With NASA grant, UNT engineers and chemists exploring new protective coatings for lunar exploration tech

With NASA grant, UNT engineers and chemists exploring new protective coatings for lunar exploration tech

UNT Diving Eagle
August 9, 2023

Project Title: “Protective Thermal Electro-Chromic Coatings (ProTECC) for Lunar Exploration”


  • Richard Z. Zhang, principal investigator and assistant professor in the UNT Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • Jeff Kelber, Regents Professor in the UNT Department of Chemistry
  • John Beatty, UNT chemistry alumnus and assistant professor of chemistry at Texas Woman’s University
  • Sydney Taylor, aerospace engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center
  • Matt Wittal, automation and robotics systems engineer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Sponsor: NASA

Award Type: Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Curriculum Award, which was established this year to help Minority-Serving Institutions like UNT strengthen their academic offerings in STEM

Award Total: Nearly $900,000 total over the next three years

About the Research: As NASA looks to explore new regions of the moon full of drastic temperature shifts and dusty terrain, it needs heat transfer coatings for its autonomous space vehicles that are lighter, more energy efficient and can better withstand the fluctuating environments. This grant will fund research for developing these advanced heat transfer coatings made up of nano/microscale materials that could be used in future Artemis exploration missions. These coatings would be able to minimize dust collection on vehicles and control heat absorption or dissipation. Through the project, UNT professors and their external collaborators also will focus on encouraging future STEM professionals to pursue careers in space exploration via student involvement in the research, new course development, educational workshops, scholarships and internships at NASA facilities.

Impact Goal: “Right now, spacecraft are using bulky pumps and fluids systems to support the electronics and batteries used in space exploration,” Zhang says. “These protective nano/microscale coatings we are exploring could eliminate the need for those pumps and fluids resulting in much lighter and more energy-efficient technology that can be resilient in varied space environments.

“Our research also could have application beyond aerospace. Protective coatings are commonly used throughout our everyday lives from the anti-reflective coating on eyeglasses to thermal barrier coating in car paint, shielding the vehicle against UV rays from the sun. We hope our research also could translate for use on windows, providing a little more resiliency and energy efficiency to tint coatings used on airplanes, buildings and cars.”