This automated extractor uses water, high pressure and high temperature to release amino acids trapped inside of soil samples. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Few places are as hostile to life as Chiles Atacama Desert. Its the driest place on Earth, and only the hardiest microbes survive there. Its rocky landscape has lain undisturbed for eons, exposed to extreme temperatures and radiation from the sun.
If you can find life here, you might be able to find it in an even harsher environment like the surface of Mars. Thats why a team of researchers from NASA and several universities visited the Atacama in February. They spent 10 days testing devices that could one day be used to search for signs of life on other worlds. That group included a team from Jet Propulsion Laboratory, working on a portable chemistry lab called the Chemical Laptop.
With just a small water sample, the Laptop can check for amino acids, the organic molecules that are widespread in our solar system and considered the building blocks of all life as we know it. Liquid-based analysis techniques have been shown to be orders of magnitude more sensitive than gas-based methods for the same kinds of samples. But when you scoop up a sample from Mars, the amino acids youre looking for will be trapped inside of or chemically bonded to minerals.
To break down those bonds, JPL has designed another piece of technology, a subcritical water extractor that would act as the front end for the Laptop. This extractor uses water to release the amino acids from a soil sample, leaving them ready to be analyzed by the Chemical Laptop.
These two pieces of technology work together so that we can search for biosignatures in solid samples on rocky or icy worlds, said Peter Willis of JPL, the projects principal investigator. The Atacama served as a proving ground to see how this technology would work on an arid planet like Mars.
To find life, just add water
Willis team revisited an Atacama site he first went to in 2005. At that time, the extractor he used was manually operated; in February, the team used an automated extractor designed by Florian Kehl, a postdoctoral researcher at JPL.
The extractor ingests soil and regolith samples and mixes them with water. Then, it subjects the samples to high pressure and temperature to get the organics out.
At high temperatures, water has the ability to dissolve the organic compounds from the soil, Kehl said. Think of a tea bag: in cold water, not much happens. But when you add hot water, the tea releases an entire bouquet of molecules that gives the water a particular flavor, color and smell.
To remove the amino acids from those minerals, the water has to get much hotter than your ordinary cup of tea: Kehl said the extractor is currently able to reach temperatures as high as 392 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius).
Liquid samples would be more readily available on ocean worlds like Jupiters moon Europa, Kehl said. There, the extractor might still be necessary, as amino acids could be bonded to minerals mixed into the ice. They also may be present as part of larger molecules, which the extractor could break into smaller building blocks before analyzing them with the Chemical Laptop. Once the extractor has prepared its samples, the Laptop can do its work.
NASAs own tricorder
The Chemical Laptop checks liquid samples for a set of 17 amino acids what the team refers to as the Signature 17. By looking at the types, amounts and geometries of these amino acids in a sample, its possible to infer the presence of life.
All these molecules like being in water, said Fernanda Mora of JPL, the Chemical Laptops lead scientist. They dissolve in water and they dont evaporate easily, so theyre much easier to detect in water.
The Laptop mixes liquid samples with a fluorescent dye, which attaches to amino acids and makes it possible to detect them when illuminated by a laser.
Then, the sample is injected onto a separation microchip. A voltage is applied between the two ends of the channel, causing the amino acids to move at different speeds towards the end, where the laser is shining. Amino acids can be identified by how quickly they move through the channel. As the molecules pass through the laser, they emit light that is used to quantify how much of each amino acid is present.
The idea is to automate and miniaturize all the steps you would do manually in a chemistry lab on Earth, Mora said. That way, we can do the same analyses on another world simply by sending commands with a computer.
The near-term goal is to integrate the extractor and Chemical Laptop into a single, automated device. It would be tested during future field campaigns to the Atacama Desert with a team of researchers led by Brian Glass of NASAs Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.
These are some of the hardest samples to analyze you can get on the planet, Mora said of the teams work in the Atacama. She added that in the future, the team wants to test this technology in icy environments like Antarctica. Those could serve as analogs to Europa and other ocean worlds, where liquid samples would be more readily plentiful.
