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School of Mines receives $300,000 from NASA looking for potential International Space Station experiments

The late evening news on KEVN Black Hills Fox.
Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 9:56 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - Blast off... for South Dakota School of Mines Science!

Associate Professor and Chemical, Biological Engineer Travis Walker alongside Mingyang Tan, a former SDSM Researcher and Lecturer, have been interested for many years in for how particles interact with soft materials and matter.

Work that Walker says has led to an award form the national science foundation, “that was based on Mingyang’s work to look at suspensions of magnetically inducible particles.”

At a very basic level, it’s a computer code that simulates how particles interact with different environments, including space.

They’re, like, really tiny.

“Very small particles,” says Mingyang. “We can change the code to work in the environment on Earth or in space.”

Back in the ‘90s, experiments were conducted on the international space station and Walker says, “they learned a lot in these microgravity conditions. But, what they couldn’t do is accurately model or simulate them. One of the problems that we looked at initially was from NASA where they were looking at a rotating wall vessel.”

Mingyang’s work led to devices that rotate and suspend bacteria indefinitely, giving them a better environment to thrive.

“What would happen if you didn’t rotate that barrel,” says Walker, “they would settle down to the bottom and not grow as well.”

Other work involves a device that has a magnetic field, manipulating and orienting particles into shapes.

NASA contributed 300,000-dollars to the research, because Walker says “to help propose what the next experiments should be on the next space station.”

A popular video game called Minecraft where the possibilities of building are seemingly limitless, is a good way to wrap your mind around the research.

“In Minecraft, you have this entire world right? But, it’s built up of these little bity blocks one at a time. So, what we’re trying to do is make materials that are built up one at a time, block by block. But,” says Walker, “on a scale that’s smaller than, like, the width of your hair.”

Using the magnetic fields to manipulate and change the particles interaction with their environment.

In a practical sense, the technology could be used for bulletproof vests, braking in cars, batteries, radiation and the list goes on.

“Someone could come along and they could try to figure out... ‘Okay with your ability to do this, we could build this type of material that could solve this problem.’”

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