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For release: 06-01-04
Photo release #: 04-156

NASA researchers customize "lab-on-a-chip" technology to help protect future space explorers and detect life forms on Mars

Photo description: Dr. Lisa Monaco examines a lab on a chip.Large 3008 x 1960 (300)
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Dr. Lisa Monaco, the project scientist for the Lab-on-a-Chip Applications Development program, examines a lab on a chip. The small dots are actually ports where fluids and chemicals can be mixed or samples can be collected for testing. Tiny channels, only clearly visible under a microscope, form pathways between the ports. Many chemical and biological processes - previously conducted on large pieces of laboratory equipment - can now be performed on these small glass or plastic plates. Monaco and other researchers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., are customizing the chips to be used for many space applications, such as monitoring microbes inside spacecraft and detecting life on other planets. (NASA/MSFC/D.Stoffer)

 

Photo description: Helen Cole and Lisa Monaco insert a lab on a chip into the Caliper 42.Large 3008 x 1917 (300)
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Helen Cole, the project manager for the Lab-on-a-Chip Applications Development program, and Lisa Monaco, the project scientist for the program, insert a lab on a chip into the Caliper 42 - specialized equipment that controls processes on commercial chips to support development of lab-on-a-chip applications. The system has special microscopes and imaging systems, so scientists can process and study different types of fluid, chemical and medical tests conducted on chips. For example, researchers have examined fluorescent bacteria as it flows through the chips' fluid channels or microfluidic capillaries. Researchers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala, have been studying how the lab-on-a-chip technology can be used for microbial detection, water quality monitoring and detecting biosignatures of past or present life on Mars. (NASA/MSFC/D.Stoffer)

 

Photo description: Andy Jenkins with Applications Development UnitLarge 2684 x 1924 (300)
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Andy Jenkins, an engineer for the Lab on a Chip Applications Development program, helped build the Applications Development Unit (ADU-25) - a one-of-a-kind facility for controlling and analyzing processes on chips with extreme accuracy. Pressure is used to cause fluids to travel through network of fluid pathways, or micro-channels, embossed on the chips through a process similar to the one used to print circuits on computer chips. To make customized chips for various applications, NASA has an agreement with the U.S. Army's Microdevices and Microfabrication Laboratory at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala, where NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is located. The Marshall Center team is also collaborating with scientists at other NASA centers and at universities to develop custom chip designs for many applications, such as studying how fluidic systems work in spacecraft and identifying microbes in self-contained life support systems. Chips could even be designed for use on Earth, such as for detecting deadly microbes in heating and air systems. (NASA/MSFC/D.Stoffer)

 

Photo description: Lab on a chip with portsLarge 3008 x 1960 (300)
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Labs on chips are manufactured in many shapes and sizes and can be used for numerous applications - from medical tests to water quality monitoring to detecting the signatures of life on other planets. The eight holes on this chip are actually ports that can be filled with fluids or chemicals. Tiny valves control the chemical processes by mixing fluids that move in the tiny channels that look like lines, connecting the ports. Scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., designed this chip to grow biological crystals on the International Space Station. Through this research, they discovered that this technology is ideally suited for solving the challenges of the Vision for Space Exploration. For example, thousands of chips the size of dimes could be loaded on a Martian rover looking for biosignatures of past or present life. Other types of chips could be placed in handheld devices used to monitor microbes in water or to quickly conduct medical tests on astronauts. (NASA/MSFC/D.Stoffer)


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