Inspired by shells, scientists have designed sturdy, lightweight shielding materials for spacecraft

occupyNew AtlasReport, inspired by the shell,Sandia National Laboratory, USAthe scientists have designed a versatile new material that is very cheap, strong, lightweight and heat-resistant. The material can be used to shield spacecraft or fusion facilities.

Shells are notoriously hard, thanks to their unique structure of alternating layers of organic and inorganic materials. Layers of inorganic nanoparticles provide strength, while organic proteins “stick” them together, providing buffering and preventing cracks from spreading between layers.

Scientists at Sandia National Laboratory mimicked this structure to make their own material. In this case, the organic layer consists of carbon black made of burnt sugar, while the inorganic layer is silicon dioxide. This simple-sounding material is not only strong, but also very light, weighing only a few micrograms per layer.

The team measured the hardness of the material in excess of 11 GPa and the modulus of elasticity at 120 GPa. It also showed extraordinary heat resistance, which the researchers tested at temperatures above 1150 °C and estimated that it should be able to withstand temperatures up to 1650 °C.

Perhaps most importantly, from a practical point of view, the production cost of this new material is very low. According to the team, a piece of 5 square centimeters of material costs only 25 cents, compared to hundreds of dollars for a similarly sized beryllium wafer with the closest thermal and mechanical properties. The icing on the cake is that the material is relatively environmentally friendly to manufacture, and only ethanol needs to be added to the production process.

This intriguing combination of properties means that this new shell-inspired material could be very useful in terms of spacecraft shielding, able to withstand the heat of the launch and prevent the impact of tiny debris. Keeping weight and cost to a minimum is also critical for space launches, and the material helps in these areas.

The material could also improve the shielding of reactors, such as Sandia’s own Z-pulse power facility, an experimental electromagnetic wave generator where it can withstand heat, radiation and debris.

The study was published in theMRS Advancesmagazine.

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