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Researchers 3D print sensors for satellites

Cheap and quick to produce, these digitally manufactured plasma sensors could help scientists predict the weather or study climate change

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Written by Adam Zewe, MIT News Office

MIT scientists have created the first completely digitally manufactured plasma sensors for orbiting spacecraft. These plasma sensors, also known as retarding potential analyzers (RPAs), are used by satellites to determine the chemical composition and ion energy distribution of the atmosphere.

The 3D-printed and laser-cut hardware performed as well as state-of-the-art semiconductor plasma sensors that are manufactured in a cleanroom, which makes them expensive and requires weeks of intricate fabrication. By contrast, the 3D-printed sensors can be produced for tens of dollars in a matter of days.

Due to their low cost and speedy production, the sensors are ideal for CubeSats. These inexpensive, low-power, and lightweight satellites are often used for communication and environmental monitoring in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The researchers developed RPAs using a glass-ceramic material that is more durable than traditional sensor materials like silicon and thin-film coatings. By using the glass-ceramic in a fabrication process that was developed for 3D printing with plastics, there were able to create sensors with complex shapes that can withstand the wide temperature swings a spacecraft would encounter in lower Earth orbit.

“Additive manufacturing can make a big difference in the future of space hardware. Some people think that when you 3D-print something, you have to concede less performance. But we’ve shown that is not always the case. Sometimes there is nothing to trade off,” says Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal scientist in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) and senior author of a paper presenting the plasma sensors.

Joining Velásquez-García on the paper are lead author and MTL postdoc Javier Izquierdo-Reyes; graduate student Zoey Bigelow; and postdoc Nicholas K. Lubinsky. The research is published in Additive Manufacturing.

In an RPA, plasma passes through a series of electrically charged meshes dotted with tiny holes. As the plasma passes through each mesh, electrons and other particles are stripped away until only ions remain. This figure shows how the meshes fit inside the RPA housing, which aligns the meshes.
Credits:Courtesy of the researchers

Versatile sensors

An RPA was first used in a space mission in 1959. The sensors detect the energy in ions, or charged particles, that are floating in plasma, which is a superheated mix of molecules present in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Aboard an orbiting spacecraft like a CubeSat, the versatile instruments measure energy and conduct chemical analyses that can help scientists predict the weather or monitor climate change. 

The sensors contain a series of electrically charged meshes dotted with tiny holes. As plasma passes through the holes, electrons and other particles are stripped away until only ions remain. These ions create an electric current that the sensor measures and analyzes.

Key to the success of an RPA is the housing structure that aligns the meshes. It must be electrically insulating while also able to withstand sudden, drastic swings in temperature. The researchers used a printable, glass-ceramic material that displays these properties, known as Vitrolite.

Pioneered in the early 20th century, Vitrolite was often used in colorful tiles that became a common sight in art deco buildings.

The durable material can also withstand temperatures as high as 800 degrees Celsius without breaking down, whereas polymers used in semiconductor RPAs start to melt at 400 degrees Celsius.

“When you make this sensor in the cleanroom, you don’t have the same degree of freedom to define materials and structures and how they interact together. What made this possible is the latest developments in additive manufacturing,” Velásquez-García says.

This figure shows an experiment in which the researchers set up their RPA to characterize it as an ion energy distribution sensor.
Credits:Courtesy of the researchers

Rethinking fabrication

The 3D printing process for ceramics typically involves ceramic powder that is hit with a laser to fuse it into shapes, but this process often leaves the material coarse and creates weak points due to the high heat from the lasers.

Instead, the MIT researchers used vat polymerization, a process introduced decades ago for additive manufacturing with polymers or resins. With vat polymerization, a 3D structure is built one layer at a time by submerging it repeatedly into a vat of liquid material, in this case Vitrolite. Ultraviolet light is used to cure the material after each layer is added, and then the platform is submerged in the vat again. Each layer is only 100 microns thick (roughly the diameter of a human hair), enabling the creation of smooth, pore-free, complex ceramic shapes.

In digital manufacturing, objects described in a design file can be very intricate. This precision allowed the researchers to create laser-cut meshes with unique shapes so the holes lined up perfectly when they were set inside the RPA housing. This enables more ions to pass through, which leads to higher-resolution measurements.

Because the sensors were cheap to produce and could be fabricated so quickly, the team prototyped four unique designs.

While one design was especially effective at capturing and measuring a wide range of plasmas, like those a satellite would encounter in orbit, another was well-suited for sensing extremely dense and cold plasmas, which are typically only measurable using ultraprecise semiconductor devices.    

This high precision could enable 3D-printed sensors for applications in fusion energy research or supersonic flight. The rapid prototyping process could even spur more innovation in satellite and spacecraft design, Velásquez-García adds.

