With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.
Thermal Control for Moon Missions. Paragon Space Development Corporation recently announced it received a $2 million contract as part of NASA’s Tipping Point program. The Tucson-based space corporation won the NASA contract to further develop its “Shape Memory Alloys for Regulating Thermal control systems in Space” (SMARTS) radiator. SMARTS is a temperature-control technology with the “high thermal turndown and low mass that is needed to enable operations in the extreme range of environments that NASA and commercial space entities plan to explore.” Specifically, Paragon is developing SMARTS to maintain acceptable operating temperatures on spacecraft during lunar missions. This system may also be adapted for crewed missions to Mars. In developing SMARTS, Paragon will lead a team supported by Boeing, Texas A&M, NASA’s Glenn Research Center, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center. NASA’s Tipping Point program seeks “industry-developed space technologies that can foster the development of commercial space capabilities and benefit future NASA missions.” NASA considers a technology at a “tipping point” if their investment will help to significantly develop the technology and increase the likelihood of bringing the technology to market for both government and commercial applications.
The lucky number for learning. New research led by the University of Arizona places a mathematical answer to the question: What’s the right amount of failure for learning? We know the classic maxim “We learn from failure, not from success,” but a new study in the journal Nature Communications says people learn most when they fail at something 15 percent of the time. The study “The Eighty Five Percent Rule for optimal learning” argues for a “Goldilocks zone” in learning. Researchers conducted a series of machine-learning experiments where they taught computers tasks such as pattern identification. The computers learned fastest when the difficulty of the task resulted in their answers being correct 85 percent of the time.
Alicat Scientific expansion. Alicat Scientific, a local developer of flow control meters, was recently approved an expansion to their existing 19,050-square-foot facility located in Peppertree Ranch Business park. Alicat manufactures “custom flow control, flow meter, and pressure solutions for both gas and liquid applications” and are pioneers of “laminar differential pressure flow technology.” The expansions to their facility include 9,750 square feet of office area, and 1,657 square feet of manufacturing and parking modifications. Design Results LLC is the applicant for this more than 11,400 square-foot building expansion.
Minimizing corrosion for solar power. A three-year, $1 million grant from the Department of Energy is funding UA engineers’ work to stop corrosion on pipes used in solar energy harvesting. While solar panels are a common way of harvesting solar energy, “concentrated solar power” systems use mirrors to concentrate sunlight and superheat a mixture of salts (up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit) to spin a turbine and produce energy. However, when air and these salts mix, it can cause the inside of the system’s pipes to rust. With this new DOE grant, a team of UA engineers led by Dominic Gervasio, associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering, is working with “reference electrodes” which allow technicians to control the electrical potential of a metal pipe.