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Utah USTAR Professor's Invention Approved by NASA for Long-Term Use Aboard ISS

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by Staff Writers
Salt Lake City UT (SPX) May 18, 2011
After more than 12 months of testing aboard the International Space Station (ISS), an experimental water quality monitoring kit based on technology developed by USTAR professor Marc D. Porter and University of Utah researcher Lorraine M. Siperko was recently certified as operational hardware by NASA.

The kit, called the Colorimetric Water Quality Monitoring Kit (CWQMK), uses Colorimetric Solid Phase Extraction (CSPE) technology to monitor the biocides molecular iodine and ionic silver in the potable water supply on the ISS.

"Our focus was to develop a small, simple and safe low-cost water testing system that uses a handheld device, doesn't consume materials or generate waste, takes minimal astronaut time and works in microgravity," Porter said. "It is a complex system with a simple goal: to ensure that our astronauts have safe drinking water in space."

The kit utilizes a commercially available handheld device that weighs just 1.1 pounds and operates on four AA batteries to collect data and provide direct readout of analyte concentration. Complete analyses can be completed in about two minutes, providing the crew a near real-time indication of whether or not adequate disinfectant levels are present in their drinking water.

"Having been an astronaut myself, I can appreciate the importance of having access to clean water in space," said Charles Precourt, Vice President and General Manger, ATK Space Launch Systems, and Director of USTAR's Governing Authority. "This is a milestone achievement not only for USTAR, but for NASA and the future of space travel."

In addition to acting as a biocide monitor, the CWQMK is also an expandable platform that can be augmented to monitor other water quality parameters. For example, the capability to monitor total iodine compounds (the sum of molecular iodine, iodide, and triiodide) was added to the kit during the certification process.

Currently, the vast majority of water quality data from the International Space Station is obtained through ground analysis of archival samples. With the retirement of the shuttle fleet later this year, the frequency and number of samples returned from ISS will be decreased. Having an adaptable platform like the CWQMK available on-orbit has the potential to provide greater insight into water quality when regular archive samples are no longer available.

In addition to his work on the CWQMK, Porter is working on a $3.2 million grant to develop new nanotechnology-based testing for pancreatic cancer, and leads the USTAR Nano Biosensors team. Porter and his team will soon relocate to the James L. Sorenson Biomedical Technology Building, a state-of-the-art 208,000 square-foot facility on the University of Utah campus to be completed in early 2012.

Marc D. Porter, Ph.D. is the director of The Nano Institute of Utah at the University of Utah. He is also a USTAR professor for Departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Pathology at the U. Lorraine M. Siperko, Ph.D. is a research scientist for The Nano Institute of Utah at the University of Utah. Dr. Siperko is researching the development of nanoanalytical methodologies and their application to nanomaterials, interfacial sciences, nanobiosensors and nanomedicine.

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