November 30, 2021

Beyond Going Long

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What ‘space’ stuff should eat and how Slovaks can save soldiers’ lives (interview)

Slovak scientists are developing advanced materials. They can help solve many complex problems and apply themselves around the world.

Humankind has made tremendous technological progress during the last century. We’ve gone from old phone lines to “computers in your pocket,” from timid flights to orbit it’s almost routine today, and from practically useful but often very harmful technologies we’re slowly but surely moving toward green technologies.

However, all this would not be possible if skilled engineers did not have the necessary building blocks – different types of new materials with the desired properties.

The materials scientist, Professor Jan Dusa, is also involved in the development of such materials in Slovakia. He works at the Institute of Materials Research of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAS) in Kosice and is also co-founder and president of the Promatic Center for Advanced Materials and Technologies.

You can read this article thanks ESET Science Prize, an award that supports exceptional science in Slovakia.

A few weeks ago, he was awarded the Eset Science award in the main category “Exceptional Personality in Slovak Science” for his contribution to the field of materials science, in particular to the research and development of ceramic materials – a field he co-founded in our country. He was personally awarded the Nobel Prize by the well-known astrophysicist Kip Thorne.

Therefore, Jan Doss and I are currently talking about the importance of so-called basic research or about the many interesting projects that could find applications around the world in the future.

In the interview you read:

  • which is the primary research role,
  • What are the specific progressive ceramic materials,
  • What properties should materials intended for space flight have,
  • that Slovak scientists are developing lighter and more durable bulletproof vests,
  • And how they can help make hydrogen in transit truly green.

From Kosice to Space

Ceramic materials are very durable. You have devoted your entire career specifically to progressive ceramic materials. What exactly does it mean to be progressive – what kind of material?

Porcelain materials were known very long before our era in various forms. Pottery, glass, etc.

Progressive ceramic materials have been developed since around 1950. Progressive systems are a little different, we produce them from high purity ceramic powders, which then determines the microstructure of these systems, and of course the mechanical properties.

Personally, I work more with my colleagues in structural ceramic materials, where we develop systems that are extremely challenging – some of which are in fact similar to diamond. It is highly wear-resistant, that is, corrosion-resistant, it can withstand high temperatures…

In recent years, we have developed the so-called high temperature ceramic materials. They are carbides, borides – and we probably will – are also for aerospace applications.

These are systems with melting points above 3000 °C. This is very high and we think its application would be at temperatures above 2000°C.

Why is there such a difference between theoretical endurance and expected endurance in practice? Is it just a sufficient margin of safety not to exceed the limits of material properties?

exactly. Simply there should be such a reserve. We don’t like to take any risks.

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Photo Gallery

Professor Jean Sol.

Source: Eset . Foundation

I painted the universe. What is your experience with space projects in your organization?

Our expertise comes from developing materials for potential aerospace applications. At the institute or here at Promatech, we are developing very interesting materials as well as metals, but that can withstand low temperatures.

In our department, where we develop ceramic systems, temperatures are higher here. And as I said, in recent years, these very high temperature regimes have withstood very high temperatures. We do this at the basic research level.

There are some potential collaborations that we look forward to very much. Unfortunately, we do not have many entities in Slovakia that we can cooperate with. But, for example, Spinea Prešov is an excellent company that is developing very interesting systems and there is interest in cooperating with us for ceramic materials as well. So we are working with them and I think we will work more intensively in the future.

When it comes to aerospace materials, what are the specific requirements for this chip? Even the average person would probably consider the above resistance to high temperatures. What are the other necessary parameters and properties of materials intended for use in space?

This temperature is really critical. But there are other things besides it. For example, resistance to oxidation is very important. So we study the oxidizing properties of these materials.

Other parameters are thermal shocks – so this material can withstand it. Also corrosion resistance to high temperatures eg.

But all at high temperatures. Regarding thermal stability, oxidation properties at high temperatures, and thermal shocks at high temperatures, these are the main properties.

What more can we imagine given the temperature shocks?

Under this, we can imagine that if the temperature changes, for example, the systems and materials can lose their strength dramatically. This means that thermal changes can destroy the material and cause catastrophe.

Therefore, it is good that the systems also withstand such thermal shocks, i.e. changes in temperature. We simply study this in laboratories by shooting samples into water or another atmosphere at high temperatures and observing what is going on there, what cracks are going on and what negative effect we can observe there.

I suppose that in practice we can imagine this on the example of a satellite orbiting the Earth. It passes over the bright side and then the far side of the Earth several times a day, which means sudden differences in temperature.

Yes really.

I would still say it’s not possible without basic research. It should simply be basic research, and someone has to, of course, keep pulling and applying it.

Professor Jean Sol

Will they save the lives of policemen or soldiers?

