Ames Researcher Develops "New Nose" for NASA
As a researcher for a start up company in the Silicon Valley, Jing Li was heavily involved in developing an electronic nose that could sense otherwise undetected toxins in the air. By using nanotechnology and electronic nose technology, she was convinced that she could make an instrument that could imitate the human nose. To achieve these results, she started experimenting with nanotechnology in the laboratory and realized that NASA Ames was the place to work.
"I was looking for the opportunity to apply nanotechnology to the electronic nose to improve its chemical analysis performance, when I realized NASA Ames had an impressive national reputation for initiative and leadership in nanotechnology," Li explained.
Li always loved learning new things. She had always been curious about how the universe works, and wanted to learn about the nature and process of things. Her interests ranged from nanotechnology to the solar system. As an undergraduate, she started studying chemistry, but never lost interest in space exploration. As a graduate student, she studied materials science. By developing this instrument for NASA, she could combine her love for space and nanotechnology. NASA needed a small, light weight, low-powered chemical measurement device/system for its human space flight missions, and she wanted to build it.
"This instrument can be used for environmental monitoring of air pollutants, chemical and fuel leak detection, and homeland security and defense purposes like warfare agent detection, and at airports for explosives trace detection," said Li.
True to her family's wishes, she made her work useful to others. "I realized later that when I work on the chemical sensors, a very useful tool for many applications, my happiness is built into that meaningful effort," beamed Li.
Li would like to see the sensors or the sensing systems that she develops become commercialized for real-world use.
"I hope this technology will improve the quality of human life on Earth, and unveil the secrets of Mother Nature on Earth as well as in the universe," said Li.
She offers these words of encouragement to others who want to become a space technology researcher: "I had a professor at Georgia Tech who encouraged and taught me to persevere when faced with challenges. He taught me to learn from my mistakes in research," Li concluded.
Ruth Dasso Marlaire
Public Affairs Specialist
NASA Ames Research Center