Sugar shield protects materials in hostile environmentsMarie Donlon | May 20, 2022
Scientists at U.S. Sandia National Laboratories have developed a lightweight coating strong enough to shield satellites against debris in outer space, to strengthen the walls of pressurized vessels experiencing average conditions on Earth and heat-resistant enough at 1,500° C (2,732° F) to protect instruments against flying debris.
To develop the coating, researchers layered carbon black derived from burnt confectioners’ sugar with silica in a seashell-like configuration.
The result, according to the Sandia team, is a material that can withstand mechanical shock, X-rays and harsh environmental conditions. In addition to being mechanically strong and lightweight, the coating is also reportedly thermally stable enough to shield instruments in experimental fusion machines from their self-generated debris wherein temperatures can potentially reach 1,500° C.
Capable of being applied on various substrates, the coating was developed in anticipation of the increased shielding necessary to protect test objects, diagnostics and drivers inside pulsed power machines of the future, not unlike the currently most powerful producer of X-rays on Earth: Sandia's pulsed-power Z machine.
"The new shielding should favorably impact our nuclear survivability mission," said paper author and Sandia physicist Chad McCoy. "Z is the brightest X-ray source in the world, but the amount of X-rays is only a couple percent of the total energy released. The rest is shock and debris. When we try to understand how matter — such as metals and polymers — interacts with X-rays, we want to know if debris is damaging our samples, has changed its microstructure. Right now, we're at the limit where we can protect sample materials from unwanted insults, but more powerful testing machines will require better shielding, and this new technology may enable appropriate protection."
Additionally, the coating can potentially be used to create a layer on satellites to protect against collisions with space debris and to strengthen the walls of pressurized vessels.
The study, Bioinspired synthesis of thermally stable and mechanically strong nanocomposite coatings, appears in the journal MRS Advances.