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Nanotechnology has a huge role to play in future space travel according to Professor Ying (Ian) Chen, the latest recruit to Deakin University’s new Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (ITRI).
The “small” science can be used to develop new propulsion systems and also to create effective shields against radiation, an area in which Professor Chen is a world leader, even a galactic one.
“When astronauts leave the protection of the Earth, they are exposed to ionising radiation,” Professor Chen said. “This is in the form of charged atomic particles travelling at close to the speed of light.”
Long term exposure to this radiation can lead to cancer and also damage to an astronaut’s DNA however, research by Professor Chen offers the hope that shielding materials manufactured boron 10 will in future provide long-term protection.
“We have known about the ability of boron 10 to capture neutrons since the early 1930’s,” Professor Chen said.
“A major issue though has been the manufacturing of pure boron nanotubes in large quantities.
“My colleagues and I have developed a ball milling method that can solve this problem.
“I have also been working with researchers at NASA about the possible applications of boron nanotubes in space missions.
“Several years ago they asked me to prepare boron nanotube samples for tests on the space station.”
Professor Chen says there will also be more earthly uses for the boron nanotubes, including the production of electrical power.
“There is a lot of talk about developing fusion energy to feed an energy-hungry world,” he said.
“One of the challenges to developing fusion energy on a commercial basis is coming up with materials that can provide shielding from the high neutron fluxes produced by the fusion process. Boron nanotubes might just allow us to do that, too.”
Professor Chen comes to ITRI from the Australian National University (ANU).
“He really is a prize signing for us,” said ITRI’s Chief Director, Professor Andrew Parratt. He comes with an international reputation for research that is right out there at the cutting edge.
“As with Professor Kevin Nicholas, he is part of the exciting widening and deepening of our research capabilities at Deakin.”
Professor Chen gained his BSc at Tsinghua University in China.
He completed his PhD at the University of Paris-Sud in France.
His most recent appointment was that of Senior Fellow in Research School of Physical Science and Engineering at ANU.
He is also a program leader for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Functional Nanomaterials. Professor Chen’s research at ITRI will also research into nanomaterials for use in the storage of energy – solar cells, batteries and capacitators – as well as medical applications and environmental protection.