ABOUT U OF I NASA SPOCS

We are a team of six Chemical Engineering students at the University of Idaho. As our senior capstone design project we have entered in a nationwide NASA competition with the goal of furthering space flight. This will be done through our experiment that will test the efficacy of bacteria resistant polymers in microgravity. We are teaming up with the students of Russell Elementary to engage younger students with space research and encourage them to pursue a STEM career.

Image by NASA

PROJECT TIMELINE

10 December 2020

FINALIST PRESENTATION

14 December 2020

TEAM SELECTION

16 February 2021

PHASE I SAFETY

15 April 2021

PHASE II SAFETY

16 August 2021

EXPERIMENT FLIGHT READINESS

Winter 2021 

EXPERIMENT LAUNCH!

EXPERIMENTAL CONCEPT

Image by NASA

WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

Our project goal is to ultimately further space flight by reducing the risk of onboard crew sickness. One way this can be done is by reducing bacteria adhesion and thus growth on high contact surfaces in microgravity. Our team is testing three different bacteria resistant polymers that will be coated on aluminum alloy metal with the same composition as the handles on the actual International Space Station!

HOW STUDENTS AT RUSSELL ELEMENTARY ARE ASSISTING WITH INNOVATIVE SCIENCE!

We have partnered up with the students of Russell Elementary who will play a key role in our experiment! We have assembled take home experimental kits so the students can decide for themselves which of our three polymers are the most effective at resisting bacteria growth! We will conduct a 30 day at home experiment with them and will use their conclusions of which polymer performs the best. We will run our own experiments side by side with theirs to verify results. These results will determine which polymers will be tested in our final experiment that will be performed on board the International Space Station!

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BUILDING THE EXPERIMENT!

Our experimental apparatus will be a 10 cm x 10 cm x 15 cm  containment housed in a NanoRacks NanoLab. It is comprised of an upper dry space for electronic storage and a lower wet space for bacteria growth! From the citizen science results, we will be testing the two best polymers on board the International Space Station. These polymers are deposited on aluminum alloy coupons (indicated by the blue and red plates on the left). They are placed next to a set of control plates (as seen by the gray plates) that have no polymer coating. This apparatus will be sent to the International Space Station for 30 days and after which we will be able to analyze how well our polymers resisted bacteria growth in microgravity!

HOW WE RUN THE EXPERIMENT!

A unique feature of our experiment is that it is completely autonomous! This means that the astronauts will be able to plug in our apparatus just like you would a phone to a charger and it will begin the experiment. We have designed a Bacteria Introduction Device (BID) to release the bacteria and begin our experiment. To prevent bacteria from growing before reaching space, we have encapsulated it in a small tube. Once our experiment is plugged in, a small motor will unscrew and release the bacteria stored in the tube!

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Image by The New York Public Library

WHAT'S NEXT?

Once our experiment is returned from space, we will utilize confocal microscopy to determine which polymer was ultimately the best at resisting bacteria growth in microgravity! With these results we will be able to contribute to the effort of pushing research in space!

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