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Ocean Life Detection on Alien Worlds, Phase I

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

This proposal is in response to NASA's request for technologies that can enhance the detection of life in alien oceans. As stated in the call, the Technologies for Detection of Extant Life subtopic seeks instruments and component technologies that will enable unambiguous determination of whether extant life is present in target environments on other solar system bodies. Because there is no single measurable signature of life, this will require advances in a variety of areas, from those involving sample processing to the detailed components of chemical and optical instruments. Searches for extant life can take place in a variety of environments, including ocean depths, ice sheets, dry deserts, seasonal flows, or even dense atmospheres; technologies are required for handling samples obtained from any or all of these environments. Preprocessing technologies required for those samples may include separation, concentration, dilution, drying, staining, mixing, and many other common processes for laboratory analysis, but which must be done in a remote, autonomous environment. Tests of whether a given sample contains or indicates the presence of extant life include the full range of microbiological and chemical techniques, but those that do not require the addition of potential biomarkers (e.g., complex organics) as part of the test are preferred. We have spent he past 5 years developing a novel means of capturing and concentrating organic molecules onto specialized graphene surfaces, available for later detailed analysis. The adaptation of this technology could offer a new avenue for the detection of key organic elements in ocean environments that contain many background elemental noise sources. More »

Anticipated Benefits

Primary U.S. Work Locations and Key Partners

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Project Duration

Technology Maturity (TRL)

Technology Areas

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