“If you want to innovate, you need to be able to fail and afford the risk. Additive manufacturing is a very different way to make space hardware. I can make space hardware and if it fails, it doesn’t matter because I can make a new version very quickly and inexpensively, and really iterate on the design. It is an ideal sandbox for researchers,” he says.

While Velásquez-García is pleased with these sensors, in the future he wants to enhance the fabrication process. Reducing the thickness of layers or pixel size in glass-ceramic vat polymerization could create complex hardware that is even more precise. Moreover, fully additively manufacturing the sensors would make them compatible with in-space manufacturing. He also wants to explore the use of artificial intelligence to optimize sensor design for specific use cases, such as greatly reducing their mass while ensuring they remain structurally sound.

This work was funded, in part, by MIT, the MIT-Tecnológico de Monterrey Nanotechnology Program, the MIT Portugal Program, and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology.

Business & Economy

Campus 365 provides cloud-based seamless solutions to educational institutions 

With its ERP software and pioneering technological innovation, Campus 365 is disrupting the education sector and making education more effective and accessible

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Just as technology, and particularly the digital era, has disrupted and improved most major segments of India’s economy, education and training is also undergoing a tech revolution. Education Technology, more commonly known as EdTech, possesses the power to bridge the learning gap thanks to technology’s ability to eliminate geographical barriers. As much as digital adoption is the need of the hour, it is critical to retain a few unparalleled benefits of a traditional classroom setup such as group discussion, personalised support from educators and creating opportunities to work on peer collaborative assignments.

Armed with a mission to empower schools with tools that serve people in the most human, helpful way, Campus 365- an ed-tech start-up incubated by NASSCOM 10000 startup based out of Gurgaon, is providing cloud-based solutions to schools and colleges to manage and track their daily activities seamlessly. With user-friendly mobile apps to help students, parents, and teachers maintain the academic cycle, Campus 365 provides a 360-degree outlook to stakeholders assisting them in making productive decisions to escalate their progress.

“We all know that the introduction of EdTech is transforming the learning process in schools. Initially, technological abilities were not needed for students but these skills are now of much importance. Today, students should have good knowledge of online communication to attend classes, check emails, and submit assignments online and our school ERP gives our students a dedicated platform for this to make them future-ready. We at Campus 365 believe that technology is a powerful instrument that can elevate education to an advanced level, allowing students to learn and collaborate in new ways and we are constantly working towards it” said  Mayank Singh Co- Founder and CEO of Campus 365.

Campus 365 is India’s largest all-in-one app for teachers, schools, and coaching institutes to manage their online and offline classrooms in one place. This online teaching and institute management app helps users create tests & quizzes, share study material & homework, chat with students, take live online classes, record live lectures, teach using digital whiteboard, automate attendance, and much more.

Empowering 1000+ institutes globally, Campus 365’s mission is to enhance student learning by bringing innovation to education. Campus 365 partners with schools and colleges across the country to provide students with a holistic learning experience that makes them future-ready. The company offers a high-quality, end-to-end solution for every stakeholder involved in a child’s learning journey. Campus 365 tackles some of the most critical aspects of School management and reduces school staff workload. By doing so, the company ensures that school teachers nurture the young minds of tomorrow and that the school support staff enjoys using the Campus 365 School ERP engine’s superior apps. Campus 365’s innovative school management software solutions are aimed at providing the best of School ERP features and safety measures to school-going children.

Campus 365’s team is founded with a deep-rooted passion toward delivering value to not just schools, but to parents and teachers as well, who ensure that children are always walking on the path of constant innovation. Today, Campus 365 is used by schools around the world – from kindergarten to higher studies schools and non-profit schools.

Campus 365 has simplified the managing of day-to-day activities such as attendance marking, alerts through mobile applications, fees payment reminders, parent-teacher notifications, and holiday schedules. Every team member in Team Campus 365 has some experience in School and College Management Process and it is also one of the reasons why the company puts concerted efforts into optimising the School and College Management Software. Breaking complex software and making them user-friendly is the top priority of Team Campus 365.

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Study Australia successfully concludes the Study Australia Entrepreneurship Challenge

The winners of the SAEC 2022 are – Team Econominds of MITWPU University, Pune

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The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade- Australian Government agency) successfully concluded its Study Australia Entrepreneurship Challenge (SAEC-2022) in Delhi on September 23, 2022.

The winners of the SAEC 2022 are – Team Econominds of MITWPU University, Pune. The all-girls team has won a Student Tour to Australia, which will take place in March 2023.

Their theme was Circular Economy and Challenge question was – ‘How might we ensure that the clothing we wear is more sustainable’. The members of the team are Nishita Bhattad, Jasmine Mehta, Samiksha Joshi, Shweta Karthik and Muskan Kashyap.

