Archive for June 2011
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You are browsing the archives of 2011 June.
It’s a little like a cotillion ball — a coming-out for the young, the beautiful, the promising. As we posted earlier, some previous R&D 100 débutantes went on to be wildly successful: ATMs, Nicoderm patches, the flashcube. Like the debs, some are still in their prime (ATMs, Nicoderm), some are grande dames (fax machines, halogen lamps), and some are of late-but-happy memory (flashcubes). As with a real cotillion, some on the list were not unexpected, A123 for example, a company we’ve covered extensively. Others were delightful surprises, not because they are unworthy, but because our imaginations constrained them within their humble origins.
This year’s surprise was “Porous Walled Hollow Glass Microspheres” that came out of work at the Savannah River National Lab led by George Wicks (president-elect of ACerS). Why surprising? The goal of the R&D 100 is to identify the “100 most technologically significant products of the past year.” SRNL’s press release frankly states, “Hollow glass microspheres have been used for years in lightweight filler material, insulation, abrasives and other applications.” How did microspheres make the leap from “used for years as filler” to among the “most technologically significant?”
The SRNL team discovered that glass microspheres with nanoscale interconnecting porosity could be fabricated through a phase separation and leaching process, and realized that the porosity could provide controllable ingress and egress of substances like medicine, reactive or flammable chemicals, hydrogen, and more. The award also recognized SRNL’s off-campus partners: Toyota, Georgia Health Sciences University and Mo-Sci Corp. Basically, the team saw a unique characteristic, and developed and perfected it to an extent where the technology’s potential is plain to see. Not fully mature yet, but undoubtedly heading in that direction.
Innovation and successful businesses are driven by vision, commitment, passion, and hard work. The experiences of those who have “been to the ball” can help (I won’t push the analogy much further), and that is what the Ceramic Leadership Summit 2011 meeting is really about. Speakers like George Wicks, Mo-Sci’s Ted Day, and A123’s Bart Riley will share their experiences of how they got there. All CLS speakers have proven track records breaking into new markets, navigating regulations, developing new materials, recognizing new applications, valuing their businesses, understanding how to position ceramic products in a diverse marketplace — they are prepared to share their experiences and help you do the same.
Anybody engaged in business or innovation knows how valuable their time is, and in a way, time away is even more valuable because of what it “costs” to be offsite. The CLS meeting recognizes that and has built a program that is business-centric, only two days long, and has plenty of built-in networking events.
Did you know that modern-era débutantes (and beaux) spend an average of two years preparing to take their place in society as recognized adults? A team of adults guides, forms and cheers them on to reach their full potential.
Surprises don’t just happen. Luck helps, but the old adage is true, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Think of CLS as part of your strategy and preparation team. We hope to see you there.
Dress is business casual, but I hope you return with a full dance card.
Ceramic Leadership Summit 2011
August 1-3, Baltimore, Maryland
The R&D 100 awards for 2011 have been released, and the list of winners includes a strong representation from the field of materials science. There were more entries this year than there have been in recent years. In the press release, Rita Peters, editorial director of R&D Magazine observed “During the recent economic downturn, industry, academia, and government labs continued to innovate. The editors were impressed with the strong field of candidates for this year’s R&D 100 Awards.”
The purpose of the awards is to identify the “100 most technologically significant products introduced into the marketplace over the last year.” Awardees are chosen by an independent panel of judges and the editors of R&D Magazine. In the press release, it was noted that some previous R&D 100 winners have been so successful that they are now household names: ATMs, fax machines, Nicoderm anti-smoking patches, HDTV and more.
The American Ceramic Society extends its congratulations to all awardees, especially those connected to ceramic materials engineering. Highlighted below are awardees that occupy or connect with the ceramics universe. Some of the winners listed below are familiar names; other may not be….yet.
Here’s what we are hearing:
Ceralink Inc. announced that it has been selected for a $100,000 SBIR Phase I award from NASA to develop high performance polymer matrix composites (PMCs) at lower cost using microwave technology. NASA has identified PMCs as a critical need for launch and in-space vehicles, but use is currently limited by the significant cost of such materials. Ceralink’s Phase I research program will explore lower cost PMCs through the development of discontinuous fiber reinforced polymer composites with an in-situ grown, carbon nanotube 3-D network.
Trek Inc., a designer and manufacturer of high-voltage power amplifiers and high-performance electrostatic instrumentation, announces a new amplifier. The bandwidth of Model PZD700A, for both large signal and small signal levels, in combination with Trek’s technology for precise control of output voltages, enable the amplifier to address the specific need for high speed and fast settling when driving capacitive loads in electro-optics, MEMS, piezoelectric driving/control, semiconductor research and other demanding applications such as laser modulation, ion beam control and vibration damping.
Seymour Ventures Corp.’s subsidiary of Rare Earth Industries Ltd., announced that it has invested in developing environmentally-sensitive methods of solvent extraction for processing of rare earths. In addition, the company has added Shyama (Sam) P. Sinha to REI’s advisory board to further its goal of becoming a low-cost processor of rare earths and rare metals. Sinha uses environmentally-friendly methods to process and separate rare-earth elements from one another. This approach is different from the global industry standard use of hydrochloric acid or nitric acid.
Mexican glass maker Vitro SAB received bankruptcy-court approval to sell four of its U.S. units to an affiliate of private-equity firm Sun Capital Partners Inc. for $55.1 million. Sun Capital has said it intends to integrate the U.S. subsidiaries of Mexico’s largest glassmaker to a similar company in its portfolio, Arch Aluminum & Glass LLC. The assets Sun is acquiring are Vitro America, a Memphis, Tenn., company that makes, distributes and installs replacement glass for vehicles and buildings, Super Sky Products Inc. and two related entities.
