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Using Capillary Action to Separate Liquid, Air Mixtures
August 2, 2011

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Researchers at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) have developed a static phase separator that uses capillary action to separate a mixture of liquid and air into the two constituent phases. The invention accommodates highly variable liquid wetting characteristics, infeed concentrations of liquid, and mass flow ratios of liquid to air. Functional operation involves introducing fluid (from a human body, a syringe, or other source) to the two-phase inlet while an air fan pulls on the air exit lines. The fan operates until the fluid is fully introduced. The system is drained by negative pressure on the liquid drain lines when the containment system is full. Aside from aerospace applications in microgravity environments, this technology has potential applications across a variety of markets and geographies, from medical analytical instrumentation to remote environmental pollution monitoring to bio-terrorism point detection. JSC has applied for patent protection for this technology.


  • Passive: Requires no external energy source
  • Simple: Integrates well with existing technologies, opening markets in rural and unattended locations
  • Flexible: Accommodates a wide range of infeed mass flow rates and concentrations
  • Adaptable: Applies in situations where miniaturization is critical


Industries needing gas-liquid phase separation techniques:

  • Analytic laboratory instrumentation
  • Counter bioterrorism
  • Environmental assays
  • Immunoassays
  • Lab-on-a-Chip
  • Liquid gas chromatography
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Microfluidics
  • Pollution monitoring and remediation
  • Remote environmental sensing


JSC has applied for patent protection 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