The award is sponsored by Study Adelaide.

During this tour the winners will get a glimpse of the Australian lifestyle and will get the chance to visit and learn more about Australian education institutions and Australian entrepreneurship ecosystem and start-up culture.

The first runners-up of SAEC 2022 are Team Ekta from NMIMS, Mumbai. They have won a $2000 scholarship each, sponsored by Study New South Wales – which the students will be able to use towards the tuition fee for a full-time postgraduate degree program at any NSW education provider.

The second runners-up of SAEC 2022 are Team Glovis Rise from Lovely Professional University, Punjab who bagged a cash prize of $500 each, sponsored by Study Queensland.

Ms. Melissa Bank, Head of International Education Centre of Excellence, Austrade said, “Australia has always been a preferred destination for Indian students when it comes to higher education. We are seeing an increase in the number of Indian students applying to Australian universities every year. With the re-opening of borders after the pandemic, we are witnessing a constant surge in number of students arriving in Australia. The Australian government is committed to provide them the best-in-class education while also equipping them with necessary skills to facilitate their dream of becoming global citizens. Our goal behind setting up this competition was to help students learn about Australian entrepreneurship eco-system and its institutions. I am glad that all the participants were highly involved with this programme and we have been able to highlight the key differential factor that can make them an entrepreneur.”

The Study Australia Entrepreneurship Challenge was an initiative to engage highly-skilled students from the Indian higher education institutes who participated in a series of hybrid events, which were based on Ted X-meets-Hackathon. The participants formed multidisciplinary teams and participated in a two-week program showcasing the opportunities of Australia’s education sector and the Australian entrepreneurial and start-up ecosystems.

As part of the challenge, the teams created a 3-minute pitch video idea on the following challenge themes – Cybersecurity, Circular Economy, Digital Health, and Creative Industries. The participating teams also had access to mentors from Australian academia and industry who guided them in the development of their video pitches. They got in-depth understanding of their chosen topic during academic spotlights that were delivered by Australian academic experts, as well. The jury panel for the contest included Ms. Melissa Bank, Head of International Education Centre of Excellence, Austrade and Mr Sukhmeet Singh, Co-founder, A2P Energy.

In recent years, Australia has been a leading destination for Indian students seeking to study abroad, and it has progressively emerged as a preferred choice for many. Since the border re-opening in mid-December 2021 until 22 July 2022, over 260,000 student visa holders reached Australia.

Furthermore, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission’s “The Study Australia Industry Experience Program (SAIEP)” was launched for current Indian and other international students at Australian universities to enhance their employability skills.

More information about Study Australia and the support for Indian students is available at https://www.studyaustralia.gov.au/india

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University of Essex Online invites applications for PG Cert Global Mental Health and Wellbeing

University of Essex Online courses are delivered by Kaplan Open Learning in partnership with the University of Essex

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The University of Essex Online is inviting applications for the October intake of the PG Cert Global Mental Health and Wellbeing. The course deals with a wide range of topics, including identifying and processing challenges which impact global mental health, as well as interpreting and understanding ethical policies for an international framework.

This course is designed with a specific focus on the critical perspectives of global mental health policy and practices.  Students will gain the skills and experience required to pursue a career as a mentor, coach, manager, mental health lead or wellbeing adviser. With further training, one could also become a specialist nurse, specialist mental health practitioner or health service manager.

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be awarded a certificate from the University of Essex – one of the UK’s top 40 universities (Complete University Guide 2023).

Course duration and delivery:  This is a 100% online part-time course with an indicative study duration of eight months.

Course content is delivered through a cutting-edge virtual learning environment (VLE), giving students 24/7 access to study materials, such as lecturecasts. This offers a contemporary and accessible way to interact with multimedia content and check understanding via engaging and interactive activities.

Application deadline: 20 October 2022 

Entry requirements: 

·       For the academic entry route, students must have an undergraduate degree from an approved institution, equivalent to a UK Honours degree, or a relevant professional qualification.

·       For the work experience entry route, students must have at least three years of work experience (voluntary or paid) within a relevant field, supported by two appropriate references.

·       As part of the application process, applicants will be asked to take a short aptitude test which is designed to evaluate their ability to handle the intellectual and practical demands of the course. 

·       If English isn’t your first language, your ability should be equivalent to an IELTS (Academic) score of 6.5. If you don’t hold an IELTS or equivalent qualification, the University offers a free online English test.

How to apply:  

Please visit: https://online.essex.ac.uk/apply/

Tuition fee: £3,945

Scholarship:  Merit-based scholarships are available based on prior academic achievements and work experience.

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