All posts by Lily Williams

Making materials in space – freeze it first

This summer a team of Northwestern University undergraduates will finalize instrumentation designs for a NASA satellite mission that will test the manufacturing of materials while in orbit.  The students are building the device for SpaceICE to study freeze-casting, a process that could eventually be used to build materials on other planets in space colonies.

“In terms of science fiction, the perfect use [of freeze-casting] would be to use soil on Mars and on the moon” to make bricks or other necessities. “We hope we will impact the creation of the first space habitats from planetary sources,” said materials science Professor David Dunand, the lead advisor for the SpaceICE project.

Student researchers move step by step to prepare for NASA launch

By Lily Williams

A combined team of undergraduates at Northwestern University and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are working together to build a satellite and instruments to test the fabrication of building materials in space.

The NASA mission is due to launch into orbit in the summer of 2018. It has two parts: a box-like satellite called a CubeSat (UIUC’s job) and a payload of instruments (NU’s job at the SpaceICE lab) to test freeze-casting . The instrumentation will freeze suspensions and study the corrugated structures of materials left behind in the freezing and thawing process. The undergraduate-only collaboration will determine if freeze-casting could be a viable mechanism for fabricating many different materials, from fuel cells to cocoa tablets, both on Earth and eventually on other planets.

The work is complex, rigorous and constantly evolving, especially because, as students graduate, they need to be replaced and re-trained from the ground up. Each university team not only has to design and test their own product, but also make sure that CubeSat and the SpaceICE payload work together.

Below are some photos that attempt to chronicle the day-to-day tasks of both teams, at NU and UIUC, where the satellite makers  need to configure their spacecraft for the instrumentation.

Photo at top: Northwestern materials science and engineering senior Jonathan Young spoons his suspension into the collection vestibule of the freezing instrument SpaceICE has specially designed for their research. (Lily Williams/MEDILL)

Undergraduate SpaceICE researcher wins prestigious engineering award

By Lily Williams

Undergraduate materials science senior Lauren Kearney heads to Northwestern University’s SpaceICE lab on most days to work on the design for the team’s freeze-casting instrumentation that will launch in a NASA mission next year.

Kearney won one of two of Northwestern’s Hilliard Awards for leadership, scholarship and service. Each year, the university’s materials science and engineering department awards two of its undergraduates the prestigious  award.

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Northwestern and UIUC undergrads race to finish satellite for orbit

By Lily Williams

Imagine NASA in action. A rocket, pushing off a landing base and away into the skies with titanic force, smoke and fire. An image of Earth, floating serene in the dark blanket of space. Tunnels and pipes and computers. Millions of wires zipping every which way.  Lights blinking, code flying and scientists monitoring everything with meticulous precision.

What you might not imagine is a Northwestern University undergraduate, eating a grilled cheese and going over satellite instrument designs at a dining hall on campus.

But a group of NU students are at the heart of a NASA mission that will be launching a small satellite and research instruments into orbit this summer. The satellite, under construction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will house an NU device that freezes solutions and then thaws them, leaving behind a casting of materials.

The instrumentation will take photographs and send data back to Earth to document the whole process. This is SpaceICE: Interface Convective Effects, which separates substances in solutions from the water in ice. The process is giving us clues to a new method of  fabrication that could be used to make many different materials, from fuel cells to cocoa tablets, both here and in space.

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Whimsical Chicago improv team rides an undercurrent of intensity

By Lily Williams

A young group of improv artists who call themselves “Snowball” are connecting with audiences at Chicago’s iO Theater not only with the laughs, but also by just listening.

During a practice, a volunteer says “robot,” and two artists walk to the center of a circle of their peers. One bends slightly at the waist, looking like he doesn’t really know what’s going on. The other pretends to screw something on his back. Their veteran coach bursts into laughter. Out of all the suggestions having to do with a robot, and not knowing what would come of their steps forwards, the two artists find themselves transformed as robot and creator.

They are learning how to let go, trust each other and reach out to audiences.

The 10 artists in Snowball, all in their twenties, came to improv through different routes. For Amelia Marks, a Chicago native, a camp at Chicago’s famous Second City Theater changed her life. “I was like this very shy teenager, and it like, being in that camp really pulled me out of my shell.”

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