UC Berkeley research teams test 3D printing in flight in weightlessness

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Two UC Berkeley research teams tested the “Replicator,” a light-based 3D printer, in weightless conditions mimicking spaceflight aboard Zero-G’s G-Force One on May 10.

According to Matin Golozar, Ph.D. in campus biophysics. student, the flight took off and landed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for the purpose of testing Programmable Microfluidic Analyzers – microfluidic chemical processing systems otherwise known as PMAs.

“PMA is the front-end sample processing technology that will be used in the Enceladus Organic Analyzer,” Golozar, who also works at the Space Science Laboratory, said in an email. “We plan to fly this instrument to Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus and probe for extraterrestrial life in our solar system.”

A team of five graduate and undergraduate students on campus used the replicator to print more than 100 objects in zero-gravity conditions, according to a campus press release.

The press release added how the second team, which included collaborators from campus and the University of Utah, used their time in zero gravity to operate a “microfluidic lab on a chip” that can be used to research biomolecules. in the oceans of Enceladus. , the sixth largest moon of Saturn.

The flights were funded by NASA under the REDDI flight grant program, according to Taylor Waddell, one of the researchers aboard the flight. The UC Berkeley technologies were two of 31 technologies selected for the program, according to a NASA press release.

“During these early experiments, we learned how to fabricate a complete analytical system in a form factor that can be driven,” Golozar said in an email. “We have also demonstrated that microfluidic pumping and mixing can be done at 0g with the same performance as (found) on earth under 1g conditions.”

The press release noted that the flight simulated weightless conditions by flying in a series of parabolic arcs. Historically, parabolic flights have been used by NASA to help acclimate astronauts to the weightless conditions of spaceflight, the press release adds.

Going forward, the researchers plan to continue conducting research for their studies.

“With these positive results, we will now conduct two more flights in the fall where we will test the ability of our analyzer to perform important clinical biochemical experiments that can be used to monitor the health status of astronauts in space. “, Golozar said in the email.

Experience is also a major step in advancing the Technology Readiness Level, or TRL, of the “analyzer” mentioned by Golozar. He described advancing the TRL as the “most important thing” to prepare the instrument for a trip to Saturn.

Waddell added that the purpose of the experiments is to make the light-based 3D printer a useful tool for the International Space Station.

The latest spaceflight instrument will be built in the campus Space Science Laboratory, a research laboratory with a rich history of spacecraft and instrument production.

“We believe this instrument, which is a collaboration between Berkeley Chemistry, Berkeley SSL, and Utah Mechanical Engineering, is the best and most powerful instrument for probing organic signs of life in our solar system,” Golozar said in the E-mail.

Contact Phoebe Chen at [email protected]and follow her on Twitter at @ph0ebechen.

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