October 7, 2003 Dolores Beasley Headquarters, Washington (Phone:
Steve Roy Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
Joshua Chamot National Science Foundation, Arlington, Va.
NASA RESEARCH PROPELS DEVELOPMENT OF NEW GLASS
There’s a new glass in town. The glass, developed with the help of a unique
NASA levitator facility, is available for numerous commercial applications
including lasers and optical communications.
“We have patented a family of new glasses and have established processes
for making and using them in practical applications,” said Dr. Richard
(Rick) Weber, director of the Glass Products Division of Containerless Research
Inc., the small company that invented and produces the glass in Evanston, Ill.
“We’re already making commercial quantities of glass rods and plates for
use in lasers,” he said.
REAl Glass — made from Rare Earth oxides, Aluminum oxide and small
amounts of silicon dioxide — has unique properties that were identified using
both the company’s container-less processing techniques and a NASA ground-based
As part of a NASA research grant for a proposed International Space Station
flight experiment, Weber conducted research in the Electrostatic Levitator at
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The levitator, where
molten spheres of glowing material float with no visible means of support or
containment, is one of the nation’s few facilities where scientists can process
materials without using contaminating containers.
“This shows how basic NASA research can lead to innovative materials and
new products that can benefit everybody,” said Dr. Michael Wargo,
Enterprise Scientist for materials science in NASA’s Office of Biological and
Physical Research in Washington.
Containerless Research’s development of applications and new products for
lasers, optical communications, and surgical lasers is supported by grants from
the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
“The development of REAl Glass shows how the Small Business
Innovation Research (SBIR) program works by building on good ideas that come
from basic research and helping small businesses grow into commercial
manufacturers of innovative products,” said Dr. Winslow Sargeant, who
directs the National Science Foundation SBIR Commercialization Program for
devices. “We are working with Containerless Research Inc. by supporting
product research and development that can help them grow the business and
continue to create new products and new jobs,” Sargeant explained.
REAl Glass has qualities useful for creating materials for demanding
optical applications. “We’ve taken many of the best qualities of the
current materials and created a new glass that can be produced
inexpensively,” Weber said.
One of the most promising uses of the glass is for lasers.
Whether it is a power laser for cutting metal for car bodies or a medical
laser used for surgery, the “heart” of lasers is the gain medium,
which is where REAl Glass can be used. This critical component increases
or amplifies light, resulting in an intense, highly concentrated beam capable of
precisely cutting metal parts or surgically removing or repairing human tissue.
“Most surgical lasers now use expensive single crystals, which limit the
range of operating wavelength to very narrow bands,” explained Weber.
“REAl Glass would provide tunability, which can give more control
over surgical procedures, an important factor in different types of surgery and
for different skin types. Our glass can provide efficient power lasers and
expand coverage to new wavelengths,” he said.
REAl Glass also provides a medium for next-generation optical
communications devices that need to be small, low-cost and powerful to provide
fiber for home connections for broadband Internet. The company can customize the
glass composition for these uses. The family of REAl Glass materials is
patented under U.S. Patent No. 6,482,758 issued Nov. 19, 2002, and is only
available from Containerless Research Inc., or under license.
For information on NASA’s Electrostatic Levitator, a list of peer-reviewed
articles describing this research, and to download photographs to accompany this
news release, visit:
http://www.msfc.nasa.gov/news For information about REAI Glass and
Containerless Research Inc. on the Internet, visit:
Nasa release at https://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2003/oct/HQ_03320_new_glass.html