Zinc Oxide Nanowires Could One Day Power Spacesuits
NASA engineer Tamra George (left) served as the team's mentor for the project and flew with team member Tanya Miracle on the first flight day. Image
For engineering students, the chance to conduct a research project with NASA is an amazing opportunity. A team of undergraduates was lucky enough to have that that experience as they rode NASA's flying zero G simulator, testing wires that could one day provide power to space suits.
The team which consisted of Hannah Clevenson, Olivia Lenz and Tanya Miracle, conducted an experiment investigated the properties of zinc oxide nanowires produced in microgravity conditions and compared the results with the properties of zinc oxide nanowires produced in the laboratory. In particular, the team focused on the effects that reduced-gravity had on the structures of their samples.
They believed that if nanowires were produced under conditions of microgravity, they would be longer and straighter than if they were made in a lab. These new and improved nanowires then could be used for a variety of applications. [Top 7 Ambient Energy Technologies ]
According to their abstract, the students felt that zinc oxide "could be used to harvest energy that is expended during routine daily tasks and possibly be useful as very compact, low-power backup energy sources for both robots and astronauts on lunar or planetary missions."
"Basically, the material we developed is piezoelectric, which means that when you bend or strain it, you distort the crystal structure and cause a dipole to develop across the length of the material," said team member Olivia Lenz. "Eventually, this dipole change can be harnessed and produce an electric current that can be used to charge a device like your iPod or cell phone by walking ."
Teammate Tanya Miracle pointed out other benefits as well. "Zinc oxide holds up to 10 times the charge of lithium, so potentially it could replace lithium used in batteries." she said. "This could either produce smaller batteries that allow for the same amount of energy to be stored or a battery that is of the same size, but could last 10 times as long."
The Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston offers teams of undergraduate students the opportunity to propose, design, fabricate and fly experiments on a special reduced-gravity aircraft. The airplane makes a series of steep climbs followed by steep dives, called parabolic arcs, resulting in short periods of reduced gravity.
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