SystemX presents Life in Space

Life in Space: Microfluidic Systems Enable the Study of Terrestrial Microbes in Space and the Search for Life on the Solar System’s Icy Moons
Thursday, April 25, 2019 - 4:30pm
Huang 018
Dr. Antonio Ricco (NASA Ames)
Abstract / Description: 

We develop miniaturized integrated bio/analytical instruments and platforms to conduct economical, frequent, autonomous life-science experiments in outer space. The technologies represented by several of our recent 5-kg "free-flyer" small-satellite missions are the basis of a rapidly growing suite of miniaturized biologically- and chemically-oriented instrumentation now enabling a new generation of in-situ space science experiments. Over the past decade, our missions have included studies of space-environment-related changes in gene expression, drug dose response, microbial longevity and metabolism, and the degradation of biomarker molecules. The science and technology of one of these missions, the O/OREOS (Organism/Organic Response to Orbital Stress) Nanosatellite, will be highlighted in the context of conducting biological and chemical experiments in outer space using miniaturized integrated systems.

We have recently begun to adapt and apply our spaceflight-compatible microfluidic and bioanalytical technologies to the challenge of finding molecular and structural indications of microbial life on the so-called icy worlds of our solar system, particularly the moons Europa and Enceladus. The design, development, and laboratory testing of the Sample Processor for Life on Icy Worlds (SPLIce) system, a microfluidic sample-processing "front end" to enable autonomous detection of signatures of life and measurements of habitability parameters on icy worlds, will be described. SPLIce is under development to support two nominal mission scenarios: a fly-through of Enceladus' icy plumes, expected to yield ~ 2 µL of ice particles/square meter of collector area, and a Europan lander, the rasp-based sampling system of which is anticipated to deliver 1 – 5 mL of icy solids for analysis.


Antonio J. Ricco received BS and PhD degrees in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, respectively. His professional experience includes positions at Sandia National Laboratories, the University of Heidelberg, ACLARA BioSciences, the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute (Dublin), Stanford University's National Center for Space Biological Technologies, and NASA Ames Research Center. His professional R&D experience includes chemical microsensors and microsystems; polymer microfluidic systems for genetic analysis, high-throughput drug discovery, and pathogen detection; point-of-care medical diagnostic devices; and integrated autonomous bioanalytical systems for space biology and astrobiology studies aboard small satellites. At NASA/Ames, he has served/presently serves as payload technologist for half a dozen nanosatellite spaceflight missions.

Tony Ricco is co-author of over 400 presentations, 250 publications, and 20 issued patents. He was an E.T.S. Walton Fellow (Dublin City University), is a Fellow of The Electrochemical Society, and serves as Vice President of the Transducer Research Foundation. He served on the Editorial Advisory Board of Analytical Chemistry and is presently an editor for the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems (JMEMS), Sensors & Actuators B: Chemical, and Microgravity (Nature Publishing Group).