While metal rust is a nasty phenomenon, scientists at North Carolina State University are working on a new type of shield that is lighter and more affordable than conventional materials. In space and other harsh environments, it protects against precision electronic equipment while reducing weight by more than 30%. Beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, spacecraft are most afraid of radiation, especially those that carry out deep space missions.
(Photo from: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI, via New Atlas)
When performing deep space missions, the spacecraft’s sophisticated circuits are particularly vulnerable to cosmic rays, which can cause some malfunctions.
To prevent such accidents, electronic devices roaming in space are usually encapsulated in special shielding boxes made of aluminum or other metals to reduce radiation exposure and extend circuit life.
Unfortunately, the launch of the spacecraft is laborious, so every gram of weight on board needs to be carefully calculated. Therefore, engineers in the pursuit of greater efficiency, but also must find ways to reduce the weight of parts.
The good news is that the team at North Carolina State University has developed a shielding method that makes it lighter and more effective.
It uses a special protective coating in place of a metal shield, a polymer film that conforms to the shape of an electronic component.
Many of these coatings are used to protect microchips and other parts from dust, chemicals, moisture and temperature changes.
The subtlety of this new coating, however, lies in the mixing of polymer and metal oxide particles (similar to rust).
Mike DeVanzo, a former graduate student at North Carolina State University, says:
Radiation transmission calculations show that coatings containing metal oxide powders provide the effect of matching traditional shields.
In low-energy conditions, metal oxide powders are three times more effective against gamma radiation in electronic devices than conventional materials, and 225 percent more capable of dealing with neutron radiation damage.
It should be noted that although pure metal powders are better shielded, the coating of the polymer is mixed, meaning that it is safer and does not interfere with electronic devices.
Rob HiSilicon, associate professor of nuclear engineering at the university, says it’s not only smaller but also less expensive than traditional shields.
The new scheme reduces weight by 30% while maintaining the same shielding effect. Or, with the same weight, increase the shielding effect by more than 30%.
In other words, either way, the new study can reduce the space required for shielding. At present, the team is further refining the technology and seeking business partners.
Details of the study have been published in the recent journal Radiation Physics and Chemistry.
Originally published as Ioning radiation sedendproperties of metal impregnated conformal coatings