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Dr Maggie Chen, associate professor of engineering at Texas State University, has spent the last 15 years researching the best materials to create durable and flexible electronic circuits with the aim of using them to construct a new kind of antenna for use in NASA’s space travel programs.
It is expected that the work of Chen and her research students will establish a new graphene-based, 3D-printed antenna that will replace the use of standard silver antennae.
Texas State provides the perfect environment to support this kind of research, with it being one of the few universities with the required technology for creating flexible electronics that will be relied upon by the innovation.
The aim of the research is to produce an antenna that is profoundly different to those currently used as standard. Chen and her team seek to create an antenna that will be lighter and smaller, and will be able to foster a more efficient approach in their use in space. They aim to create antennae that can be rolled up, launched into space, and self assemble, or, pop-up, when they arrive in space.
Graphene Provides The Solution To A New Kind of Antenna
There has been a boom in research around the carbon allotrope graphene during the past decade and a half, starting with its discovery and isolation as a single atomic layer of carbon for the first time back in 2004. Already, the material’s impressive properties, such as being incredibly strong while being completely flexible and lightweight, have seen it being researched for potential applications in numerous fields. It is being developing for innovations in anti-corrosion coatings and paints, sensors, efficient electronics, solar panels, drug therapies and more.
Chen recognized graphene’s advantages of being more resistant to oxidation than silver is, while also being more resistant to degradation when bent. The ability to create an antenna that can be bent is key to Chen’s work, and graphene can do this better than silver. She also observed its value in being low cost, durable, flexible and compact, characteristics of great use to the project in hand. For these reasons, graphene became the main focus of the lab at Texas State.
Applications Outside of Space Travel
While the antenna is being designed primarily for use in NASA’s space program, an innovative new antenna would have use in the fields of consumer electronics, medical, smartphone technology and aerospace. In each of these sectors antennae play a major role, and a revolutionary new design would likely have significant impact here.
Chen predicts that numerous industries will be impacted by the establishment of a new, graphene-based, 3D-printed antenna. It is not just NASA who are searching for better, low-cost, efficient materials to incorporate in their products. While NASA is particularly interested in using lightweight and durable materials, with minimal volumes of surface areas due to weight being a serious consideration for satellites and rockets, other industries are also looking for similar innovations to help improve the quality of their products and to cut manufacture cost and lead-time. A 3-D printed, graphene-based solution would provide this.grpahene
It is predicted that once the antennae are developed, they will overtake the use of silver antennae in both the aerospace and consumer electronics sectors for their advantages of being lower in cost. In addition, graphene is becoming increasingly cheaper to produce due to advancements in technology used to manufacture it. This will further boost the position of graphene antennae over conventional silver ones.