids feature two-phase, self-adjusting configurations such that their working lengths automatically vary to suit their input power levels and/or heat-sink temperatures. A key advantage of these condensers is that they can function even if the temperatures of their heat sinks fall below the freezing temperatures of their working fluids and the fluids freeze. The condensers can even be restarted from the frozen condition.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Cold weather, Cooling, Fluid power systems

Sensor for Monitoring Nanodevice-Fabrication Plasmas

Temperature and trace amounts of chemical species could be measured in situ.

 The term "plasma process diagnostics" (PPD) refers to a spectroscopic technique and sensing hardware that have been proposed for monitoring plasma processes used to fabricate electronic devices that feature sizes as small as several nanometers. Nanometer dimensions are characteristic of the quantum level of miniaturization, where single impurity atoms or molecules can drastically change the local properties of the nanostructures. Such changes may be purposely used in nanoscale design but may also be extremely damaging or cause improper operation of the fabricated devices. Determination of temperature and densities of reactants near the developing features is important, since the structural synthesis is affected by characteristics of the local microenvironment. Consequently, sensors capable of nonintrusive monitoring with high sensitivity and high resolution are essential for real-time atomistic control of reaction kinetics and minimizing trace contamination in plasma processes used to fabricate electronic nanodevices. Such process-monitoring sensors are required to be compact, multiparametric, and immune to the harsh environments of processing plasmas. PPD is intended to satisfy these requirements.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Sensors and actuators, Sensors and actuators, Diagnostics, Fabrication, Gases, Nanotechnology

Electrokinetic In Situ Treatment of Metal-Contaminated Soil

This is an alternative to excavation and to techniques dependent on hydraulic conductivity.

 An electrokinetic technique has been developed as a means of in situ remediation of soils, sludges, and sediments that are contaminated with heavy metals. Examples of common metal contaminants that can be removed by this technique include cadmium, chromium, zinc, lead, mercury, and radionuclides. Some organic contaminants can also be removed by this technique.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Land pollution, Soils, Conductivity, Metals

Ultraviolet-Absorption Spectroscopic Biofilm Monitor

Continuous monitoring could provide early warnings of potentially harmful buildups of bacteria.

An ultraviolet-absorption spectrometer system has been developed as a prototype instrument to be used in continuous, real-time monitoring to detect the growth of biofilms. Such monitoring is desirable because biofilms are often harmful. For example, biofilms in potable-water and hydroponic systems act as both sources of pathogenic bacteria that resist biocides and as a mechanism for deterioration (including corrosion) of pipes.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Spectroscopy, Spectroscopy, Water quality, Biomaterials, Test equipment and instrumentation

Scanning Microscopes Using X Rays and Microchannels

In principle, resolutions of the order of nanometers could be attained.

Scanning microscopes that would be based on microchannel filters and advanced electronic image sensors and that utilize x-ray illumination have been proposed. Because the finest resolution attainable in a microscope is determined by the wavelength of the illumination, the xray illumination in the proposed microscopes would make it possible, in principle, to achieve resolutions of the order of nanometers — about a thousand times as fine as the resolution of a visible-light microscope. Heretofore, it has been necessary to use scanning electron microscopes to obtain such fine resolution. In comparison with scanning electron microscopes, the proposed microscopes would likely be smaller, less massive, and less expensive. Moreover, unlike in scanning electron microscopes, it would not be necessary to place specimens under vacuum.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Downsizing, Microscopy, Microscopy, Product development

Slotting Fins of Heat Exchangers To Provide Thermal Breaks

Heat exchangers that include slotted fins (in contradistinction to continuous fins) have been invented. The slotting of the fins provides thermal breaks that reduce thermal conduction along flow paths (longitudinal thermal conduction), which reduces heat-transfer efficiency. By increasing the ratio between transverse thermal conduction (the desired heat-transfer conduction) and longitudinal thermal conduction, slotting of the fins can be exploited to (1) increase heat-transfer efficiency (thereby reducing operating cost) for a given heat-exchanger length or to (2) reduce the length (thereby reducing the weight and/or cost) of the heat exchanger needed to obtain a given heat-transfer efficiency. By reducing the length of a heat exchanger, one can reduce the pressure drop associated with the flow through it. In a case in which slotting enables the use of fins with thermal conductivity greater than could otherwise be tolerated on the basis of longitudinal thermal conduction, one can exploit the conductivity to make the fins longer (in the transverse direction) than they otherwise could be, thereby making it possible to make a heat exchanger that contains fewer channels and therefore, that weighs less, contains fewer potential leak paths, and can be constructed from fewer parts and, hence, reduced cost.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Heat exchangers, Heat exchangers, Performance upgrades, Conductivity

Methane Clathrate Hydrate Prospecting

Methane hydrate deposits would be detected indirectly through thermal, magnetic, and electric measurements.

