As NASA looks forward to the coming decades, the Ocean Worlds of the outer solar system (e.g., Europa, Titan, Enceladus) as well as other smaller bodies (e.g., asteroids, comets) and rocky planets (e.g., Mars) will be primary targets for NASA exploration. For the detection of life, an unambiguous, highly-sensitive, definitive approach is required. MCE-LIF is an ideal technique for detecting life through by measuring the relative abundance and chirality of amino acids and other important biomarkers. Key benefits of MCE-LIF for space exploration include: (1) its levels of detection are orders-of-magnitude lower than more traditional high-TRL gas chromatography approaches; (2) the technique uses minute volumes of reagents; (3) the instrumentation inherently requires very little power and mass; and (4) MCE-LIF is highly-suitable for dealing with liquid samples. WOLFEChip will be a great stride towards further miniaturizing and ruggedizing MCE-LIF hardware for upcoming mission opportunities by fully integrating the LIF optics on-chip thereby reducing mass, size, and the need for mechanical stability/alignment of external optical systems to micro-scale features.
WOFLEChip has many uses outside of NASA. Due to its sensitivity, specificity, portability (both in terms of mass and ruggedness), and flexibility it can be used in many different situations including (1) environmental research of terrestrial and marine waters (e.g., detecting important biomarkers or nutrient sources); (2) process control and monitoring of closed water systems (e.g., Naval shipboard water monitoring, water treatment centers); (3) pharmaceutical research; (4) monitoring and identification of organic pollution in water, soils, and sediments (e.g., pesticides, fuels, drugs); (5) the detection of biological and chemical weapons. Advantages of WOLFEChip over existing electrophoresis technologies are its portability (enabled by its size and its rugged optofluidic implementation of LIF), resolution (MCE-LIF is inherently higher-resolution than CE due to the injected plug size), and operator-to-operator invariance (other MCE-LIF systems require an operator to manually align optics into a MCE chip, leading to LIF efficiencies varying based on the skill of the operator; WOLFEChip uses integrated optics to avoid this). In Phase III, LMT will seek to establish commercial relationships with vendors of MCE-LIF systems for marketing commercial-implementations of WOLFEChip to environmental scientists, water-quality monitoring authorities, and the United States Navy.