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Secret of Eumelanin’s Ability to Absorb Broad Spectrum of Light Uncovered

Melanin — and specifically, the form called eumelanin — is the primary pigment that gives humans the coloring of their skin, hair, and eyes. It protects the body from the hazards of ultraviolet and other radiation that can damage cells and lead to skin cancer. But the exact reason why the compound is so effective at blocking such a broad spectrum of sunlight has remained something of a mystery. Now, however, researchers at MIT and other institutions have solved that mystery, potentially opening the way for the development of synthetic materials that could have similar light-blocking properties.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Photonics, Optics, Materials, Composites, Medical, Solar Power, Energy, News

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Engineers Hope to Create Electronics That Stretch at the Molecular Level

Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego are asking what might be possible if semiconductor materials were flexible and stretchable without sacrificing electronic function?

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Electronic Components, Board-Level Electronics, Electronics, Materials, Sensors, Semiconductors & ICs, News

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High-Efficiency, Easy-to-Manufacture Engineered Nanomaterials for Thermoelectric Applications

Materials can be produced in thin/thick film form while maintaining film quality and stoichiometric balance. Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama Stated generally, reducing the dimensionality of bulk-scale thermoelectric (TE) materials is theoretically and practically understood to be a viable route for maintaining/increasing phonon scattering, and maintaining/increasing electrical conductivity — necessary conditions for improving thermoelectric merit. Solution deposition of thin, anisotropic films of nanoscale particles of known TE materials is a route toward obtaining such low-dimensional materials with increased TE merit.

Posted in: Materials, Briefs

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Refractory Open-Cell Foam Fuel Matrix for High-Efficiency Nuclear Thermal Propulsion

A fuel form for fission applications is functional at extremely high temperatures with minimal erosion or fission product losses. Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama A tricarbide foam fuel material has been developed that can operate at temperatures near 3,000 °C, without substantial hydrogen erosion, while providing highly efficient heat transfer to the coolant or propellant. A tricarbide foam fuel matrix of zirconium carbide (ZrC), niobium carbide (NbC), and uranium carbide (UC) has been successfully deposited and hydrogen tested. It shows that high-temperature, high-porosity foams can be produced that resist hydrogen corrosion and prevent the diffusion of fission products from the matrix. Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) technology was applied to nuclear materials systems that may be used in thermal propulsion and very high-temperature gas reactors.

Posted in: Materials, Briefs

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Hydrazine Absorbent/Detoxification Pad

This hydrazine-degrading pad has applications in hazardous-material emergency response situations. Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas A new chemistry was developed for existing hydrazine absorbent/detoxification pads. Enhancements include faster reaction rates, weight reduction, a color change that indicates spill occurrence, and another color change that indicates successful hydrazine degradation. The previous spill control pad, using copper oxide on the silica gel substrate as the reactant, affected only 50 percent degradation of hydrazine after 9 hours. The new prototypes have been found to degrade hydrazine from 95 to 99.9 percent in only 5 minutes, and to below detection limits within 90 minutes.

Posted in: Materials, Briefs, TSP

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Nanotechnology Approach to Lightweight, Multifunctional Polyethylene Composite Materials

Potential uses include personal armor, implantable prosthetics, and cut-resistant fabrics such as gloves worn by chefs and scuba divers. Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia Of several ideas being pursued by NASA for the reduction of radiation dosage to astronauts, the use of ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE)-based composite materials for both radiation shielding and micrometeorite shielding appears to be particularly appealing. UHMWPE has long been understood to provide superior radiation shielding following encounters with energetic nucleons due to its high hydrogen content. Meanwhile, impacts of micrometeorites with UHMWPE tend to vaporize it, rather than causing spallation of the shield material, which then creates additional potentially damaging micrometeorites. Less widely appreciated is the high specific strength of UHMWPE and UHMWPE fibers, which provide structural integrity to the composite. Amongst thermoplastics, UHMWPE has the highest impact strength and is also highly resistant to abrasion. Despite this highly appealing combination of properties, UHMWPE’s key mechanical properties can be improved by forming composites with other nanostructured materials, leading to further performance increases and weight reductions. Such composites will increase the ability of UHMWPE structures to withstand micrometeorite impacts and maintain the structural integrity of a pressurized environment.

Posted in: Materials, Briefs, TSP

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Electrostrictive Polymers

These lightweight and durable materials enable sensing and actuation devices. Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia A new class of electroactive polymeric blend materials has been created that offers both sensing and actuation dual functionality. The blend is comprised of two components where one has sensing capability, and the other has actuating capability. These innovative materials provide significant field-induced strain, high mechanical output force, and exceptional strain energy density. These electrostrictive polymers are conformable, lightweight, and durable. The processing system to fabricate these polymers is simple and can be manipulated to control and optimize the materials’ mechanical and electrical properties.

Posted in: Materials, Briefs, TSP

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