A method of prospecting for methane has been devised. The impetus for this method lies in the abundance of CH4 and the growing shortages of other fuels. The method is intended especially to enable identification of subpermafrost locations where significant amounts of methane are trapped in the form of methane gas hydrate (CH4·6H2O). It has been estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey that the total CH4 resource in CH4·6H2O exceeds the energy content of all other fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas from non-hydrate sources). Also, CH4·6H2O is among the cleanest-burning fuels, and CH4 is the most efficient fuel because the carbon in CH4 is in its most reduced state. The method involves looking for a proxy for methane gas hydrate, by means of the combination of a thermal-analysis submethod and a field submethod that does not involve drilling. The absence of drilling makes this method easier and less expensive, in comparison with prior methods of prospecting for oil and natural gas.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Alternative fuels, Methane, Thermal testing, Mining vehicles and equipment

Detecting Edges in Images by Use of Fuzzy Reasoning

Human visual processing is partly imitated in order to harness some of its power.

A method of processing digital image data to detect edges includes the use of fuzzy reasoning. The method is completely adaptive and does not require any advance knowledge of an image.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Fuzzy logic, Mathematical models, Imaging, Imaging and visualization, Imaging, Imaging and visualization

Foam Sensor Structures Would Be Self-Deployable and Survive Hard Landings

A document proposes systems of sensors encased in cold hibernated elastic memory (CHEM) structures for exploring remote planets. The CHEM concept was described in two prior NASA Tech Briefs articles, including “Cold Hibernated Elastic Memory (CHEM) Expandable Structures” (NPO-20394), Vol. 23, No. 2 (February 1999), page 56 and “Solar Heating for Deployment of Foam Structures” (NPO-20961), Vol. 25, No. 10 (October 2001), page 36. To recapitulate: Lightweight structures that can be compressed for storage and later expanded, then rigidified for use are made from foams of shape-memory polymers (SMPs). According to the instant proposal, a CHEM sensor structure would be fabricated at full size from SMP foam at a temperature below its glass-transition temperature (Tg). It would then be heated above Tg and compacted to a small volume, then cooled below Tg and kept below Tg during launch, flight, and landing. At landing, the inelastic yielding of the rigid compacted foam would absorb impact energy, thereby enabling the structure to survive the landing. The structure would then be solar heated above Tg, causing it to revert to its original size and shape. Finally, the structure would be rigidified by cooling it below Tg by the cold planetary or space environment. Besides surviving hard landing, this sensor system will provide a soft, stick-at-the-impact- site landing to access scientifically and commercially interesting sites, including difficult and hard-to-reach areas.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Sensors and actuators, Sensors and actuators, Foams, Polymers, Smart materials, Entry, descent, and landing, Spacecraft

Real-Gas Effects on Binary Mixing Layers

This paper presents a computational study of real-gas effects on the mean flow and temporal stability of heptane/ nitrogen and oxygen/ hydrogen mixing layers at supercritical pressures. These layers consist of two counter- flowing free streams of different composition, temperature, and density. As in related prior studies reported in NASA Tech Briefs, the governing conservation equations were the Navier-Stokes equations of compressible flow plus equations for the conservation of total energy and of chemicalspecies masses. In these equations, the expressions for heat fluxes and chemicalspecies mass fluxes were derived from fluctuation-dissipation theory and incorporate Soret and Dufour effects. Similarity equations for the streamwise velocity, temperature, and mass fractions were derived as approximations to the governing equations. Similarity profiles showed important real-gas, non-ideal-mixture effects, particularly for temperature, in departing from the error-function profile, which is the similarity solution for incompressible flow. The temperature behavior was attributed to real-gas thermodynamics and variations in Schmidt and Prandtl numbers. Temporal linear inviscid stability analyses were performed using the similarity and error-function profiles as the mean flow. For the similarity profiles, the growth rates were found to be larger and the wavelengths of highest instability shorter, relative to those of the error-function profiles and to those obtained from incompressible-flow stability analysis. The range of unstable wavelengths was found to be larger for the similarity profiles than for the error-function profiles.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Computational fluid dynamics, Thermodynamics, Thermodynamics, Gases, Test procedures

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