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Materials — Ride, sample, ride

Samples of four unique materials hitched a ride to space as part of an effort by ORNL scientists to evaluate how each fares under space conditions. Credit: Zac Ward/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

To study how space radiation affects materials for spacecraft and satellites, Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists sent samples to the International Space Station. The results will inform design of radiation-resistant magnetic and electronic systems.

Our aim is to explore the impact of harsh orbital environments on new classes of quantum materials,” said ORNL’s Zac Ward.

Four materials had the right stuff for the study. Gold will reveal how fast energetic ions etch a surface. An oxide crystal with many different randomly distributed atoms will show if inherent disorder can protect a material’s functional properties. An insulator with topologically protected conducting surface states will test the robustness of this protection from cosmic damage. And an antiferromagnet will indicate how electron spin alignment is influenced in space.

Launched in August 2021, the materials will be monitored in situ and retrieved this fall for postmortem characterization at ORNL.