Contemporary Projects at Penn State

Penn State team places second in NASA 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge

An interdisciplinary Penn State team led by Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture faculty members Shadi Nazarian and José Duarte earned second place and a $150,000 prize in NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, a Centennial Challenge competition established to develop the technology necessary to create shelters to support the human exploration of Mars.

Narrowed down from an initial entry pool of 77 teams, PennStateDen@Mars was one of only five teams who qualified to participate in the head-to-head competition held at Caterpillar Inc.’s Edward Demonstration and Learning Center in Peoria, Illinois. The participants had to 3D print structural habitat pieces between Aug. 23 and 26 that were evaluated and then crush-tested on site.

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Smart Fabrics

Felecia Davis, assistant professor at the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing in the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, has drawn on Penn State’s vast resources and expertise in fields ranging from energy and mineral engineering to electrical engineering and landscape architecture to form a collaborative, interdisciplinary team focused on developing a solar tent. The goal of the project is to develop a tent that is both functional in providing shelter but that can also capture enough energy through its solar fibers to power a cellphone.

“Textiles are everywhere, so if you have a fiber that can be weaved into just about anything, efficiency takes on another meaning because you have this growth of scale,” Davis said. “Solar fibers can be integrated into clothing, car upholstery, convertible tops, furniture, curtains — there are all of these uses that I saw for them.”

The industrial component is especially important in Pennsylvania, where communities are seeking to re-invent themselves after a decades-long decline in manufacturing jobs. Davis said computational textiles offer the opportunity to find solutions to problems that will ultimately make life better, and she believes Pennsylvania can play an important role as smart textiles evolve.