Tiny sensors -- made of a potentially trailblazing material just one atom thick and heralded as the "next best thing" since the invention of silicon -- are now being developed to detect trace elements in Earth's upper atmosphere and structural flaws in spacecraft.
Technologist Mahmooda Sultana, who joined NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., two years ago and has since emerged as Goddard's go-to expert in the development of graphene-based technology, has expanded her portfolio to include two new research and development efforts aimed at creating nano-sized detectors that could detect atomic oxygen and other trace elements in the upper atmosphere and structural strains in everything from airplane wings to spacecraft buses.
"The cool thing about graphene is its properties," said Jeff Stewart, the acting assistant chief for technology for Goddard's Mechanical Systems Division. "It offers a plethora of possibilities. Frankly, we're just getting started."
Graphene, first discovered in 2004 by Russian-born scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, is just one atom thick and composed of carbon atoms arranged in tightly bound hexagons best visualized as atomic-scale chicken wire. Two hundred times stronger than structural steel, it not only is the strongest material ever measured, but also the most sensitive and stable at extreme temperatures, making it ideal for all types of uses. Since its discovery, hundreds of organizations worldwide have launched research efforts to take advantage of the material's unique properties.
Goddard is one in the growing contingent.
More than a year ago, Sultana and her team won research and development funding to set up production facilities and fine-tune processing techniques for fabricating graphene using a technique called chemical vapor deposition (CVD), a technique also used in manufacturing computer chips. With this approach, technicians place a metal substrate i
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NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center