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Nanomaterials in Space

NASA’s Florida Space Research Program Funds Faculty Research and Teaching

Nanotechnology, the science and technology of building devices from single atoms and molecules, has developed enough that researchers at the College are exploring its uses in the aerospace industry. NASA’s Florida Space Research Program (FSRP) is funding work by Sung Hee Joo and Ali Ghahremaninezhad – both assistant professors in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering – to thoroughly investigate nanomaterials and their properties in space applications. Specifically, Joo, the study’s principal investigator, and Ghahremaninezhad, co-investigator, are examining using nanomaterials/nanocomposites to detect and measure trace levels of contaminants aboard a spacecraft.

Applying nanotechnology to the aerospace industry is an attractive but challenging possibility. Yet, the fabrication and characterization of nanomaterials used in the aerospace industry, including spacecraft structures and nanosensors, have been relatively neglected. Joo and Ghahremaninezhad believe that well-designed nanotechnology sensors – nanosensors – can more accurately monitor and measure types and levels of contaminants in spacecraft beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Crews have difficulty detecting and measuring this pollution with conventional materials.

While NASA has done one study of chemical nanosensors, that study did not examine potential issues regarding aged and transformed nanomaterials and their sensitivity to detecting the levels of contaminants in space. This research will characterize and assess versatile nanomaterials for their appropriateness in space products.

Joo and Ghahremaninezhad will examine multifunctional composite material systems, consisting of sensing components with load-bearing capability. These emerging technologies may have significant potential to reduce such a system’s “parasitic weight” and increase its energy efficiency. Less weight onboard a spacecraft would require less fuel, decreasing the overall cost of a space mission.

The research project consists of three parts. The team will study the sensing performance and structural behaviors of a multifunctional nanostructured composite system. This system will use carbon nanofibers and carbon nanotubes as its structural platform and nanoparticles as sensing materials. The team will also examine fabrication and characterization of selected nanomaterials – either single or hybrid. Graduate and undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds, including chemistry, civil engineering, environmental engineering, and mechanical and aerospace engineering, will be engaged in this project.

Successful implementation of this project’s research will benefit the aerospace industry and NASA aircrews, engineers and scientists.