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Space Station Research Reported: Nanotechnology Manufacturing Advanced

Eric Furst - International Space Station Experiments. Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

Credit: NASA

New research findings based on experiments carried out on the International Space Station could lead to the creation of unique materials and electro-mechanical devices.

The Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Emulsion – 2 – or InSPACE-2 for short — is providing new and improved samples for operation in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) onboard the International Space Station.

The work is gathering data on magnetorheological fluids, that is, fluids that change properties in response to magnetic fields.

Colloids are otherwise known as emulsions or suspensions – materials that are part solid and part liquid. You know them as paint, glue, egg whites, gels, milk, even blood.

The results of the InSPACE-2 experiments show that in kinetically arrested systems, the role of gravitational compression is profound. This knowledge about the impact on processes due to the absence of gravitational stresses provides insight about how to build organized structures, crystals of particles using directing fields.

The upshot is that the research could lead to ways materials can be prompted to organize themselves – directed self-assembly.

Scalable form of nanotechnology

The findings have been reported in the Sept. 17 Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) online edition. The work is led under a NASA grant by Eric Furst at the University of Delaware and his postdoctoral researchers, James Swan and Paula Vasquez, along with colleagues at NASA, the European Space Agency, Zin Technologies and Lehigh University.

“This is the first time we’ve presented the relationship between an initially disordered structure and a highly organized one and at least one of the paths between the two,” Furst said in a university press statement. “We’re excited because we believe the concept of directed self-assembly will enable a scalable form of nanotechnology.”

The work could potentially prove important in manufacturing, where the ability to pre-program and direct the self-assembly of functional materials is highly desired.

Throughout the experiment, a special camera was refocused from time to time to provide the clearest possible view of developing structures.

The duration of experiments ranged from one hour to as long as six hours depending in part on the accessibility to the glovebox facility and the availability of International Space Station crewmembers.

By Leonard David

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