Special Coverage

Soft Robot “Walks” on Any Terrain
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Using Microwaves to Produce High-Quality Graphene
Transducer-Actuator Systems for On-Machine Measurements and Automatic Part Alignment
Wide-Area Surveillance Using HD LWIR Uncooled Sensors
Heavy Lift Wing in Ground (WIG) Cargo Flying Boat
Technique Provides Security for Multi-Robot Systems
Bringing New Vision to Laser Material Processing Systems
NASA Tests Lasers’ Ability to Transmit Data from Space
Converting from Hydraulic Cylinders to Electric Actuators
Automating Optimization and Design Tasks Across Disciplines

CO₂ Sensors Based on Nanocrystalline SnO₂ Doped With CuO

Miniature CO2 sensors could be mass-produced inexpensively.

Nanocrystalline tin oxide (SnO2) doped with copper oxide (CuO) has been found to be useful as an electrical-resistance sensory material for measuring the concentration of carbon dioxide in air. SnO2 is an n-type semiconductor that has been widely used as a sensing material for detecting such reducing gases as carbon monoxide, some of the nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons. Without doping, SnO2 usually does not respond to carbon dioxide and other stable gases. The discovery that the electrical resistance of CuO-doped SnO2 varies significantly with the concentration of CO2 creates opportunities for the development of relatively inexpensive CO2 sensors for detecting fires and monitoring atmospheric conditions. This discovery could also lead to research that could alter fundamental knowledge of SnO2 as a sensing material, perhaps leading to the development of SnO2-based sensing materials for measuring concentrations of oxidizing gases.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Materials, Sensors and actuators, Sensors and actuators, Conductivity, Copper alloys, Nanotechnology, Refractory materials, Tin alloys
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Coating Reduces Ice Adhesion

Developed for the space shuttle, this coating may be used on aircraft and automobiles.

The Shuttle Ice Liberation Coating (SILC) has been developed to reduce the adhesion of ice to surfaces on the space shuttle. SILC, when coated on a surface (foam, metal, epoxy primer, polymer surfaces), will reduce the adhesion of ice by as much as 90 percent as compared to the corresponding uncoated surface. This innovation is a durable coating that can withstand several cycles of ice growth and removal without loss of anti-adhesion properties.

Posted in: Briefs, Materials, Coatings Colorants and Finishes, Coatings, colorants, and finishes, Durability, Durability, Icing and ice detection, Reusable launch vehicles and shuttles
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Hybrid Multifoil Aerogel Thermal Insulation

Aerogel used in place of astroquartz makes lighter, more efficient insulation.

This innovation blends the merits of multifoil insulation (MFI) with aerogel-based insulation to develop a highly versatile, ultra-low thermally conductive material called hybrid multifoil aerogel thermal insulation (HyMATI). The density of the opacified aerogel is 240 mg/cm3 and has thermal conductivity in the 20 mW/mK range in high vacuum and 25 mW/mK in 1 atmosphere of gas (such as argon) up to 800 ºC. It is stable up to 1,000 ºC. This is equal to commercially available high-temperature thermal insulation. The thermal conductivity of the aerogel is 36 percent lower compared to several commercially available insulations when tested in 1 atmosphere of argon gas up to 800 ºC.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Materials, Conductivity, Insulation, Nanomaterials
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Directed Growth of Carbon Nanotubes Across Gaps

Single-walled carbon nanotubes grow aligned along applied electric fields.

An experiment has shown that when single- walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) are grown by chemical vapor deposition in the presence of an electric field of suitable strength, the nanotubes become aligned along the electric field. In an important class of contemplated applications, one would exploit this finding in fabricating nanotube transistors; one would grow SWNTs across gaps between electrodes that would serve, subsequently, as source and drain contacts during operation of the transistors.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Materials, Transistors, Transistors, Fabrication, Chemicals, Nanomaterials
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Nanotip Carpets as Antireflection Surfaces

Reflectance less than 10–3 is readily achieved.

