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Creighton undergrads help NASA probe 3D-printing frontier in glass science 

Dec 16, 2022
5 min Read
Eugene Curtin
Joel Destino, PhD, assistant professor in chemistry department

Though archeologists say the first man-made glass dates from 3500 B.C., Creighton University researchers are not satisfied.

Joel Destino, PhD, assistant professor in Creighton’s chemistry department, is leading a dozen or so undergraduate students in a research study designed to better understand the chemistry of glass-former nanoparticles with the aim of eventually 3D-printing optic materials that currently cannot be made using conventional methods.

The group's research has been sponsored by various agencies, but Destino says it is most satisfying to see his students obtain independent support and recognition. Recently, Sahrai Luna, a Creighton University undergraduate in his lab, was awarded a $3,000 NASA Space Grant Fellowship supporting her efforts on the project. She is the fourth awardee from his group since 2018.

NASA uses telescopes, so there is value to the space agency in creating more compact, less expensive optical systems that could create a new paradigm for the way such things are made, Destino points out.

There are all kinds of benefits in hard, hands-on skills … and many networking opportunities.
— Joel Destino, PhD 

We put some questions to Destino regarding the research project:

Q: How will students be involved in this project? 

A: Currently, I have about six students working on the project, although I have had as many as nine or so at a time

Q: What will they learn while assisting in your research?

A: Some of them focus on making nanoparticles. Some of them focus on the chemistry of taking these particles and making them into glass, which involves chemistry, physics and material science. Then some are involved in creating systems to 3D print these materials.

Q: What does it add to their experience?

A: The students get hands-on training in the chemistry labs. They learn how to perform basic laboratory skills. They also learn how to work with analytical equipment, work with instrumentation and how to probe different phenomena to try to understand chemical structures and chemical composition. They also get to go to conferences; they meet with collaborators from various institutions across the country. They have the opportunity to publish their work. There are all kinds of benefits in hard, hands-on skills as well as soft skills such as 3D printing and writing. They also get many networking opportunities within the scientific community.

Q: What is the potential real-world impact of this research?

A: 3D printing optical materials and shaping those materials for use in optics could open a new paradigm in the way in the way opticals are researched, engineered and made. Our hope is that by creating a new paradigm of how to make glass materials from the bottom up as opposed to the top-down melt process we can reimagine glass materials.


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