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SPIE Professional, October 2018

Translational Tech: NASA'S artistic endeavor

Abraham is working on a zeolite-based technology that protects vulnerable surfaces by trapping destructive contaminants.

1 October 2018, SPIE Newsroom. DOI:

Nithin Abraham. Credit: Chris Gunn, NASA

SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego serves as a regular home-base for Nithin Abraham and her colleagues. "The contamination control community in aerospace is small and comes together at SPIE," says the NASA coatings engineer, who has been an attendee since 2012. "It's an opportunity to share the work I do with the community, to get feedback, to get new ideas, to network, and collaborate. This year, someone came up after one of my presentations and said ‘I'm having the same problem, I'd definitely like to collaborate with you on this project." And someone else came to say, ‘Have you thought about doing it this way?' and I hadn't, but I realized it might be beneficial to try it that way."

At the moment, Abraham is working with the Molecular Adsorber Coating (MAC), a zeolite-based technology that protects vulnerable surfaces by trapping destructive contaminants. Originally formulated for spaceflight applications, such as during the cryogenic vacuum testing of the James Webb Space Telescope, MAC is currently being tested at the Smithsonian Institution. "We want to see whether MAC can help collect mercury vapor and other contaminants," explains Abraham. "It's a challenging dilemma because mercury vapor degrades the cultural specimens and is a risk to humans handling these objects. We also want to see what the coating collects in ambient environments: it was designed for aerospace, so all of the previous testing has been under vacuum conditions; it will be interesting to see how it works for nonvacuum terrestrial applications."

Potentially, Abraham says, MAC may be viable for other industries. "I hadn't thought of the possibility of its use in the preservation and conservation arena. Someone approached me saying, 'Hey, I read your paper from SPIE and this seems like a good application....' It's very important," she adds, "to get these ideas out there."

Watch her presentation at Optics + Photonics 2018 on the SPIE Digital Library: doi.org/10.1117/12.2323752