Examining chemical and physical properties of ancient Attic pottery may well aid in the progress of space missions, consider scientists.
Considering it importance, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded nearly 500,000 dollars to scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute, Stanford's National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC) and the Aerospace Corporation earlier this year to study the secrets of Attic pottery.
Among other objectives, it is hoped that the project will improve our understanding of iron-spinel chemistry, which is critical to the advanced ceramics used for thermal protection in aerospace applications, such as protective tiles on the Mars Rover Sojourner, or the fleet of space shuttles, for example.
"Ceramic components are used all through space technology and space vehicles," Discovery News quoted materials scientist Mark Zurbuchen as telling Physorg.com.
"We need to continue to learn about interactions of components within these materials to help us better understand any real-world issues that may arise in actual space components," he added.
Attic pottery features red and black figures and was a fixture in ancient Greece from the sixth to fourth centuries B.C.
Attic pottery was created by artisans working with their hands with clay and pigment while space mission ceramic tiles are made with high-tech laser beams controlled by a computerized machine tooling system.
However, "Something doesn't need to be complex to be sophisticated. If we can understand the technology with which these works of art were made, we can use the knowledge for a surprisingly wide variety of applications," Karen Trentalman, a Getty conservation scientist who is leading the collaboration, explained.
The tiles used in space missions must be able to withstand a wide range of extreme temperatures, from as low as -250 degrees F (the chill of deep space) to as high as 3000 degrees F (during re-entry).
The iron-spinel ceramic pigments found in Attic pottery are able to remain chemically stable at very high temperatures.
It's the degree of iron oxidation that provides the red and black coloring associating with Attic pottery.