NASA SBIR 2004 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 04 S4.01-9068
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Science Instruments for Conducting Solar System Exploration
PROPOSAL TITLE: Powder Handling Device for X-ray Diffraction Analysis with Minimal Sample Preparation

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
PO box 730
mountain view, CA 94042-0730

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Philippe C Sarrazin
PO box 730
mountain view, CA 94042-0730

This project consists of developing a Vibrating Sample Holder (VSH) for planetary X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) instruments. The principle of this novel sample handling technique relies on vibrations generated in a sample holder to create movements in the powdered sample. The major benefit over conventional sample handling techniques is the possibility to characterize materials with grain-sizes up to two orders of magnitude larger, with no degradation in the data quality. It allows existing planetary sample-preparation systems such as rock crushers and drills to be used in place of fine-grinding mills normally required for quality XRD analysis. A secondary benefit of the VSH is that it offers a simple means of loading and removal of samples, with a limited number of moving parts. This research will answer a critical need for sample handling devices for conducting definitive mineralogy analyses in Solar System Exploration. The Phase 1 effort will focus on a feasibility study of two critical components of the system: the thin X-ray windows required for the sample holder, and the mechanism for controlling the granular flow. The Phase 2 R&D work will lead to a VSH brassboard prototype that can be remotely operated and interfaced to a planetary XRD instrument.

The proposed system will enable planetary X-ray diffraction instruments to produce high quality data without complex sample preparation. It will be imbedded in a host instrument such as CheMin, the planetary definitive mineralogy instrument developed by NASA. The reduced constraints on sample preparation and compactness of the system will allow fitting XRD capabilities on a broader range of landed platforms. The technology could serve a variety of other types of in-situ planetary instruments requiring delivery of powdered material. It will also help in the implementation of remote XRD capabilities in terrestrial laboratories for the study of returned samples.

The proposed technique will find a range of applications in industrial and research laboratories as a means to automatically load powdered samples in XRD instruments for analysis or process control (cements, inks, pharmaceuticals, ceramics, etc.), or to characterize materials that cannot be ground to fine-grained size (explosives, pharmaceuticals). It will also be essential to XRD instruments for field or remote analyses of hazardous substances, geological materials, etc. The Vibrating Sample Holder could be produced as a stand-alone unit fitted to commercial instruments or as part of a complete system that takes full advantage of its unique capabilities.