Students demonstrate moon dust-cleaning project at NASA event

A doll gets cleaned with liquid nitrogen spray.

A Washington State University student team has successfully built and demonstrated a prototype to clean lunar dust from spacesuits – and will have a chance to show it to NASA at the Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge

The students will present their project on Wednesday, Nov. 17, from 1:35 – 2:35 p.m. Pacific Time. The event will be publicly live-streamed

From the earliest days of the U.S. space program, lunar dust has created concerns for the space agency. Because it’s electrostatically charged, the dust gets everywhere. It is abrasive and can damage engines and electronics and can cause health problems when people inhale it. Scientists have not found a good way to easily clean off items that get dusty in space.

The team was one of seven from around the U.S. who were named as finalists earlier this year in NASA’s challenge to find a way to clean off spacesuits. They received a $130,000 grant to complete a prototype. 

Students demonstrate dust removal using liquid nitrogen and the Leidenfrost Effect.

Using a doll in a makeshift spacesuit, the student team demonstrated their technology that uses the Leidenfrost Effect to clean the space suits. The effect can be seen when one pours water on a hot frying pan, where it beads up and moves across the pan. For the project, the students used liquid nitrogen, using it to carry dust particles away on boiling vapor. They used ash from the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption as a substitute for lunar dust. 

The project was led by Ian Wells, a junior in mechanical engineering, and included Camden Butikofer, Nathaniel Swets, and Lauren Reising, mechanical engineering undergraduates; John Bussey, an undergraduate in materials science and chemical engineering; and graduate students Stasia Kulsa and Gregory Wallace. The team was advised by Professors Jake Leachman, John McCloy and Konstantin Matveev in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

“This team of sophomores and juniors has showed, yet again, that WSU’s best can compete with the best from anywhere — both on and off of this planet,” said Leachman. “Their results show decisively that their concept could solve this challenge. I’m over the moon for the hard work this team completed, and how much they learned, during a difficult time.”

Watch the video:

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