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Space agency gains access to Lehigh's world-class electron microscopes and nanotechnology labs
NASA announced today 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.
NASA 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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