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The NGK-Froust Corporation and SpaceGlass

Unlike most metals, where atoms are locked into relatively inflexible, predefined structures (crystals), glasses are solid materials with amorphous internal structures. In some cases, it is possible to make a glass out of the same atoms normally found in crystalline form - like iron, for example. Crystals are often triggered by the presence of a grain of impurity, a sudden change in environment or other external factors, including the foreign matter that the container used to hold the melt is made of.

In zero-gravity, however, containers are unnecessary, eliminating a large number of contamination sources. In addition, the lack of gravity eliminates convection currents, which can cause shear thinning in the melt and lead to crystallization.

Zero-gravity glasses are manufactured at the Japanese L-4 colony by NGK-Froust Corporation, which has its headquarters and major manufacturing plants there. While legally a Japanese company due to its Shintenchi address, in fact it is one of a new breed of corporation which is gradually breaking away from earthbound Japan and developing as a spatial organization. NGK-Froust began as a small research center constructed by NGK Corporation of Japan, a specialist in ceramic products, at Moonbase One in 2068. The facility was designed to investigate lunar materials for special properties and applications, but had little success. One of the investigators, however, a Dr. Wilhelma Messner, on loan from the Bavarian firm Froust Ferrous Metals GmbH, made a breakthrough in the development of amorphous steel alloys, enabling the development of a wide range of amorphous, flexible, completely airtight joints made of solid steel alloy. Needless to say, the possibilities were staggering: joints, because they are the points where two parts rub, are a frequent cause of breakdown, and eliminating that weak point would improve the reliability and life cycle of all types of machinery enormously. Not only industrial applications, of course, but military as well.

Dr. Messner had a definite problem, because unfortunately the discovery was almost certainly going to mean a fortune for someone, and while she was an employee of Froust Ferrous Metals, she had signed a standard invention agreement to work at the NGK lunar research center. In theory, NGK had rights to her discovery, but naturally Froust refused to abandon their claim. Patents on the invention were promptly filed by both firms in many countries, and the matter ended up in court. While few patent offices were willing to make a decision as to who owned the invention, it was kept secret while the two firms battled it out in court. 14 years later, the firms agreed they could save a considerable amount of money and make bundles more by working together, so in 2086 NGK-Froust Amorphous Alloys Corporation was born.

The amorphous alloy products experienced numerous growth pains, but there was little competition in the early days and a host of successful products, leading to phenomenal growth. In 2247, NGK-Froust Amorphous Alloys Corporation absorbed both of its former parent companies, and by 2255 almost all of its earthside facilities had been closed or sold, with remaining personnel relocated to orbital or lunar facilities.

In 2283 the L-4 Headquarters and Shintenchi Plant were constructed, primarily to serve the Mitsuboshi Starframes shipyard. While the two firms are not related to each other in terms of capitalization, they do hold each other's stock, and have established a very close working relationship.

Major product lines include:

1. Amorphous bearings

Made of the same steel alloys as most machinery, these bearings eliminate friction entirely, doing away with the problem of seizing or breaking bearings, and eliminating the need for lubrication. Price is considerable, however, and unless the machinery itself is designed to be used for long periods, they are simply too expensive. In addition, amorphous bearings must be protected from external corrosion, making them ill-suited to outdoor uses without care. While they are extensively used in a wide range of military products, their susceptibility to corrosion has prevented them from eliminating conventional bearing mechanisms from combat systems.

2. ZBLAN optical fiber

Fluoride glass, a blend of zirconium, barium, lanthanum, sodium and aluminum (also known as "ZBLAN") is a hundred times more transparent than silica-based glass. This transparency, combined with the capability to make fibers of literally any length in a zero-gravity manufacturing facility, has made ZBLAN the fiber of choice for optical communication links of all types. Due to considerable competition and manufacturing scale, ZBLAN optical fiber is extremely inexpensive in most specifications.

3. Bioactive glasses

In many cases, physicians use autogenous bone (harvested from another site in the patient) or allograft bone (from a donor) to build a lattice that fills voids in human bone, whether caused by breaks, birth defects or disease. The patient's own bone can then repair itself through osteoinductive healing, where osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) replace the lattice at the same time as it is broken down and assimilated by osteoclasts (bone-absorbing cells). The result is a bone with standard appearance, density, and function. While supplies of bone may be limited, simple inert polymer beads can be used as a permanent "scaffold" to support bone cells, which is often sufficient for the healing process. If healing requires more aggressive treatment, bioactive glass beads, made of the same calcium and phosphate as natural bone, can be used to actually enhance bone growth.

BoneBead(tm) and BoneNet(tm) products are manufactured under sterile, zero-gravity conditions at the Shintenchi Plant, and made available to medical institutions throughout Known Space.

They are available in a variety of preformed shapes for the most common uses, or can be shaped by the surgeon as needed during the medical treatment. As the bone's natural growth continues, the artificial BoneBead or BoneNet structures are absorbed, and when the process is complete the patient has a new, perfectly natural bone.

Key links for more information:

Bioactive glasses (PDF)

Amorphous glass

Metals and alloys

ZBLAN optical fiber

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These web pages developed and maintained by Terry A. Kuchta
This page created 15 May 2008 and last revised on 15 May 2008.
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