A Fayetteville State University research project has been selected as one of ten innovation ideas for adoption and acceptance in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Minority University Research and Education Project.
The project engages underrepresented populations through a wide variety of initiatives and multiyear grants awarded to institutions to research technology pertinent to missions to and in space.
The Fayetteville State project, “Molecular Sequencing and Bio-containment identification,” takes advantage of an existing NASA patent and will include a student research team led by chemistry student Lenore Miller and business student Heather S. Vivian under guidance from Dr. Daryush Ila, the associate vice chancellor for research.
Aimed at future space missions
The research project aims to give NASA the enhanced ability to test potable water for contaminants on manned space expeditions and future extraterrestrial colonization.
Water, one of the most abundant chemical compounds on earth, is difficult to transport to space from earth’s surface due to its weight. Water has been found in space, on the surfaces of planets, including Mars, however, due to the surface conditions of planets, it is locked into its solid state, frozen in place. That makes water difficult to extract.
Because of this difficulty, current and future NASA missions rely on the recycling of wastewater into potable water. In space, water is a relatively finite resource, and this proposed system will allow for the rapid and efficient testing of recycled wastewater for contaminants including the most common waterborne pathogens.
Looking even further ahead, the proposed system could be leveraged by NASA to test for the potential presence of extraterrestrial life forms through potable and non-potable water, said Fayetteville State in a press statement.
In order to complete these tests, the system will be modified, and such modifications may also enable NASA to consider additional applications for future extraterrestrial colonization and space travel.
Beyond applications for NASA, the commercial applications of the proposed system are expected to be widespread, said Fayetteville State.
In the food industry, the early detection of pathogens in the food supply could save lives and money. In health care, infectious diseases can be rapidly identified within a water supply, protecting patients and doctors from pathogens.
The potential for the mass civilian sector to lower disease by detecting pathogens prior to consumption, especially in the water supply of developing countries is immense, said Fayetteville State.
And, the ability to detect pathogens in forced air supplies such as airplanes and hermetically sealed buildings will both reduce disease and will reduce the number of man hours lost in the commercial sector.
The project anticipates applications in each of these earth-bound commercial industries.
Fayetteville State has modeled the implementation of such a system within the healthcare industry. According to the University, hospital-acquired infections cost facilities approximately $28 to $34 billion annually and are preventable with the ability to diagnose infections prior to communication.
“With 1.7 million infections occurring a year leading to 99,000 deaths, a rapid test for contagious diseases will prevent an outbreak,” said the University. “Our advanced technology prevention can then filter into private long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities where populations are more susceptible to infection and morbidity.”