This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.

Quantum Rods

Flat screen TVs that incorporate quantum dots are now commercially available, but it has been more difficult to create arrays of their elongated cousins, quantum rods, for commercial devices. Quantum rods can control both the polarization and color of light, to generate 3D images for virtual reality devices. Using scaffolds made of folded DNA, MIT engineers have come up with a new way to precisely assemble arrays of quantum rods. By depositing quantum rods onto a DNA scaffold in a highly controlled way, the researchers can regulate their orientation, which is a key factor in determining the polarization of light emitted by the array. This makes it easier to add depth and dimensionality to a virtual scene. The researchers now hope to create wafer-scale surfaces with etched patterns, which could allow them to scale their design to device-scale arrangements of quantum rods for numerous applications, beyond only microLEDs or augmented reality/virtual reality.

Contact: Sarah McDonnell
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Crack-Resistant Glass

Worldwide, glass manufacturing produces at least 86 million tons of carbon dioxide every year. A new type of glass promises to cut this carbon footprint in half. The invention, called LionGlass engineered by researchers at Penn State, requires significantly less energy to produce and is much more damage resistant than standard soda lime silicate glass. Soda lime silicate glass, the common glass used in everyday items from windows to glass tableware, is made by melting three primary materials: quartz sand, soda ash, and limestone. But the bulk of the carbon dioxide emissions come from the energy required to heat furnaces to the high temperatures needed for melting glass. With LionGlass, the melting temperatures are lowered by about 300 to 400 °C, which leads to a roughly 30 percent reduction in energy consumption compared to conventional soda lime glass.

Contact: Adrienne Berard
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Lunar Landing Pads

Lunar landing and launch pads represent critical infrastructure for enabling a sustained presence on the Moon or other planetary bodies. Such a Moon presence would require repeated lunar landings and takeoffs, preferably near an outpost or habitat. In the absence of takeoff and landing pads, such vehicles could project lunar regolith at high velocities, sandblasting the surrounding infrastructure and causing damage. Conventional paver technology does not have the capability to withstand the loads experienced by landing pads during vehicle landing or take off. To address this issue, engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Sidus Space developed a novel interlocking paver system enabling the robotic construction of high stability vertical takeoff and landing pads. The jointly developed interlocking paver design consists of a molded solid material with tapered interlocking features that interface with features of an opposite gender in three orthogonal directions.

Contact: NASA Communications
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