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Abstract: Space exploration offers unique paradigm shifts for science and technology: from harvesting the unlimited power of sun to distant interplanetary missions unveiling fundamental questions of nature and life. In this talk, I will discuss how light harnessing and radiation management at the nanoscale can address some of the key challenges facing space engineering and exploration in the 21st century. First, I will show that advances in materials science and nanotechnology may pave the way to novel principles of spacecraft design that minimize constrains on power and thermal management. Specifically, I will discuss the use of nanometer thick films for efficient control of radiation emission and absorption, and I will further demonstrate first-in-a-kind atomically thin ultralight photovoltaic cells. Next, I will show that by tailoring the interplay of light and heat with ultrathin nanostructures, an optical tractor beam may be created for an extra-long-range, stable and reversible motion of macroscale objects in a gaseous atmosphere. Finally, I will outline disruptive solutions that break ground to a scalable exploration of space with routine missions towards outer solar system and interstellar travel. Specifically, I will examine considerations and challenges of spacecraft design and its laser propulsion to near-speed-of-light velocities, and discuss a roadmap to an extensive space probing. I will further survey recent advances in a Breakthrough Starshot project, an ambitious mission to send a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri. Lastly, I will give an outlook on the promise of light-driven spacecraft design and relativistic propulsion in shaping the future of space engineering.

Biosketch: Dr. Artur Davoyan is a Kavli Nanoscience and Resnick Sustainability Institutes fellow at Caltech. His current research interests focus on light-materials interactions at the nanoscale for applications related to energy and space. Among his recent contributions are atomically thin solar cells and nanometer-thick optical coatings in the scope of Space Solar Power Initiative, active metasurfaces, LIDAR beamforming, and laser-propelled spacecraft designs for a Breakthrough Starshot mission. He also contributed extensively to electromagnetics, including microwave, terahertz and optical photonics, metamaterials, magneto-optics, antennas, plasmonics, and nonlinear dynamics. Previously he worked at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Russian Academy of Sciences. He received his PhD in nonlinear physics 2011 from the Australian National University, and did his BS and MS in theory of nonlinear dynamical systems at the Saratov State University.

Date(s) - Apr 18, 2018
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm


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