NanoRacks-Self-Assembly of Mesoscopic Lipid Mimics (NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly) - 11.22.16

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Cells, crystals and lipids can self-assemble into larger structures, and are affected by fluid dynamics and the force of gravity. NanoRacks-Self-Assembly of Mesoscopic Lipid Mimics (NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly) investigates this self-assembly in microgravity by using small mimics of lipids, which are molecules that include fats, waxes, and some vitamins. A NanoRacks module contains 3-D printed lipid mimics, an electromagnet and vibration device to monitor self-assembling structures.
Science Results for Everyone
Initiation of this investigation has been affected by the loss of the Orbital-3 launch vehicle and mission in October 2014.

The following content was provided by Fr. Brian Reedy,SJ, MS, MA, MDiv, STL, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: NanoRacks Module-42

Principal Investigator(s)
Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston , Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston, Houston, TX, United States

Fr. Brian Reedy,SJ, MS, MA, MDiv, STL, Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston, Houston, TX, United States

NanoRacks LLC, Webster, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory Education (NLE)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration

ISS Expedition Duration

Expeditions Assigned
Information Pending

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • NanoRacks-Self-Assembly of Mesoscopic Lipid Mimics (NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly) contains lipid structural mimics (that have been 3-D printed with a magnetic head and electrostatic tail) that self-assemble.
  • The chamber includes an electromagnet and a vibration device to collect and excite respectively the lipid mimics.
  • The amount of lipids introduced and the excitement energy can be varied.
  • The NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly microcontroller system has been developed by Infinity Aerospace and uses the Arduino microcontroller technology.

Some of the reasons that macro- or mesoscopic self-assembly (a process in which a disordered system forms an organized structure or pattern) should be investigated are presented in a paper by George M. Whitesides of Harvard University (16 April 2002) and are the basis for the NanoRacks-Self-Assembly of Mesoscopic Lipid Mimics (NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly) investigation.  Nonmolecular systems allow tests of hypotheses about self-assembly that cannot be carried out with molecules and extend the understanding of the fundamental, abstract concepts of self-assembly. The three-dimensional (3D) printed mimics in the NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly investigation sheds light on the self-assembly of molecular lipids even though they are much bigger.

It often is easier to fabricate nonmolecular components than it is to synthesize molecules, and easier to observe the process and products of self-assembly using these large components. NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly is 3D printing the mimics and is able to observe their behavior with slight magnification.  Self-assembly offers routes to ordered states of matter; it thus has specific application in important problems in materials science, condensed matter science, and engineering. The ability of the lipid mimics to assemble into ordered structures provides information about the ability to make mesoscopic arrays in general. Self-assembly shows every promise of playing a key role in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Self-assembly offers a possible route to the fabrication of 3D microstructures.

A number of problems in manufacturing, including problems in robotic assembly may be aided by self-assembly.  Whitesides concludes his paper by stating specifically, “It may even be an interesting strategy for the assembly of large structures in environments (for example the microgravity of space or the ocean) where lateral mobility is relatively unhindered by the effects of gravity and friction.”  NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly has not proffered any indication that, to date, any such experiment has been conducted in microgravity. Additionally, Gabriel Villar, of Oxford University, has produced 3D printed lipid mimics that self-assemble into cell-like structures.  However, the shearing forces due to gravity prohibit their forming into full spheres.  Although the NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly mimics do not have the advantage of significant solvent effects (the solvent is air) the lack of shearing forces should allow for self-assembly of the lipid mimics into fully symmetric shapes.
NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly is housed in an Ardulab® 1U designed and produced by Infinity Aerospace. It is operated by an Arduino Mega 2560 microcontroller board. NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly 3D prints small (millimeter range) “lipid” structures that have a magnetic “head” and an electrostatic “tail.” An assembly chamber is then constructed which allows the “lipids” to self-assemble into stable macrostructures. The “lipids” are then manipulated by collecting them with an electromagnet into a side chamber. The effective concentration of lipids is varied by adjusting the size of the container. The “lipids” are free from direct interactions with the container using an eccentric motor vibration device. This device also provides some energy to allow the structures to move about the chamber and encounter each other. The variables include: the number or effective concentration of “lipids” in the interaction chamber; the field strength of the electromagnet; the vibration frequency of the eccentric motor. The data is collected via video and analyzed according to the relative symmetries and structures of self-assembly as a function of vibration frequency and electromagnetic field.

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Space Applications
Materials that can self-assemble into larger structures provide an alternative method for space-based construction, repair and manufacturing. Understanding how microgravity affects natural self-assembly improves scientists’ understanding of this phenomenon.

Earth Applications
Understanding self-assembly in microscopic materials benefits materials science, condensed matter science, engineering, medicine and many other fields. Results from this investigation apply to nanotechnology research, including self-assembling structures for advanced computer systems. Results also apply to robotics, including robots that can self-assemble from a set of small parts.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

NanoRacks Module-42 operates autonomously once plugged into the NanoRacks Platform.  Data needs to be transmitted back to ground 3 times a week.  It is returned on SpX-5.

NanoRacks Module-42 is destowed immediately in order to have the maximum number of days possible to obtain data.  It is plugged into the NanoRacks Platform and operates autonomously for a minimum of 30 days (±4 days).  NanoRacks Module-42 returns ambient on SpX-5.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites
Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston
3D-Printed Material Mimics Biological Tissue

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image Diagram of the NanoRacks-Self-Assembly of Mesoscopic Lipid Mimics (NanoRacks-Lipid Mimic Self-Assembly) ArduLab.  Image courtesy of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston.
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