See the original post here:
JPL Team Works Portable Chemistry Lab Detecting Life in the Driest Place on Earth – Pasadena Now
- MAFS' Anthony D'Amico on His 'Great Chemistry' with Ashley Petta: 'She's an Absolute Knockout' - PEOPLE.com - April 28th, 2017
- Arizona State coach talks team chemistry for regionals - Golf Channel - April 28th, 2017
- Chemistry professor says goodbye after 43 years at UNM - UNM Newsroom - April 28th, 2017
- Despite chemistry of stars, Korean comedy 'The King's Case Note' is easily dismissed - Los Angeles Times - April 28th, 2017
- Humans alter Earth's chemistry from beyond grave - Daily Sabah - April 28th, 2017
- Syrian refugee in Romania: ISIS banned chemistry and biology - EURACTIV - April 28th, 2017
- Our Decomposing Bodies Are Altering Earth's Chemistry - Seeker - Seeker - April 27th, 2017
- How Chemistry Implicated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ... - American Council on Science and Health - April 27th, 2017
- Roommates Bud Cauley and Justin Thomas hope their chemistry ... - GolfDigest.com - April 27th, 2017
- Syrris Asia flow chemistry, designed for you - Technology Networks - April 27th, 2017
- LANL: Jaqueline L. Kiplinger To Receive Award For Pioneering Contributions To Chemistry - Los Alamos Daily Post - April 27th, 2017
- Eugenio Derbez talks chemistry with Salma Hayek in 'How to be a ... - Newsday - April 27th, 2017
- This interactive periodic table makes chemistry easier than ever - TNW - April 27th, 2017
- Trump boasts of 'great chemistry' with Germany, China and Egypt - New York Daily News - April 24th, 2017
- Silverman: Matt Barnes' pitch leads to dangerous chemistry - Boston Herald - April 24th, 2017
- Trump's great chemistry with Chinese president Xi Jinping is actually not that great - Quartz - April 24th, 2017
- Court: UT Austin Can't Revoke Chemistry Ph.D. - Inside Higher Ed - April 24th, 2017
- WCSU chemistry students present research at national conference - HamletHub - April 24th, 2017
- Red Sox Notes: Injuries Preventing Boston From Building Chemistry, Momentum - NESN.com - April 23rd, 2017
- The Nuggets' team chemistry will be an interesting thing to watch. - Nugg Love - April 23rd, 2017
- Chemistry Hiring Delays Favor Temps - The Oberlin Review - April 23rd, 2017
- Review: 'Their Finest' sizzles with chemistry - The Detroit News - April 22nd, 2017
- Protecting Coral Reefs With Some Clever Chemistry - American Council on Science and Health - April 22nd, 2017
- Chemistry Professor Sniffs Out Excellence - NC State News - April 22nd, 2017
- Great chemistry keying Lowell - Lowell Sun Online - Lowell Sun - April 22nd, 2017
- Green Chemistry Conferences | Chemistry Conferences ... - April 21st, 2017
- Plot twist in methane mystery blames chemistry, not emissions, for ... - Science News - April 21st, 2017
- 'Their Finest' review: Wartime film sizzles with chemistry - The Seattle Times - April 21st, 2017
- Chemistry professor receives NSF CAREER Award - KU Today - April 21st, 2017
- Hopkins, Savage building chemistry - HoustonTexans.com - April 20th, 2017
- Bulls' Three Alphas reunited and reveling in newfound chemistry - Chicago Tribune - April 20th, 2017
- Chemistry and cooking collide in a new course at Carlow - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - April 20th, 2017
- India's university chemistry facilities in need of overhaul - Chemistry World (subscription) - April 20th, 2017
- Good chemistry of Shovels & Rope keeps getting better - Charleston Post Courier - April 20th, 2017
- Student to represent Grundy County at state chemistry competition - Morris Daily Herald - April 20th, 2017
- Mansfield outfielder says chemistry key to team's success - Fort Worth Star Telegram - April 20th, 2017
- New method can model chemistry in extreme magnetic fields of ... - Science Daily - April 20th, 2017
- With offseason program starting, Cowboys begin chemistry test - ESPN (blog) - April 18th, 2017
- Chemistry demonstration ends with a 'boom' | Northwest Herald - Northwest Herald - April 18th, 2017
- Horizon baseball uses solid team chemistry to formulate success - Scottsdale Independent - April 18th, 2017
