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  1. Abstract

    Microgravity offers an enticing synthetic knob for materials scientists to explore—however, this environment creates major challenges in hardware development that can turn a simple 3-day experiment into a 3-year long nightmare. This paper provides an overview of engineering an autoclave, compatible with NASA’s Solidification Using a Baffle in Sealed Ampoules (SUBSA) furnace, to enable microgravity hydrothermal synthesis—an acceleration-sensitive technique that processes aqueous samples above the boiling point of water. Hydrothermal synthesis is a universal chemical transformation technique that is used to produce a range of advanced materials with applications in alternative energy, healthcare, and the food industry. In this work, we use the synthesis of graphene hydrogel as a case study to verify our hardware design on Earth before launching to the International Space Station for microgravity testing. The design addresses pertinent challenges which include enabling thermal expansion while preventing air bubble formation in solution and implementing a pressure fail-safe above the maximum operating temperature. Our goal in presenting this autoclave design is to provide a step forward towards commercial-of-the-shelf microgravity hardware.

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  2. Graphene aerogel (GA), a 3D carbon-based nanostructure built on 2D graphene sheets, is well known for being the lightest solid material ever synthesized. It also possesses many other exceptional properties, such as high specific surface area and large liquid absorption capacity, thanks to its ultra-high porosity. Computationally, the mechanical properties of GA have been studied by molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, which uncover nanoscale mechanisms beyond experimental observations. However, studies on how GA structures and properties evolve in response to simulation parameter changes, which provide valuable insights to experimentalists, have been lacking. In addition, the differences between the calculated properties via simulations and experimental measurements have rarely been discussed. To address the shortcomings mentioned above, in this study, we systematically study various mechanical properties and the structural integrity of GA as a function of a wide range of simulation parameters. Results show that during the in silico GA preparation, smaller and less spherical inclusions (mimicking the effect of water clusters in experiments) are conducive to strength and stiffness but may lead to brittleness. Additionally, it is revealed that a structurally valid GA in the MD simulation requires the number of bonds per atom to be at least 1.40, otherwise the GA building blocks are not fully interconnected. Finally, our calculation results are compared with experiments to showcase both the power and the limitations of the simulation technique. This work may shed light on the improvement of computational approaches for GA as well as other novel nanomaterials. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 23, 2024
  3. Ordered porous RGO/SnO2thin films for ultrasensitive humidity detection at room temperature.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 20, 2024