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Erin Hogan, Chemical Engineering Major

Chemical engineering sophomore Erin Hogan is helping to develop the next generation of NASA spacesuits fit for a mission to Mars. Hogan is working with Dr. Norman Wagner, the Unidel Robert L. Pigford Chair in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, to develop and optimize material composites that can enhance astronaut protection from micrometeoroids, abrasions, low-pressure environments, atomic oxygen exposure, UV exposure, extreme temperatures, and dust (which will be crucial for Mars), she says. The secret ingredient is a specially formulated space-worthy shear thickening fluid, which is used to treat the spacesuit fabrics.

“This fluid gets stronger and hardens when struck with increasing force, protecting the suit from puncture and tearing when astronauts are exposed to the harsh environments in space,” Hogan says. “When the force is removed, the fluid returns to its liquid like state, allowing the fabric to remain flexible.”

This summer, Hogan is preparing three samples to send up to the International Space Station as a part of the tenth Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-10).