Possibilities on the edge of fantasy

Nano-materials and nano-tubes allow strength and endurance to be raised
By Vladimir Yakovlev

To date, it has been too expensive to use nano-tubes in mass production. However, the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Heat and Mass Transfer is preparing a breakthrough, having developed several devices to generate nano-materials. One aims to produce multi-wall nano-tubes, boasting great energy efficiency. The Russian Academy of Sciences’ Siberian branch has created the necessary catalyst, so manufactured products could be supplied to Russia to make high-tech products — such as space craft.  

The project is an example of Belarusian-Russian scientific collaboration in nano-technologies — under the Nano-Technologies — SG Union State programme, which was launched in 2009 and runs until late 2012. It covers 35 major projects, opening the doors to many fantastic possibilities and inspiring international interest.

Work on nano-materials and nano-technologies began at the beginning of this millennium, with some results achieved accidentally through intuition — as often occurs. Since then, the sphere has taken off, with a laboratory of nuclear-power microscopy set up and expensive diagnosing equipment purchased. 

The Deputy Director of the Institute for Heat and Mass Transfer, Kirill Dobrego, guides us to the laboratory of high-speed processes, where senior researcher Yevgeny Prikhodko shows us a stand for covering silica solar batteries with super-thin protective covers, via a plasma discharge. Unlike previous methods, this Belarusian approach halves the working temperature of the process, while requiring no vacuum. “Such films can be placed on polymers and many other materials,” states Mr. Prikhodko, adding, “We offer high speed and relative cheapness.”

Another laboratory is involved in producing membrane filters for separating gases, liquids and biological molecules — via super-thin coverage of micro-porous materials. Properties of coverage can be managed, allowing a filter to be self-cleaning, distinguishing certain materials.

Many of the Belarusian scientists’ developments are likely to enjoy demand in other high-tech branches — such a watch making and the electronic and optical industries. Diamond-like carbon fields can be used as a universal protective covering, resistant to aggressive environments and mechanical influence, while being current-conducting or dielectric, lustrous or anti-glare.

Many Belarusian developments focus on the space sphere, as co-operation between Belarusian scientists and the Russian Space Agency is already a tradition. Nano-additives to fuel space craft have great prospects, improving the combustion of fuel and enhancing efficiency. However, these technologies also have application on Earth, being able to enhance the quality of off-grade fuel (used for ordinary energy facilities and engines), yielding great economic results. 

“Our Russian colleagues are supervising their part of the programme,” explains Mr. Dobrego. “Of course, we exchange information, ‘trying out’ their results in our conditions. Meanwhile, we jointly oversee some aspects: our Institute produces a special facility to polish optic elements with high accuracy, while super-accurate lenses (curvature measured in Angstrom units) are being supplied by the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Chemistry of High-Purity Substances.

Over the course of time, a complex of functional equipment for space craft should launch, using absolutely new technologies to help reduce the satellite’s weight 2-3-fold, and improving possibilities of remote Earth sensing, while reducing costs. Both Belarus and Russia are interested in such co-operation, with their liaisons in mastering space ever expanding.
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