Shuttle to launch Northwestern professor's work into space

April 29, 2011

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(Northwestern Univeristy/Andrew Campbell)
Mark Hersam forged the nanomaterials in his Northwestern University lab.

When the space shuttle Endeavour takes its final flight, it will carry the handiwork of a Chicago-area scientist. The shuttle will carry six postage-stamp sized samples of thin films made from specially engineered materials called graphene and carbon nanotubes.  Astronauts will mount them on the International Space Station, where they’ll stay for at least six months.

The idea is to see how the nanomaterials hold up to the powerful radiation in space, which can cook normal materials, like silicon, used in computers. Northwestern University professor Mark Hersam, who created the samples, says the stakes are high for electronics in space.

“If you had a system on your spacecraft being controlled by a computer and all of a sudden it didn’t compute correctly, that would lead to serious problems,” said Hersam.

The Endeavour is set to blast off this afternoon in what’s expected to be the second-to-last shuttle flight for NASA. Hersam says he plans to watch the launch with his lab team in Evanston.