Siemens recently announced the dates for Solar Exchange East, which will be held in conjunction with the North Carolina Solar Center, Sept. 21, 2011 on the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. Solar Exchange East, designed for manufacturers and developers of solar power, will include topics, such as advancing clean energy for a sustainable economy, solar tracking and thin film technology, financing in the solar power industry and advances in solar satellite development.
Svenska Aerogel has devised a process that can convert silica into aerogels at ambient temperatures at low pressures in a continuous (instead of a batch) fashion, according to CEO Anders Lundstrom. “We’re talking a price reduction of about 90 percent,” he said. Along with requiring less energy, the process also lets aerogels take different forms. SA can make aerogel pellets or powders, which in turn opens up markets beyond insulation. Aerogels, for instance, could be added to concrete to make it less susceptible to cracking. Researchers at the company also believe spray-on aerogels will be possible. Another possibility: deploying them in fuel cells to disperse catalysts like platinum more evenly and efficiently on membranes.
If mechanical systems and the weather cooperate, July 8 will bring the 135rd and final mission of the American Space Shuttle program (STS-135). Coincidentally, I recently received a charming biography of the late Robert M. Beasley, the man who led the team that developed the shuttles’ high-temperature reusable surface insulation tiles.
I think for those of us in the ceramics field, the shuttle tiles grabbed our attention because they are one of the most visible-yet-awesome things we could show to outsiders to explain what high-tech ceramic materials are and do. The tiles have been, and will continue to be, a fixture in the various materials science demonstration kits used for outreach to grade school, high school and college students. Inevitably, the personal, science, engineering and business stories behind the shuttle tiles have grown foggier over the past 35 years, especially as the end of orbiter program has neared and more of the men and women responsible have retired and died.
But fortunately for us, Gloria Beasley Lausten’s “The Shirtsleeve Invention: The Story of a Man and an Idea” captures much of the thinking, emotion and technical achievement of her husband’s group, which conceived and prototyped the tiles for then-Lockheed Missiles & Space Company, and eventually won the NASA contract for all of the shuttles’ thermal protection systems.
The author and her husband, who died in 1997, preserved a great collection of diaries, notes and documents from the 1951-1991 period, when Beasley began as a research chemist at Corning. She follows his move to LMSC and his early concepts and development of “integrated filament reinforced thermal protective and structural materials ‘tailored’ to mission requirements” and finally to see oversee their installation and successful performance on the fleet of orbiters.
The book is highly readable for even non-materials scientists and engineers, especially the technical personnel’s view of the high-stakes competition that was waged between LMSC, Rockwell, GE, Martin-Marietta and others to select which company would build the systems and subsystems for the orbiter. The author makes frequent and appropriate use of stories and descriptions Beasley provided in a series of audio tapes he recorded in 1994 in a conscious effort to leave an accurate account of the history of the work on the tiles.
It is easy to forget that very early days of shuttle development, there was a great deal of concern about whether the LI-900 (which stood for lightweight insulation, 9 pounds per cubic foot) and heavier-but-stronger LI-2200 (22 pounds per cubic foot) would work as advertised or would even remain attached to the orbiters’ shell. It’s worth remembering that in the beginning there was some fear that if one tile detached (the adhesion systems weren’t tasked to Beasley’s team), it could lead to the “unzipping” and catastrophic detachment of many others.
In the book, Beasley Lausten recounts the pride that members of The American Ceramic Society felt when the first shuttle completed its mission in April 1981. She even includes a column written by James I. Mueller then president of ACerS and principle investigator on a NASA ceramics research grant at the University of Washington, that appeared in a 1981 issue of Society’s Bulletin. Mueller, himself sometimes credited with development of the TPS, had championed Beasley’s development of the LI tiles, and noted in the magazine
“The successful landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia on April 14th ended almost ten years of worldwide media coverage on the ‘trials and tribulations’ of the Space Shuttle. Seldom, if ever, have ceramic materials had such visibility, albeit often negative. The end result was gratifying not only to those directly involved but also to the ceramic community in general. … The mid-1960s development of a lightweight materials made of silica fibers must be credited to Bob Beasley. At the time, the reusable space vehicle was only a concept and the insulation material had other potential applications. By 1970 the initial designs of the shuttle had reached a point where both metallic and ceramic materials were being considered for the outer surface. In the final analysis, the silica-fiber tile was selected.”
Beasley won many awards and honors for his work. However, he was often rankled by NASA’s culture and LMSC’s demands, and many of these conflicts are revealed in the book, and provide ample color and tension to grip the reader.
Tragically, Beasley developed major heart problems while still in the prime of his career and had a major stroke in 1977 at age 51. Although he still had ideas for even lighter weight TPS approaches (e.g., using hollow silica fibers), the stroke robbed him of his eyesight, mobility and ambition, thus effectively ending his career in engineered ceramics. He died during a heart procedure in 1997.
Surprisingly, Beasley’s formal education wasn’t extensive; he earned a B.S. in chemistry from Stetson University in Florida. One of his co-workers, Harry Nakano, credited much of Beasley’s success and vision to his early training in ceramics research at Corning. Nakano also praised his leadership and ingenuity, recalling Beasley as, “a great problem solver, finding simple solutions to seemingly complex problems. These attributes would serve him well. But most of all, his conviction that a highly purified fibrous silica material could be used as a heat shield or insulation on a spacecraft or missile was what drove him to eventually invent the LI-900 material. Normally, only a Ph.D. type researcher would undertake such a project.”
As the 2003 disaster of the Columbia orbiter showed, the shuttle’s mission was only possible with a rugged TPS. As the Atlantis comes in for the final landing next month, consider reading the story of one of the people that made the shuttle technology possible. For information about obtaining the book, see theshirtsleeeveinvention.com.