You are currently working on a promising project for a new generation of bulletproof vests. How can ceramic materials help in this area?

We have begun to develop so-called bulletproof vests, because ceramic systems are light. If the jackets are made of iron, metal or steel, they are heavy. It is not easy to apply.

However, ceramic systems are light and our results showed that they also withstand impact (ammunition, note). It seems that we can develop much better ceramic systems for similar applications than, say, steel jackets.

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We cooperate with Konstrukta Defense, which is very famous in Slovakia for research and development of various security and defense systems. We really want to contribute and develop new bulletproof jackets made of ceramic materials, such as oxides and carbides, working for example on the basis of boron carbide … We try to develop ceramic compounds in which the matrix is ​​ceramic, but we add several additives, such as graphene plates, which You then work on improving the features that this app requires.

So this is an interesting area of ​​research and we think we’ll have results and know how to apply them.

You still plan to submit this project, but I suppose that some preliminary research has already been done, on the basis of which you think this intention will work.

Yes, of course, we already have some results. We already know something about it, otherwise we wouldn’t even want to introduce the project.

We already know something about this and believe that during the project we will work on further improvement and development and when we finish the project we will really be able to offer something to practice.

Photo Gallery

The President of the Slovak Republic, Zuzana Chaputova, also congratulated Professor Dossz on the ESET Science Prize, who took care of the prize.

Source: Eset . Foundation

From the general description alone, it can be logically assumed that such a potential product – if the expected properties are truly achieved – could be of interest to energy constituents from all over the world. After all, who wouldn’t want lighter, more durable windbreakers?

Of course, we’re not alone in doing these things. Research like this may be going on all over the world, so I don’t have those big eyes. But we just want to contribute – especially here at home to broker the local industry.

Of course, if the results are globally beneficial, why not? But again, I’m a little careful.

Is hydrogen really green?

You are also working on so-called micro nanofibers in connection with the production of green hydrogen. If an alternative drive is to be truly environmentally friendly, then its production must also be green. With electricity, this problem is easy to understand – if electricity is produced in coal-fired power plants, environmental pollution continues. What about the environmental friendliness of hydrogen production?

It is such a thing. When we use hydrogen in transportation, it’s OK – I’d say it’s very green.

But when it comes to its production, it is still not true, because we make it from carbon materials. About 5 to 6% of the world’s hydrogen production is currently green. I think we should make that more clear.

What can be done in this regard?

We have certain projects in the institute for that. We’ve built a so-called “electro-spinning” lab at Promatech – where we produce many fine nanofibers. Not only ceramics – mainly polymers, but from those polymers we can get ceramics by processing.

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Micro nanofibers are like hair, only thinner. Hair is about 50 to 80 micrometers in size, while our micro-nano fibers are thinner, sometimes noticeably. They have different compositions and we can decorate them with different minerals depending on what we are fighting against.

We can apply these fibers well from an environmental point of view. For example, we can develop several filters, and we recently developed these fibers in an effort to create catalysts for hydrogen production from water. That would be a really cool thing.

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What makes that possible?

Imagine, for example, an island not far from civilization, the ocean and the waters around the island. We can also get energy through ceramic materials – wind, gas turbines, where there are ceramic bearings, or solar, where there are also ceramic components …

So green energy. And through micro-nanofibers, pure green hydrogen is produced. And then just transport for civilization, not too far away, and it would be really perfect. It’s a dream, but I think it’s not just a dream.

We’re not the only ones working on that of course, but it’s very interesting research and the scientific findings of my colleagues have published, and there are good citations for that. So it seems to me that it works – both here and in the world.

Can you tell us at what stage the research in this area has reached? Or is it difficult to quantify?

It’s hard to say because scientists around the world are working on it.

And if we only focus on your organization?

It is simply basic research. Colleagues are trying to improve the tiny nanofibers that would handle this stimulation as best they can. It’s really basic research so far.

So the aim of the research is to gain some basic knowledge and know-how on a particular issue, so that someone else can then take over that knowledge, develop it and try to put it into practice?

Exactly as you say. I would still say it’s not possible without basic research. It should simply be basic research, and someone has to, of course, keep pulling and applying it.

It would be fine to do as many things as possible at home, to apply as many basic results as possible, but we will see how in the future. It is not easy, in some areas it thrives, and in some it is worse.

Listen to SHARE’s current podcast with last year’s Eset Science Prize winner Slovakian physicist Fedor Simkovic. We talked to him about the mysterious neutrinos that could answer many questions about the universe:

The podcast is produced jointly with Živé.sk . magazines a HernáZóna.sk. You can subscribe to all new episodes of our SHARE podcasts through the platforms Apple PodcastAnd google podcastAnd spotify or Deezer.

Maria Dolnyakova collaborated on writing the article.