Macromolecular Crystallization in Microfluidics for the International Space Station

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Macromolecular Crystallization in Microfluidics for the International Space Station At NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, we have begun the development of scientific hardware for macromolecular crystallization on the International Space Station (ISS). The Iterative Biological Crystallization (IBC) project will seek to improve in many aspects, the manner in which macromolecular crystal growth research is conducted in space. One of the current drawbacks for researchers is that they are limited to testing solution recipes that were pre-mixed on the ground just prior to launch, thereby limiting the odds for success that are usually gained by iterative processing. The proposed hardware will be fully automated and conduct solution mixing and dispensing, and imaging functions via remote commanding from researchers on the ground. IBC also hopes to improve the access and frequency of access to space for experimentation. The IBC hardware aims to reduce experiment turn-around time from a minimum of 6 months, to just days. Utilizing the newly evolving microfluidic technology, IBC will allow for on orbit iterations (3 to 12) over a three-month period for a minimum of 10 separate investigators. The microfluidics LabChip® devices that we have developed and are testing, in collaboration with Caliper Technologies Corp. of Mountain View, CA, will greatly benefit researchers by allowing for precise fluid handling of nano-pico liter sized volumes (critical when sample materials are costly). Other advantages include safe containment of fluids, accurate mixing of minute volumes that vary in solution viscosity, minimization of bubble formation, high reproducibility, and increased number of samples. The nano-technology offers a significant reduction in mass and volume and is amenable to automation, thus rendering it uniquely suited for use on the ISS. With the promise of potentially larger and better ordered crystals grown in microgravity, science will have a tool to make the break-throughs needed in medicine. For further information:

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Journal: TechConnect Briefs
Volume: 1, Technical Proceedings of the 2003 Nanotechnology Conference and Trade Show, Volume 1
Published: February 23, 2003
Pages: 119 - 122
Industry sectors: Medical & Biotech | Sensors, MEMS, Electronics
Topics: Micro & Bio Fluidics, Lab-on-Chip
ISBN: 0-9728422-0-9