A spectrometer that has the ability to study in incredible detail one grain of sand brought Dr. Steve Trigwell of Kennedy Space Center’s Electrostatic and Surface Physics Laboratory to the Arkansas Nanotechnology Center at UALR.
At the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Kennedy Space Center, Trigwell works on studying the composition of moon dust brought back to Earth from the Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Raman spectrometer here at UALR allows scientists to examine the mineralogy of objects on the micro-level, so Trigwell is able to get up close and personal with his dirty subject.
“Lunar dust behaves in a completely different way than dust on the Earth,” Trigwell said. “When our astronauts came back from the lunar missions, everything was covered in this dust that has different electrostatic properties than our dust.”
The dust interfered with the performance of items like solar panels and space suits – so much so that astronauts were not always able to complete all the planned moon walks because the moon dust kept them from attaching their gloves to the sleeves of their space suits.
In order to work toward another successful moon landing – this time in the 21st Century – scientists have to create simulated space dust to test equipment that will go to the moon. They are able to capture the chemical composition of the dust, but have been unable to tell what exactly makes the dust so uniquely charged. That’s where the Raman spectrometer comes in.
The Kennedy Space Center doesn’t have a microscope as specialized as UALR’s Raman, Trigwell said, so scientists there looked for established partners to work with on examining the surface of dust particles. Trigwell and Professor Alex Biris are old friends with a shared interest in space and nanotechnology.
The Electrostatics and Surface Physics Laboratory and the Nanotechnology Center have recently submitted a joint proposal to NASA to perform more testing on a portion of the moon dust, and both Biris and Trigwell see positive things in store when the space agency accomplishes its goal of sending another manned rocket to land on the moon by 2020.
“If we are able to make a simulated dust that is even closer to what real moon dust is, then we will be able to consider making dust mitigation successful,” Trigwell said. “We will be able to perfect our instruments, but we can also apply the technology to anything that collects dust. We could have solar panels and television screens that avoid dust. Anywhere there’s dust as a problem, there’s an application for the technology we’d gain.”