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.
InSitu Additive Manufacturing Inspection
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center developed a novel method for interim, in-situ dimensional inspection of additively manufactured parts. Additive manufacturing processes currently have limited monitoring capabilities, offering users little to no options in mitigating the high levels of product and process failures. The technology is especially useful for the in-process inspection of a part's internal features (e.g., fluid channels and passages), which cannot be easily inspected once the print is complete. By monitoring the print layer-by-layer in real time, users can pause the process and make corrections to the build as needed, reducing material, energy, and time wasted in nonconforming parts.
Contact: Sammy Nabors, Marshall Space Flight Center
Self-Healing Material Grows from Carbon Dioxide
A material designed by MIT chemical engineers can react with carbon dioxide from the air to grow, strengthen, and even repair itself. The polymer, which might someday be used as construction or repair material, or for protective coatings, continuously converts the greenhouse gas into a carbon-based material that reinforces itself. The synthetic gel-like substance performs a chemical process similar to the way plants incorporate carbon dioxide from the air into their growing tissues. The material might, for example, be made into panels of a lightweight matrix that could be shipped to a construction site, where they would harden and solidify just from exposure to air and sunlight, thereby saving on the energy and cost of transportation. If the surface is scratched or cracked, the affected area grows to fill in the gaps and repair the damage without requiring any external action.
Contact: Karl-Lydie Jean-Baptiste
Sugar-Powered Sensor Detects and Prevents Disease
Researchers at Washington State University have developed an implantable, biofuel-powered sensor that runs on sugar and can monitor a body's biological signals to detect, prevent, and diagnose diseases. The sensor is enabled by the biofuel cell and harvests glucose from body fluids to run. The sensor could eliminate the need to prick a finger for testing of certain diseases such as diabetes. The electronics in the sensor use state-of-the-art design and fabrication to consume only a few microwatts of power while being highly sensitive. Coupling these electronics with the biofuel cell makes it more efficient than traditional battery-powered devices. Since it relies on body glucose, the sensor's electronics can be powered indefinitely.