Science and Technology News

Friday, August 31, 2012

Protecting Soldiers In Extreme Environments

At the U.S. Army Research Laboratory scientists and engineers have been studying how they can make higher performance materials for soldiers at lighter weights.

Army researchers want to enhance soldiers’ battlefield effectiveness without placing an extra load on their backs.

The challenge has led to the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, or ARL, Enterprise for Multiscale Research of Materials, made up of in-house research and most recently, two cooperative agreements awarded in April.

Researchers will develop materials to protect soldiers in extreme dynamic environments; and create energy efficient devices and batteries.

Johns Hopkins University will lead the materials in extreme environments collaboration. The research lab has invested up to $90 million over 10 years for a five-year initial study that could be renewed for an additional five years. Among the major partner institutions are the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the University of Delaware and Rutgers University.

University of Utah will head ARL’s multiscale modeling research. The research lab has awarded up to $20.9 million toward the lighter-weight materials program.

A number of institutions will work towards multiscale modeling: Boston University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Pennsylvania State University, Harvard University, Brown University, the University of California (Davis), and the Polytechnic University of Turin, Italy.

The goal is to bring together experts from government, academia and industry to overcome daunting obstacles to develop new materials.

“It’s a big deal,” said John Beatty, the Materials in Extreme Dynamic Environments collaborative alliance manager, who is part of the Weapons & Materials Research Directorate, ARL. “We will make significant advances in designing materials, but our focus with this enterprise is as much about changing the way people think about designing as it is anything else.”

Right now ARL researchers have some understanding of the mechanical properties of materials and some understanding of the electronic properties, but over time we want to blend the knowledge, said John Pellegrino, acting director of ARL, who was formerly the director of the Computational and Information Sciences Directorate, overseeing the Enterprise for Multiscale Materials Research.

“It is very ambitious to say we will be able to come up with a set of models that can fully describe materials’ behavior,” Pellegrino said. “But we are hopeful we will be able to model materials well enough that we can begin to design materials using the models, and predict how they will behave. This would give us insight into a whole new class of material capabilities.”

In conjunction with ARL, the consortium will lead to a more comprehensive study of materials in the future even though each one is technically independent of the other, Pellegrino said.

The extreme dynamic environments study will be based from the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute, or HEMI, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which has been years in the making.

The institute will focus on the behavior of materials and systems under extreme conditions, said K.T. Ramesh, the Alonzo G. Decker, Jr. Professor of Science & Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, founding director of HEMI and a professor of mechanical engineering.

“We are interested in impact and such extreme events from a very broad perspective –including high pressure and high-strain rates,” Ramesh explained.

The science is fundamentally close enough to address a range of related problems, like homeland security, asteroid impact and nuclear threats.

“What affects the material is the huge amount of energy landing all at once,” Ramesh said. “You can’t develop a new protective material until you can understand what happens to it in extreme environments.”

Ramesh wants the joint university-ARL team to both understand fundamental mechanisms and be able to articulate the findings to anyone coming on board.

“That is one of the measures of success,” he said.

Each of the partner institutions involved in the extreme dynamic environments research brings a unique perspective that combines for a multidisciplinary approach to solving the problem.

For instance, Caltech will use a range of tools they have developed over 20 years to accurately model the behavior of materials from the subatomic level all the way to the scale of bulk materials.

“Right now we don’t have a predictive model for designing advanced materials,” said Kaushik Bhattacharya, Caltech’s lead and the Howell N. Tyson Sr., Professor of Mechanics and professor of materials science. “We have some theories that guide us, but they really are not fully predictive.”

Scientists have to understand the complete hierarchy of the advanced materials and how all of the pieces fit together, then how the levels of hierarchy change during a high-velocity impact, Bhattacharya said.

“We hope to increase the speed of development as well as the strength of materials through such rigorous analysis,” he said.

The undertaking may seem huge considering the time frame for incorporating new classes of materials into applications now can take as much as 20 years from initial research to first use.

There are many risks associated with finding a material that serves the function you need. One major challenge is even if you succeed, it often doesn’t diminish the cost of similar research going forward, said Pellegrino.

“Another challenge is that the complexity of materials has grown,” explained Pellegrino. “Edisonian-approach research has given us spectacular results in the past. We have gotten better armor than before, different electron devices, including batteries, than we have ever had. All of that is great, but what we need now is far more complex than we have ever needed.”

