Above: Naomi Miller holds sample of regolith and presented the findings of the CCMS-MIT research group at M&M 2019. Also in photo are her 8th grade teacher, Doug Shattuck (left) and JEOL collaborator Vern Robertson (right).
Just think about the logistics of building on Mars. What’s the best way to get all the materials there? Wouldn’t it be easier to use the natural resources of the planet? But what resources and how would they be used to 3D print human dwellings – while actually on Mars?
That’s the problem that 8th (now 9th) grade students at Concord-Carlisle Middle School, in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and JEOL USA, set out to solve when they responded to a NASA challenge for the development of innovative technologies to support human colonization of Mars by 2050.
Much of the Martian surface is covered with eroded basaltic material. NASA has identified similar materials on earth, and provided Mojave Martian Simulant for the research team to use. First, the students analyzed the simulant using EDS and SEM to determine the composition of the material. Their work determined that a suitable binding material mixed with the fine-grained simulated Martian soil could be formed into structural material. The also looked at the ability of the material to withstand compression and impact forces.
Naomi Miller examines the SEM used in the CCMS-MIT research with JEOL USA scientist and product manager Vernon Robertson
Since October 2018, under the guidance of their teacher Doug Shattuck (CCMS) and Research Scientist Dr. Kunal Kupwade-Patil (MIT), the students have been investigating methods of making concrete using a Martian soil simulant. Shattuck’s class completed a six-week research program at MIT’s Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics, part of the Dept of Civil and Environmental Engineering headed by Prof. Markus Buehler. Additionally, Brad Johnson and his staff at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) assisted with vitrifying the samples of the completed mortar that students produced from simulant and a binder.
Vern Robertson at JEOL has collaborated with the CCMS-MIT research team on several projects over the past years, including investigating the mechanical properties of a spider web and imaging samples of balsa wood and 3D printed models of synthetic materials.
SEM image showing diatoms in the simulant. Opinion: These may have been added to alter the SiO2 concentration which did not match the chemistry reported in the true Martian regolith. However, it is unlikely that there will be any of these (chemically and morphologically) in the real Martian dust.
BSE Image of ultrafine sifted simulant of Martian regolith.
Suitability of Martian Regolith Material for Future Dwellings was the title of their poster presented at M&M 2019 by Naomi Miller, a CMS student and member of the rising 9th grade student research team who traveled to Portland, Oregon for the conference. The team’s work was simultaneously published in the August issue of Microscopy & Microanalysis.