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Probing for Flaws PUBLIC ACCESS

NASA Langley is Manipulating Carbon Nanotubes to Test for Weaknesses in Advanced Aircraft Materials.

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Mechanical Engineering 123(10), 73 (Oct 01, 2001) (1 page) doi:10.1115/1.2001-OCT-6

Abstract

This article focuses on NASA Langley that is manipulating carbon nanotubes to test for weaknesses in advanced aircraft materials. NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, is making use of nanotechnology to develop methods for nondestructive evaluation to support super lightweight, multifunctional structures. Carbon nanotubes, for instance, can be used as sensing elements embedded in materials. In general, nondestructive evaluation methods could be used to detect flaws in material structures, such as pressure vessels, air plane hulls that expand at high altitudes, or space stations subject to bombardment from meteorites. Using the NanoManipulator makes it possible to fine tune the position of the nanotubes. Besides plotting coordinates on a screen, the NanoManipulator’s haptic interface—a penlike device for guiding the scanning probe—will stop the user from pushing the probe tip through the surface of the sample.

Article

By Precisely Extracting, manipulating, and placing individual tubes of carbon, each a few atoms in diameter, researchers will test for structural weaknesses in next-generation aerospace materials.

NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., is making use of nanotechnology to develop methods for nondestructive evaluation to support superlightweight, multifunctional structures. Carbon nanotubes, for instance, can be used as sensing elements embedded in materials, according to Buzz Wincheski, an aerospace technologist at the research center.

In general, nondestructive evaluation methods could be used to detect flaws in material structures, such as pressure vessels, airplane hulls that expand at high altitudes, or space stations subject to bombardment from meteorites. “You need to be able to determine if there is damage and how critical the damage is to the structure,” Wincheski said.

Wincheski is experimenting with incorporating carbon nanotubes in specific areas of a sample to make a high-resolution, lightweight, low-power consumption field sensor. Carbon nanotubes have an electrical charge that can potentially make them sensitive magnetic field sensors. To make the system work, however, those tubes must be positioned in the correct locations in the material, he said.

NASA Langley recently purchased the NanoManipulator DP-100 visualization and control system. According to the system’s developer, 3rdTech Inc. of Chapel Hill, N.C., NASA is the first commercial customer for the device, which was developed by the departments of computer science and physics at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

The NanoManipulator has a software program that integrates force feedback and a scanning probe microscope supplied by ThermoMicroscopes of Sunnyvale, Calif. Using the NanoManipulator, scientists can take control of the SPM’s probe, move it to the desired location in a sample, and manipulate atomic-size structures, according to the company.

The NanoManipulator’s haptic interface is a penlike device with which the user is able to plot coordinates on a screen.

Grahic Jump LocationThe NanoManipulator’s haptic interface is a penlike device with which the user is able to plot coordinates on a screen.

David Schiff, vice president of marketing and business development at 3rdTech, said the NanoManipulator supplies three-dimensional data and force feedback not subject to distortions, such as drift or hysteresis. It maintains accurate location throughout the manipulation. Also, he said, it archives everything that happens during the experiment.

Using the NanoManipulator makes it possible to fine-tune the position of the nanotubes, according to Wincheski. “We are taking the nanotubes and placing them where they need to be to make the material have the sensor response we are aiming for,” he said. Haptic feedback enlists the sense of touch in guiding the probe interface.

Besides plotting coordinates on a screen, the NanoManipulator’s haptic interface—a penlike device for guiding the scanning probe—will stop the user from pushing the probe tip through the surface of the sample. “If there is a nanotube, you can feel when you hit the tube, you can feel as you ride along it, and you can feel the surface as you drag across it,” Wincheski said.

The force feedback is in real time. Scans can take several minutes, during which there can be drift in the electronics. The feedback device lets the user feel around to locate a nanotube whose image on the screen may have shifted.

At this stage, NASA Langley researchers are still getting a feel for the manipulative capabilities of the system, Wincheski said. The next stage is to test sensory capabilities of the materials and apply them to structures, a process that can take several years, he said.

Copyright © 2001 by ASME
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