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.
NASA-427: A New Aluminum Alloy
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center developed a new, stronger aluminum alloy for cast aluminum products that have powder or paint-baked thermal coatings. The NASA-427 alloy shows greater tensile strength and increased ductility, providing substantial improvement in impact toughness. In addition, this alloy improves the thermal coating process by decreasing the time required for heat treatment. With improvements in both strength and processing time, use of the alloy provides reduced material and production costs, lower product weight, and better product performance. The properties can benefit many industries, including automotive, where it is particularly well suited for use in aluminum wheels.
Contact: Marshall Space Flight Center
Motion Sensors for Wearable Technologies
Researchers from Florida State University developed a class of motion sensors made using buckypaper — razor-thin, flexible sheets of pure, durable carbon nanotubes. The buckypaper sensors are flexible, seamless, scalable, and affordable to print. The novel sensor structure combines a strip of 7-micron-thin buckypaper with silver ink electrodes printed from a common, commercially available inkjet printer. Potential applications include bedsheets to monitor quality of sleep, shoes to track step count and posture, or workout clothes to measure intensity of exercise. In the field of soft robotics, the material could facilitate advances in the production of responsive, self-correcting artificial muscles.
Contact: Zachary Boehm, Florida State University
Kevlar-Based Artificial Cartilage
Kevlartilage, developed by the University of Michigan and Jiangnan University, is an artificial cartilage made of hydrogel that combines a network of tough nanofibers from Kevlar — the “aramid” fibers best known for making bulletproof vests — with a material commonly used in hydrogel cartilage replacements, called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). The synthetic cartilage releases water under stress, and later recovers by absorbing water like a sponge. The aramid nanofibers build the framework of the material, while the PVA traps water inside the network when the material is exposed to stretching or compression. Since the aramid nanofibers and PVA don’t harm adjacent cells, the synthetic cartilage may be a suitable implant for some situations, such as the deeper parts of the knee. Chondrocytes may be able to take up residence inside the synthetic network to produce a hybrid cartilage.