Radical new approaches
to size reduction and speed improvement through
materials manipulation at the atomic scale.
Nanotechnology is the creation of useful and functional materials devices and systems of any size by controlling matter at the nanometer scale, because at this scale, invariably all properties (physical, chemical and mechanical) change from their bulk properties.
Nanodevices have important applications in electronics and sensing, offering the potential for small, low-power devices that support microcraft technology and also greatly enhancing the autonomy, safety, and instrumentation of larger spacecraft. Applications include onboard sensors, detectors, and computing devices that can operate for decades in harsh conditions (including temperature swings, space radiation, and corrosive atmospheres) and maximize highly limited spacecraft resources (in terms of power, mass, and volume).
Nanoscale materials also offer unique opportunities for interfacing between biological systems and electronics, for use in stand-alone nanosensors, as well as in biomedical devices that automatically perform multiple steps such as sampling, sample transport, separation, and detection.
Thermal interface materials are important for cooling in a variety of applications, including cooling microelectronic chips for computing and instrumentation, and cooling optical equipment used for astronautical observation.
The UARC’s research is part of a long-term collaboration with the NASA Ames Center for Nanotechnology (NACNT) and employs a multidisciplinary approach that integrates nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, and information technologies.
Advanced Aerospace Materials and Devices (AAMD)
Research conducted by the UARC’s Advanced Aerospace Materials and Devices (AAMD) tasks includes:
- Chemical Sensors
Sensors to detect vapors and gases are of great value for various mission needs, including fuel-leak detection, air-quality monitoring, global monitoring of cosmochemicals, and biomarker detection for life search. Other potential applications include chemical detection in military, manufacturing, and medical settings.
A carbon nanotube-based sensor platform is being developed to meet the unique needs of NASA. Nanostructured chemical sensors can potentially offer higher sensitivity, lower power consumption, and better robustness than the state-of-the-art systems, which make them attractive for defense and space applications. Additionally, the wireless capability of such a sensor chip can be used for networked mobile and fixed-site detection and warning systems.
An integrated platform that combines sensing capabilities with microfluidics to handle liquid samples is being developed. Potential applications include water quality monitoring in ISS, CEV, and other human habitats; crew health monitoring via a “lab-on-a-chip;” and life detection on other planets. This platform uses a carbon nanofiber-based nanoelectrode array.
This investigation, currently receiving exploratory funding from NIH for three years, includes four main elements:
- Development of a DNA/mRNA chip.
- Exploration of a nanoelectronics immunosensor for bacteria detection.
- Exploration of a nanoelectronics proteomics chip for kinase profiling.
- Development of a nanoelectrode array for trace metal monitoring.
- Science Instrumentation
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) exhibit extraordinary capabilities for field emission of electrons; the energy and flux of the electrons are tailored to create X-rays for science instrumentation employing diffraction and fluorescence. This task calls for development of an array of CNT emitters at the wafer scale. Applications of this field emission/electron source technology include a miniature mass spectrometer (being developed at Goddard); a miniature scanning electron microscope for lunar and Martian surface exploration; and chemical sensor technology.
- Radiation Hardened Devices
The overall focus of the project is the modeling, design, growth, fabrication, and demonstration of nanowire-based nanophotonics devices such as nanolasers and nanodetectors. Nanowire-based nanophotonic devices hold promise for making the ultimate photonic integrated circuits (multiple integrated photonic elements on a chip) and silicon photonics systems (integrated microelectronics and photonics elements on a silicon chip). In addition, such nanophotonic integrated systems would have tremendous impact on optical sensing from IR to UV, allowing the integration of detection, signal processing, and driving circuits on single chips.
- Multifunctional Thermal Materials
Nanomaterials such as nanotubes, nanowires, and nanoparticles have exceptionally good structural, mechanical, chemical, thermal, and electrical characteristics that make them suitable for applications in many areas. Moreover, the mixing of these nanoelements in polymer, amorphous carbon, ceramic, and bio-molecular matrixes is expected to yield multifunctional composite materials and devices. This work involves a strong mix of theory/simulation and experimentation.
This project is investigating and developing a wide range of advanced organic materials that are light weight, strong, stable, and electroactive with tunable properties. Research focuses on the nanomechanics and properties of materials for use in electronics applications of importance to NASA programs and missions. A major emphasis is the development of multifunctional materials for thermal protection systems.