NASA announced today (June 28) an agreement with Lehigh University in Bethlehem,
Pa., that gives NASA researchers access to Lehigh's cutting-edge nanotechnology
and electron microscopy facilities.
The collaboration will help NASA develop technologies
for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), future
Mars rovers and spacecraft.
The unique facilities at Lehigh's Center for Advanced
Materials and Nanotechnology provide an excellent
opportunity for NASA to expand its capabilities without
the expense of building or acquiring facilities.
"It takes time and money to build labs like Lehigh's," said
researcher Dr. Brian Jamieson of NASA's Goddard Space
Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Md. "We often
work with universities, and agreements like this
one let NASA benefit from their investment while
giving something back to the school."
One of the many instruments for the JWST, scheduled
to replace the Hubble Space Telescope in 2011, is
the Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec). The instrument
has an aperture of an array of microshutters. It
will be used to study galaxy and star formation,
chemical abundances, active galactic nuclei and more.
NASA also has access to Lehigh's Nano and Micro-Mechanical
Behavior Laboratory (NMBL). The lab has unique tools
for studying the properties and mechanics of thin
films. These include a tool for sputter deposition
of metal alloy films of arbitrary composition, and
several instruments that can characterize the mechanical
behavior of nanometer-thick metal films over a wide
range of temperatures, with unparalleled resolution.
"The behavior of thin films under these conditions
is a virtually untapped area of research," said GSFC
engineer Michael Beamesderfer. "This research collaboration
will provide us with a very useful understanding
of the thin film materials used in the microshutters
and will also begin to build a foundation for materials
selection for future missions," he added.
researchers also will use Lehigh's NMBL to test
miniaturized low-leakage valves for use in mass
spectrometers and other science instruments. "Mass
spectrometers could be used on a rover to understand
the chemistry of Mars, such as whether the methane
that's been observed is biogenic," Jamieson said. "Working
with Lehigh will help us to improve the valve interface
to ensure the seals are effective after repeatedly
opening and closing."
Goddard's Lead nanotechnology researcher Dan Powell
plans to establish an operation interface to enable
access to Lehigh's instrument from GSFC facilities
in Greenbelt. The ability for off-site study of micro-
and nano-scale structures should demonstrate the
potential for space-based remote microscopy.
"This kind of real-time remote access to cutting-edge
equipment is great for NASA," Powell said. "Not only
does it minimize our infrastructure costs, which
is a benefit to the taxpayer, but it also allows
us to establish an ongoing relationship that will
continue to benefit NASA well into the future."
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