News Service


Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa --

Niche marketing at NASA

When the first piece of the International Space Station (ISS) lifts off from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, Russia, on Nov. 20, NASA will embark on what it calls its greatest mission, to launch and build a 360-ft long, 460-ton space station. The ISS brings together 16 nations, including the U.S., Russia and Japan. It is being led by NASA. While the stated goals and challenges of ISS are quite dramatic, it really is part of NASA's overall "marketing approach" to selling space science to society, says Iowa State University science historian Alan Marcus.

"The real story here is niche marketing and the drive for NASA to attract funds," Marcus says. "Each of its activities are aimed at stimulating a different segment of the population to back or at least be intrigued with NASA," Marcus says. "The Mars landing was marketed to "geeks," teens, and those in their twenties and thirties. For the John Glenn shuttle flight, nostalgia and my generation were to be engaged. NASA also recently sent up a probe a few days ago, which they named Deep Space One, an obvious attempt to cater to the Star Trek generation. The space station is part of the sea (really space) faring, science fiction thrust," says Marcus, who has just completed a second edition of his book "Technology in America: A Brief History." Contact Marcus at (515) 294-5956, or Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294- 4917.

Avoiding that half-baked feeling

Bread baking is an art almost as old as civilization itself. But researchers at Iowa State University's Center for Nondestructive Evaluation hope to improve the quality of bread by adding science to the mix.

Researchers Dale Chimenti and Loren Faeth have developed a system to monitor internal changes in bakery products during the baking process to ensure bread "doneness." Experienced bakers use a variety of methods to determine the readiness of bread, including thumping the loaf to decide if it has the right sound and feel.

In only a few seconds, Chimenti and Faeth's system performs this thumping function by administering a pulse of air via an external sensor and collecting the resulting motion information to determine elasticity. The system can completely control the baking process, replacing time- and temperature-based control parameters. It is also compatible with strapped bread pans in standard travelling-tray commercial ovens. For more information, contact Chimenti at (515) 294-5853, or Anita Rollins, IPRT Public Affairs, (515) 294-1113.

Ames Lab research sheds light on quasicrystals

Scientific sleuthing into the mysteries of quasicrystals has earned a team of Ames Laboratory researchers the Department of Energy's 1998 Materials Sciences Award for "Outstanding Scientific Accomplishment in Materials Chemistry."

Quasicrystal materials are highly resistant to wear and corrosion, and have low coefficients of friction -- highly desirable properties for coatings on mechanical and automotive parts and frying-pan surfaces. Such coatings would make the products less vulnerable to wear- and rust-related damage. Scientists have been looking for ways to use the materials since their discovery was first reported in 1984. But they have lacked an understanding of why quasicrystals exhibit these types of surface properties -- a shortcoming that the group of nine Ames Lab researchers wanted to address.

"Five years ago, there were almost no papers in the literature concerning surface properties of quasicrystals," said Pat Thiel, director of Ames Lab's Materials Chemistry Program. "Our group has begun to lay a foundation for understanding this topic, and is now internationally recognized for its efforts." Contact Thiel at (515) 294-8985, or Susan Dieterle, Ames Lab Public Affairs, (515) 294- 1405.

- 30 -

Iowa State homepage

University Relations,
Copyright © 1997, Iowa State University, all rights reserved
Revised 11/19/98