Carpetlike random arrays of metal-coated silicon nanotips have been shown to be effective as antireflection surfaces. Now undergoing development for incorporation into Sun sensors that would provide guidance for robotic exploratory vehicles on Mars, nanotip carpets of this type could also have many uses on Earth as antireflection surfaces in instruments that handle or detect ultraviolet, visible, or infrared light.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Materials, Optics, Optics, Materials properties, Nanomaterials
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Nano-Engineered Catalysts for Direct Methanol Fuel Cells

Small particle sizes and large surface areas can be produced economically and consistently.

Nano-engineered catalysts, and a method of fabricating them, have been developed in a continuing effort to improve the performances of direct methanol fuel cells as candidate power sources to supplant primary and secondary batteries in a variety of portable electronic products. In order to realize the potential for high energy densities (as much as 1.5 W•h/g) of direct methanol fuel cells, it will be necessary to optimize the chemical compositions and geometric configurations of catalyst layers and electrode structures. High performance can be achieved when catalyst particles and electrode structures have the necessary small feature sizes (typically of the order of nanometers), large surface areas, optimal metal compositions, high porosity, and hydrophobicity.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Materials, Catalysts, Fuel cells, Methanol, Fabrication, Nanotechnology
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Making More-Complex Molecules Using Superthermal Atom/Molecule Collisions

Atoms adsorbed on cold surfaces react with energetic impinging atoms.

A method of making more-complex molecules from simpler ones has emerged as a by-product of an experimental study in outer-space atom/ surface collision physics. The subject of the study was the formation of CO2 molecules as a result of impingement of O atoms at controlled kinetic energies upon cold surfaces onto which CO molecules had been adsorbed. In this study, the O/CO system served as a laboratory model, not only for the formation of CO2 but also for the formation of other compounds through impingement of rapidly moving atoms upon molecules adsorbed on such cold interstellar surfaces as those of dust grains or comets. By contributing to the formation of increasingly complex molecules, including organic ones, this study and related other studies may eventually contribute to understanding of the origins of life.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Materials, Carbon dioxide, Fabrication, Test procedures
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Improved Silica Aerogel Composite Materials

Shrinkage and cracking are greatly reduced.

A family of aerogel-matrix composite materials having thermal-stability and mechanical-integrity properties better than those of neat aerogels has been developed. Aerogels are known to be excellent thermal- and acoustic-insulation materials because of their molecular-scale porosity, but heretofore, the use of aerogels has been inhibited by two factors:

Their brittleness makes processing and handling difficult. They shrink during production and shrink more when heated to high temperatures during use. The shrinkage and the consequent cracking make it difficult to use them to encapsulate objects in thermal-insulation materials.
Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Materials, Composite materials, Materials properties
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Nematic Cells for Digital Light Deflection

Smectic A (SmA) prisms can be made in a variety of shapes and are useful for visible spectrum and infrared beam steerage.

Smectic A (SmA) materials can be used in non-mechanical, digital beam deflectors (DBDs) as fillers for passive birefringent prisms based on decoupled pairs of electrically controlled, liquid crystalline polarization rotators, like twisted nematic (TN) cells and passive deflectors. DBDs are used in free-space laser communications, optical fiber communications, optical switches, scanners, and in-situ wavefront correction.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Materials, Optics, Optics, Materials properties
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Precipitation-Strengthened, High-Temperature, High-Force Shape Memory Alloys

Shape memory alloys capable of performing up to 400 °C have been developed for use in solidstate actuator systems.

Shape memory alloys (SMAs) are an enabling component in the development of compact, lightweight, durable, high-force actuation systems particularly for use where hydraulics or electrical motors are not practical. However, commercial shape memory alloys based on NiTi are only suitable for applications near room temperature, due to their relatively low transformation temperatures, while many potential applications require higher temperature capability. Consequently, a family of (Ni,Pt)1–xTix shape memory alloys with Ti concentrations x ≤ 50 atomic percent and Pt contents ranging from about 15 to 25 at.% have been developed for applications in which there are requirements for SMA actuators to exert high forces at operating temperatures higher than those of conventional binary NiTi SMAs. These alloys can be heat treated in the range of 500 °C to produce a series of fine precipitate phases that increase the strength of alloy while maintaining a high transformation temperature, even in Ti-lean compositions.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Materials, Sensors and actuators, Sensors and actuators, Heat treatment, Alloys, Smart materials
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