Archive for October, 2013

Building Stronger Materials

Inventing stronger and more durable materials is a constant process which engages the scientific community. There is always a need for finding light weight material that can resist fatigue in both industrial and commercial operations. Space age travel is also a major consumer of new materials and it is no surprise that NASA funds a lot of research related to the discovery of new materials.

At the Missouri University of Science and Technology, the process of building new materials begins with a fabrication method known as additive manufacturing. Dr. Frank Liou and his team have been working on this process for more than 15 years. In it they use lasers to melt small particles of powdered materials as they exit a nozzle to create three-dimensional shapes.

Liou has found that steel manufactured using the additive process is 10 times stronger than steel that has been manufactured in machines. He has now begun work on what he called “hybrid manufacturing” which combines additive manufacturing with conventional manufacturing methods.

Using hybrid manufacturing the researchers are hoping to build a new material using two different metals such as steel and copper. The resulting material may be light and strong and have a number of applications in the aircraft and space industry. It would be worth watching out for what this science project delivers next.


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No Methane on Mars

The Mars rover Curiosity has been exploring the martian environment and sending in data that has the teams of researchers on Earth in raptures. However one of the notable ingredients missing from the data is methane. The hydrocarbon gas is one which most scientists taking an educated guess would expect to find on Mars, but so far Curiosity has not found any samples of it.

The presence of methane is a potential sign of the presence of life on the red planet. Many researchers have been hoping to find at least some signs of low forms of life such as bacteria and microbes on Mars. There have even been indications of the presence of methane in previous studies conducted.

Curiosity has analyzed different samples of the atmosphere at Mars for methane six times from October 2012 through June and detected none. While the absence of methane does not exclude the possibility of life altogether, as some terrestrial microbes do not produce methane at all, it does seem strange that the gas is not present in the atmosphere of Mars.

What is truly exciting is that the rover Curiosity has been able to uncover so many previously unknown facts about our neighboring planet. This has been one science project which will inspire generations of new scientists and researchers.

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What are the Van Allen belts?

The Van Allen radiation belts were discovered in 1958. They are two doughnut shaped rings of highly charged particles that surround the Earth The outer ring of high-energy electrons and the inner ring of high-energy electrons and energetic positive ions can comprise a danger to satellites and space crafts.

The radiation belts can cause minor problems in the functioning of certain instruments or even complete failure of critical satellites. The nature of radiation in space needs to be better understood so as to design equipment which is well protected for space use. Lately a third radiation belt has also been spotted around the Earth.

Yuri Shprits, a research geophysicist with the UCLA Department of Earth and Space Sciences said that in the past, scientists thought that all the electrons in the radiation belts around the Earth obeyed the same physics. However they are finding now that radiation belts consist of different populations that are driven by very different physical processes.

He added that their study shows that completely different populations of particles exist in space that change on different timescales, are driven by different physics and show very different spatial structures. This new found knowledge should enable researchers to come up with new science projects to keep astronauts and their equipment safe.



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Sticky Tape to Hold Water

The new discoveries in the field of nano technology never fail to impress. Here’s what the scientists at University of Sydney have come up with – a material that acts like a kind of sticky tape that can hold water droplets even when the surface is upturned.

The material has what have been called “raspberry particles” due to their appearance. It is these particles that hold on to the tiny water droplets on the surface of the material. This is similar to some rose petal surfaces which also have a similar property and don’t let go of dew drops.

Dr Andrew Telford from the University’s School of Chemistry who led the research says that the ability to immobilize very small droplets on a surface is a significant achievement. Their team is the first which has been able to allow for the preparation of these raspberry particles on an industrial scale.

Needless to say the concept can have many exciting commercial applications including reduction of condensation in aircraft cabins and making certain kinds of medical testing possible. Not to mention using it on quick dry walls and roofs to keep the structure cool. The possibilities for future science projects using this material are potentially endless.



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NASA’s Deep Impact Mission Ends

For the last decade Deep Impact has been NASA’s comet hunter and has sent back unprecedented images of comets from space. However 9 years and 500,000 images later the NASA team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California has had to announce that the mission is now over.

It completed its original mission of determining the surface and interior composition of a comet, over s period of six months in 2005. It also did extended missions such as observing comet fly pasts and sending home data about planets as well before it finally lost communication with Earth.

The decision to call it quits was made after communications with the probe named Deep Impact failed about a month ago. Despite repeated efforts the team has been unable to communicate with the probe. History’s most traveled comet research mission, having traveled 4.7 billion miles has finally called it a day.

Deep Impact has revolutionized our understanding of comets and their activity, said Mike A’Hearn, the Deep Impact principal investigator at the University of Maryland in College Park. It has been a fantastic, long-lasting spacecraft that has produced far more data than we had planned, said Mike. This was one science project whose success NASA would love to replicate.

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