SETI Institute Principal Investigator
As chemist Bin Chen designs new materials for construction in space environments, she reconciles competing demands in innovative ways. Given the tremendous expense of transporting anything into space, lightweight materials are at a premium—especially for large-scale structures. And yet, construction projects ranging from space habitats to optical telescopes require materials with great strength and durability. Bin Chen’s solution is to create composites of materials with properties that complement one another. Sheets of graphite can be rolled into cylindrical, hollow tubes called carbon nanotubes (CNTs), yielding a material as hard as diamond and able to conduct electricity where desired, but with the shortcoming of being difficult to mould. Polymers have the virtue of being malleable, but they are brittle when cold, they are degraded by ultraviolet radiation, and they lack durability. By developing composites of CNTs and polymers, Bin Chen creates materials that are lightweight and pliable, yet strong and resistant to radiation.
- SETI Institute Explorer, Special Edition 2005