Soldiers are carrying up to 32 pounds of batteries to power their technological devices in the field these days.

This is one of the concerns that the University of Utah-led consortium will address.

“We want to help the Army make advances in fundamental research that will lead to better materials to help our soldiers in the field,” says computing Professor Martin Berzins, principal investigator from the University of Utah.

Besides batteries, partners, such as Boston University, along with others, will look closely at developing new approaches for designing smaller and more efficient electromagnetic devices that meet military needs.

The design simulation research is based on a five-year plan that could be extended for an additional five years if it is successful.

“What we are looking for is a materials-by-design capability that is done by validated modeling from the smallest to the largest relevant scale,” said Meredith Reed, collaborative alliance manager for the consortium, and member of the Sensors & Electron Devices Directorate at ARL. “We want better control and prediction of transport phenomena in order to get the desired properties to develop new Army technologies.”

The focus of the program is well-aligned with the White House Materials Genomes Initiative, or MGI, that has been underway for about a year to drastically increase advanced materials design, Reed said.

A White House blog posted May 14 mentioned that achieving the MGI vision demands an “all hands on deck” approach, with dedicated involvement from academic institutions, industry, professional societies, as well as government.

“The MGI white paper talks about creating an ecosystem where manufacturing and development come together and are more streamlined so that discoveries might not have to take 20 years to make it to market,” Pellegrino said. “Having that ecosystem increases the chance of collaboration not only in military-specific problems, but the scientific understanding of advanced materials design will grow that much faster across the board.”

For more information about the Enterprise for Multiscale Research of Materials, visit the White House website.

By Joyce P. Brayboy, U.S. Army Research Laboratory

Colorful Colossi and Changing Hues

A giant of a moon appears before a giant of a planet undergoing seasonal changes in this natural color view of Titan and Saturn from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, measures 3,200 miles, or 5,150 kilometers, across and is larger than the planet Mercury. Cassini scientists have been watching the moon's south pole since a vortex appeared in its atmosphere in 2012. See PIA14919 and PIA14920 to learn more about this mass of swirling gas around the pole in the atmosphere of the moon.

As the seasons have changed in the Saturnian system, and spring has come to the north and autumn to the south, the azure blue in the northern Saturnian hemisphere that greeted Cassini upon its arrival in 2004 is now fading. The southern hemisphere, in its approach to winter, is taking on a bluish hue. This change is likely due to the reduced intensity of ultraviolet light and the haze it produces in the hemisphere approaching winter, and the increasing intensity of ultraviolet light and haze production in the hemisphere approaching summer. (The presence of the ring shadow in the winter hemisphere enhances this effect.) The reduction of haze and the consequent clearing of the atmosphere makes for a bluish hue: the increased opportunity for direct scattering of sunlight by the molecules in the air makes the sky blue, as on Earth. The presence of methane, which generally absorbs in the red part of the spectrum, in a now clearer atmosphere also enhances the blue.

This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from just above the ring plane.

This mosaic combines six images -- two each of red, green and blue spectral filters -- to create this natural color view. The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on May 6, 2012, at a distance of approximately 483,000 miles (778,000 kilometers) from Titan. Image scale is 29 miles (46 kilometers) per pixel on Titan.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit The Cassini imaging team homepage is at

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

NASA'S Chief Technologist To Attend UTEP Space Tech Center Opening

David E. Steitz
Headquarters, Washington
Veronique Masterson
The University of Texas El Paso

WASHINGTON -- NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck will join officials from The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), along with state and local leaders, for the official opening of the Center for Space Exploration Technology Research (cSETR) and the NASA Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Education Laboratory at 12:30 p.m. EDT (10:30 a.m. MDT), Thursday, Sept. 6. The opening will take place in the foyer of the university's engineering building.

The NASA-funded cSETR conducts analytical, experimental and computational research in energy and propulsion engineering. With a particular focus on green propulsion, cSETR will conduct research and testing of technologies in relevant environments, space structures, clean power generation, solar energy and carbon dioxide management studies.

