Saturday, January 24, 2009

Masons of Regolith

moon colony

No, it's not a new video game.

If (maybe when?) NASA returns to the moon, the idea of a permanent base camp is not far-fetched. We've all seen the sci-fi movies with dwellings dotting the moonscape, but the reality is how to deal with the logistics needed to transport the necessary building materials.

A team of seven students from the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech have been working on that very problem and devised a solution: use the volcanic ash from moon rocks to create moon bricks. Since actual lunar rock is scarce, the students devised a simulated regolith by using volcanic ash from a deposit on Earth along with various minerals and basaltic glass, similar to rock on the lunar surface.

From Popular Mechanics:

The team combined the faux moon ash with powdered aluminum and mixed the two together in a silica crucible. Then the group put a nickel chromium wire into the mixture and heated it to 2700 degrees F, starting a thermite reaction that spread through the mix and turned it to solid brick. All it takes is heating the mixture to aluminum's melting point, about 1221 degrees F, says the team's adviser, professor Kathryn Logan. "It's very much like a sparkler," she says.

The self-named Masons of Regolith then subjected their results to various tests to see how much pressure the bricks could take before cracking. Turns out they're nearly as strong as concrete! One-square inch of the brick could withstand the gradual application of 2,450 pounds, or nearly the weight of a Ford Focus. Fascinating!

I'm bringing this to your attention because (a) I'm a Virginia Tech grad and (b) to point out that college isn't just studying and writing papers and taking tests. There are some great opportunities within any program of study to expand your knowledge with real-world experience, and I hope all of our college-bound students will chat with their professors and fellow students and seek them out.

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