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Identifying Microparticles in a Flow Stream
August 11, 2011

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Scientists at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) have patented a microcapsule flow sensor that can identify and count tiny particles in a flowing stream as they pass through a laminar flow chamber. The sensor acts as a spectrophotometer by measuring the amount of wavelength-specific, transmitted, or reflected light from each particle or microcapsule without requiring colorimetry and special dyes, as do most established methods. While spectral analysis can be used to identify microcapsules containing drugs or bioactive ingredients, real-time analysis is required to distinguish between the target microparticles and sediment particles or debris that are approximately the same size. The JSC innovation enables the tracking and counting of more than 1,000 particles at the same time. The system is compact, battery-operated, and can be adapted as a portable field test unit. JSC has received patent number 7,295,309 for this technology.


  • Accurate: Distinguishes true microcapsules from particulate debris within the same stream Versatile: Identifies dyed or tagged microcapsules to determine specificity within a mixture, precise concentration in a sample fluid, and trajectory in a gravity field
  • Precise: Enables accurate determination of the exact pixel location of each microcapsule at any sample image time
  • Portable: Features a compact, battery-operated design


  • Pharmaceuticals and cosmetics
  • Textiles and dyes
  • Wastewater processing
  • Bulk pumping of industrial chemicals
  • Phase change materials
  • Specialized medical procedures


Johnson Space Center has received patent protection (U.S. 7,295,309→) for this technology.

Licensing and Partnering Opportunity

This technology is being made available through JSC's Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office, which seeks to transfer technology into and out of NASA to benefit the space program and U.S. industry. NASA invites companies to consider licensing this technology for commercial applications.

Contact Information

If you would like more information about this technology or about NASA's technology transfer program, please contact:

Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office
NASA's Johnson Space Center
Phone: 281-483-3809
E-mail: jsc-techtran@mail.nasa.gov

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Page Last Updated: January 16th, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Administrator