Nano-suit research could lead to spacesuits that are barely there

Shane McGlaun - Apr 23, 2013
Nano-suit research could lead to spacesuits that are barely there

Science has a long history of making breakthroughs accidentally. The number of breakthroughs in the scientific world that came about from scientists and researchers trying to accomplish some unrelated task is surprising. A group of Japanese scientists were attempting to scan fruit fly larva using an electron microscope.

The problem with scanning fruit fly larva using an electron microscope is that the larva had to be placed into a space-like vacuum. Once in that vacuum, the fruit fly larvae quickly dehydrated and died within minutes. To be able to study the larva, the scientists had to come up with some way to protect the tiny bugs from the vacuum. The resulting quest led to the scientists developing a type of nano-suit that enveloped the fruit fly larva’s body.

According to the scientists, not only did this incredibly thin nano-suit protect the larva from the vacuum, the suit also withstood physical touches. The researchers say that the nano-suit is only 50 to 100-billionths of a meter thick and was flexible enough to allow the larva to move. While this should allow the larva to move, it was strong enough to keep gasses and liquids from escaping.

This breakthrough has some potential beyond the world of studying insect larva and could in the future lead to incredibly thin spacesuits for astronauts. The nano suit is so thin it’s almost like wearing nothing. The scientists created the artificial nano-suits by dunking mosquito larvae into a pool of water mixed with a chemical called Tween 20. The chemical is non-toxic and is commonly found in detergents, cosmetics, and hard candy. Once dipped in the chemical, the larva were showered with plasma allowing the Tween 20 to polymerize and become a nano-suit. Once enveloped in the nano-suit, the scientists say that the mosquito larvae can withstand vacuum for about 30 min.

[via ScienceMag]

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