Chris Veazey '01

Chris Veazey '01, recently completed an experiment in outer space.
Veazey didn't actually go up in space, but his experiment involving metal alloys did - aboard NASA's International Space Station. The California Institute of Technology doctoral student has been creating quite a stir in science circles recently, with his ideas on "bubbloy" (from "bubble" and "alloy") developed in Caltech's materials science lab.

One bubbloy, a kind of metallic glass, is a combination of palladium, nickel, copper, and phosphorus with glass-like characteristics. When boric acid and heat are added, the alloy turns into foamed bubbloy. The result is a material that retains its glass-like strength, but adds amazing flexibility, much like a spongy human bone. The bubbloy is so strong and flexible, it was recently touted in Popular Science for possible use as a self-healing car body.

If that's not exotic enough, the NASA experiment involved creating the metallic foam in near weightless conditions. On earth, gravity can interfere with crucial bubble formation. As Veazey explained, "The goal was to foam (expand) a bulk metallic glass prefoam (bubbloy) in the microgravity conditions to fill a mold. It's an excellent experiment that demonstrated an expandable foam and its mold filling capability."

The possibilities, if you will, are far-reaching. The materials, due to their high strength and low weight, are being considered by NASA as possible material for structures on the moon or Mars, or as spacecraft shielding material to guard against the onslaught of micrometeorites and space debris.

For Veazey, the fascination with mixing materials goes back to grade school. He marveled at the frenzied chemical reaction created by mixing vinegar and baking soda. "Chemistry interested me because it explained the phenomenon I was seeing as a kid. It answered questions for me. How does a solid like baking soda in turn release gas? I was hooked."

Later, at Pacific, in chemistry Professor Kevin Johnson's general chemistry class, Veazey witnessed an experiment he called "unforgettable." A balloon is filled with hydrogen and oxygen and then ignited with a candle. The resulting blast forms water. "It's a miniature Hindenburg," said Veazey. "It's designed to show a chemical reaction in action . . . He (Johnson) has us all cover our ears as it makes a very loud shockwave and fireball - pretty amazing!

During the summer before his junior year, Veazey joined Johnson in a study of lithium ion batteries. Johnson, he said, "held me to a high standard. Beyond his excellent coursework teaching, he taught me to work harder. He also made me feel like I had a future in science."

The work turned into his senior thesis. "It was a lot of work but highly rewarding. It was the experience that led me towards graduate school in materials science."

Said Johnson, "Chris is a creative scientist who thinks about problems from his own perspective. His research and senior thesis are among the most innovative I have supervised while at Pacific." Johnson added that during his junior year at Pacific, Veazey received the Harold Zeh award from the local chapter of the American Chemical Society as one of the region's top chemistry majors. Later that summer he worked at Wacker Siltronic in Portland where he learned to use scanning electron microscopy to study surface structure and composition.

During his time at Caltech, Veazey has been able to collaborate with some of the world's top materials scientists, including his advisor William L. Johnson, who worked with him on the NASA project. Now nearing completion of his doctorate, Veazey will be heading back to the Northwest soon to take a job with Novellus Systems, in Tualatin, Ore., a company which designs, builds, and services manufacturing equipment used in the production of semiconductor chips.


Bubbloy under the microscope

Hydrogen Balloon Explosion

The "unforgettable" Hydrogen & Oxygen
Balloon experiment