Peck also will kick off the UTEP Centennial Lecture Series at 4:30 p.m. EDT (2:30 p.m. MDT), in the university's Undergraduate Learning Center, room 126, as the first presenter for the academic year. In 2014, UTEP will celebrate its 100th anniversary. Leading up to that milestone, the Centennial Lecture Series brings in speakers to provide perspective on a broad range of contemporary topics that impact society, culture and lives.

Journalists are invited to attend both events. Peck and participating officials will be available to speak with reporters following the opening ceremony, as well as for photo opportunities and tours of the labs.

Journalists wanting to attend Thursday's events should reply to Veronique Masterson of UTEP University Communications at or by phone at 915-747-7503 by 7 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. MDT), Wednesday, Sept. 5, for accreditation.

For more information about UTEP's Center for Space Exploration Technology Research, visit

As NASA's Chief Technologist, Peck serves as the principal advisor and advocate on matters concerning agency-wide technology policy and programs. As the chief technology advocate, he helps communicate how NASA technologies benefit space missions and the day-to-day lives of Americans. Peck's office coordinates, tracks and integrates technology investments across the agency and works to infuse innovative discoveries into future missions. Peck's complete biography is available online at

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WISE Survey Uncovers Millions Of Black Holes

J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington                                
Whitney Clavin
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

WASHINGTON -- NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission has led to a bonanza of newfound supermassive black holes and extreme galaxies called hot DOGs, or dust-obscured galaxies.

Images from the telescope have revealed millions of dusty black hole candidates across the universe and about 1,000 even dustier objects thought to be among the brightest galaxies ever found. These powerful galaxies that burn brightly with infrared light are nicknamed hot DOGs.

"WISE has exposed a menagerie of hidden objects," said Hashima Hasan, WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We've found an asteroid dancing ahead of Earth in its orbit, the coldest star-like orbs known and now, supermassive black holes and galaxies hiding behind cloaks of dust."

WISE scanned the whole sky twice in infrared light, completing its survey in early 2011. Like night-vision goggles probing the dark, the telescope captured millions of images of the sky. All the data from the mission have been released publicly, allowing astronomers to dig in and make new discoveries.

The latest findings are helping astronomers better understand how galaxies and the behemoth black holes at their centers grow and evolve together. For example, the giant black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, called Sagittarius A*, has 4 million times the mass of our sun and has gone through periodic feeding frenzies where material falls towards the black hole, heats up, and irradiates its surroundings. Bigger central black holes, up to a billion times the mass of our sun, even may shut down star formation in galaxies.

In one study, astronomers used WISE to identify about 2.5 million actively feeding supermassive black holes across the full sky, stretching back to distances more than 10 billion light-years away. About two-thirds of these black holes never had been detected before because dust blocks their visible light. WISE easily sees these monsters because their powerful, accreting black holes warm the dust, causing it to glow in infrared light.

In two other WISE papers, researchers report finding what are among the brightest galaxies known, one of the main goals of the mission. So far, they have identified about 1,000 candidates.

These extreme objects can pour out more than 100 trillion times as much light as our sun. They are so dusty, however, that they appear only in the longest wavelengths of infrared light captured by WISE. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope followed up on the discoveries in more detail and helped show that, in addition to hosting supermassive black holes feverishly snacking on gas and dust, these DOGs are busy churning out new stars.

"These dusty, cataclysmically forming galaxies are so rare WISE had to scan the entire sky to find them," said Peter Eisenhardt, lead author of the paper on the first of these bright, dusty galaxies, and project scientist for WISE at JPL. "We are also seeing evidence that these record setters may have formed their black holes before the bulk of their stars. The 'eggs' may have come before the 'chickens.'"

More than 100 of these objects, located about 10 billion light-years away, have been confirmed using the W.M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, as well as the Gemini Observatory in Chile, Palomar's 200-inch Hale telescope near San Diego, and the Multiple Mirror Telescope Observatory near Tucson, Ariz.

The WISE observations combined with data at even longer infrared wavelengths from Caltech's Submillimeter Observatory atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii, revealed that these extreme galaxies are more than twice as hot as other infrared-bright galaxies. One theory is their dust is being heated by an extremely powerful burst of activity from the supermassive black hole.

"We may be seeing a new, rare phase in the evolution of galaxies," said Jingwen Wu of JPL, lead author of the study on the submillimeter observations. All three papers are being published in the Astrophysical Journal.

For more information about WISE, visit

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