Lab-on-a-chip technology allows chemical and biological processes -- previously conducted on large pieces of laboratory equipment -- to be performed on a small glass plate with fluid channels, known to scientists as microfluidic capillaries.
"We are studying how lab-on-a-chip technology can be used for new tools to detect bacteria and life forms on Earth and other planets and for protecting astronauts by monitoring crew health and detecting microbes and contaminants in spacecraft," explains Dr. Helen Cole, project manager for the Lab-on-a-Chip Applications Development program.
The chips are made with the same micro-fabrication technique used to print circuits on computer chips. Chemicals and fluid samples can be mixed, diluted, separated, and controlled using channels or electrical circuits embedded in the chip. On Earth, some basic lab-on-a-chip technology approaches are being used for commercial, medical diagnostic applications, such as an in-office test for strep throat, or modern in-home pregnancy tests. These applications conduct a test and yield results in a short time, with a hand-held portable device containing a simple chip design.
"NASA requires complex lab-on-a-chip technology, so scientists can conduct multiple chemical and biological assays or perform many processes on a single chip," says Cole. "Current commercial devices are not designed to work in space, so we are developing a set of unique chips along with a corresponding miniaturized controller and analysis unit.
NASA researchers are developing complex, portable microarray diagnostic chips to test for all the genes and DNA responsible for determining the traits of a particular organism, detect specific types of organisms, or use biosensor-like probes such
Contact: Steve Roy
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center