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May 2001

News about Science, Technology and Engineering at Iowa State University

Monitoring spacecraft water quality
A team of scientists from Iowa State University's Microanalytical Instrumentation Center (MIC) recently flew on NASA's KC-135 reduced-gravity airplane to test new instrumentation for monitoring the quality of spacecraft drinking water. The instrument essentially is a small analysis system that can detect levels of iodine or silver -- two chemicals used to treat water in spacecraft. "The test flight showed that what we did on the ground works in space," said Marc Porter, MIC director and an Iowa State chemistry professor. The researchers are now working to automate the system.

The goal of the three-year project, funded by NASA for more than $300,000 a year, is to develop lightweight, miniaturized systems that solve a number of the problems associated with monitoring and controlling water quality on manned spacecraft. This research is important as spacecraft designers look to recycle a higher percentage of water to meet the demands of longer flights. Indeed, they are working toward the day when all waste streams will be recycled into potable water. Moreover, such rugged, reliable, miniaturized instrumentation has Earth-bound applications in environmental monitoring and other areas. For more information, contact Porter, (515) 294-6433, or Robert Mills, IPRT Public Affairs, (515) 294-1113,.

Disciplined light from disordered systems
A computer model developed by theoretical physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory is lending credibility to observations of unexpected laser activity in materials that trap and scatter light. Their findings have helped open a new area in the study of multiple light scattering and could advance the development of a novel class of lasers for medical, industrial and military applications.

Basing their computer model on a complex numerical technique known as finite difference time domain, Costas Soukoulis, a senior physicist at Ames Lab, and Xunya Jiang, an Iowa State graduate student, have cleared up many of the mysteries surrounding random lasers. Unlike regular lasers, random lasers rely on a light-amplifying (or gain) medium with a disordered atomic structure that scatters light to produce the characteristic narrow and focused beams of laser light. Such a medium might be a finely ground crystal powder or one in which random scatterers, like titanium oxide, have been distributed.

Soukoulis' and Jiang's model makes it possible to track the evolution of the electric field in a given random system. This allows them to determine the amount of energy required to "pump" the electrons in the system to the intensity where laser activity will take place. In addition, by using the model, the researchers are able to predict the exact regions in the system where lasing will occur; which region will lase best; and the wavelength of the emission light, which determines the color of the laser light.

The information Soukoulis' and Jiang's computer model provides is critical when considering potential uses for random lasers. Such lasers hold promising properties for brightening the pixels in flat-panel displays; they could provide a sophisticated, non-invasive tool for diagnosing problems within the human body; and they may one day light the way to more efficient and economical search-and-rescue missions to identify downed ships and airplanes, and even individual passengers. For more information, contact Soukoulis, (515) 294-2816, or Saren Johnston, Ames Lab Public Affairs, (515) 294-3474.

Cyber-security scholarships
A $2.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help Iowa State expand its degree program in information assurance (computer security) by as many as 40 students. Information assurance professionals work to make computers impervious to cyber attacks that can harm a computer and its data files.

Six institutions will receive the grants as part of an interagency, public/private effort to meet the growing national needs for computer security and information assurance professionals. Students selected for the program will receive internship opportunities with federal agencies and, upon graduation, work for the federal government for one year for each year of scholarship education received. Iowa State will use the money to expand its program in information assurance with 40 fellowships to graduate and undergraduate students, said Jim Davis, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and one of the organizers of the ISU program.

"There is a dire need for these types of professionals and we see demand growing in future years," Davis said. "The money will help us expand our offerings to a larger group of students and get them started in their careers in information assurance."

Other institutions getting funds are: Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh; Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.; University of Idaho, Moscow; University of Tulsa; and the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterrey, Calif. For more information, contact Davis, (515) 294-0659; Doug Jacobson, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, (515) 294-8307; or Skip Derra, ISU News Service, (515) 294-4917.


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