- Blue Jays' Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Developing chemistry with Marco Estrada - CBSSports.com - April 16th, 2017
- Smokies hoping to continue Single-A chemistry | Sports ... - Maryville Daily Times - April 16th, 2017
- Chemistry onstage makes Faith Hill and Tim McGraw a top tour - Toledo Blade - April 16th, 2017
- New Rider chemistry fellowship honors 3 former faculty members - News at Rider - April 15th, 2017
- Stirring the Chemistry With a Kiss - New York Times - April 15th, 2017
- Chocolate cake and chemistry repair US-China ties. But will North Korea spoil the party? - Washington Post - April 14th, 2017
- Deaf student trail-blazing her way to a chemistry degree - Colorado State University News (press release) - April 14th, 2017
- Chemistry, and its impact on next year's Syracuse basketball team ... - Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician - April 14th, 2017
- PHS chemistry teacher emerges as Yavapai County Outstanding First-Year Teacher award finalist - The Daily Courier - April 14th, 2017
- Magazine Integrating Biology and Chemistry for De... - Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News - April 14th, 2017
- PREVIEW: Department of Chemistry to host Arudengo Chemistry lecture - The University of Alabama Crimson White - April 14th, 2017
- UOG will hold Chemistry Forum - Pacific Daily News - April 14th, 2017
- Oconomowoc's Nature Hill Intermediate School students win state chemistry competition - Lake Country Now - April 13th, 2017
- Donald Trump Shares Chocolate Cake and 'Great Chemistry' With China's Xi - NBCNews.com - April 13th, 2017
- Students to compete in national Chemistry Olympiad - Arkansas Online - April 13th, 2017
- Supercomputing Gets Neural Network Boost in Quantum Chemistry - The Next Platform - April 13th, 2017
- NCAA tournament gets the best refs, but what about chemistry? - WRALSportsFan.com - April 13th, 2017
- Joe Scarborough admits 'crackling off-air chemistry' with MSNBC co-host Mika Brzezinski - Washington Times - April 13th, 2017
- 'Great chemistry': Trump abandons China criticism as Russia ties suffer - The Guardian - April 13th, 2017
- Draft girls using chemistry to cruise past opponents | High School ... - The Daily Progress - April 12th, 2017
- Softball Notebook: Kays off to hot start behind team chemistry - Kankakee Daily Journal - April 12th, 2017
- Holgorsen says team chemistry a work in progress | WVU SPORTS ... - The Exponent Telegram (press release) (registration) - April 12th, 2017
- Warriors focus on chemistry as Stephen Curry joins Kevin Durant - ESPN (blog) - April 11th, 2017
- Chemistry papers challenged a paradigm - until the authors spotted ... - Retraction Watch (blog) - April 11th, 2017
- Saunders studies chemistry to beat mom's MS - McPherson Sentinel - April 11th, 2017
- Practical chemistry under challenging conditions - Royal Society of Chemistry - April 11th, 2017
- Chemistry set: Maypearl's wild science has the Panthers on the top of 17-3A class after Friday district rout - Waxahachie Daily Light - April 11th, 2017
- Investors want more than cash - it's all about chemistry - Telegraph.co.uk - April 11th, 2017
- Lacking a teacher, Atlantic City High School offers chemistry on ... - Press of Atlantic City - April 10th, 2017
- Chemical reaction database sparks discussion - Chemistry World (subscription) - April 10th, 2017
- New leadership for MSU Chemistry Department | Starkville Daily News - Starkville Daily News - April 10th, 2017
- Chemistry Educator Named One of 35 National Geographic-Lindblad Expeditions - India West - April 10th, 2017
- BYU quarterbacks, receivers need to develop chemistry, timing during offseason - Deseret News - April 9th, 2017
- Dennis Smith (Photo submitted) - Mississippi State Newsroom - April 8th, 2017
- Sarin and sentimentality: Trump and Assad's emotional chemistry - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists - April 8th, 2017
- California Adds New Priority Consumer Product for Green Chemistry Regulation - JD Supra (press release) - April 8th, 2017
- Blackhawks' third line creating chemistry and points | CSN Chicago - Comcast SportsNet Chicago - April 8th, 2017
- Former UM president Royce Engstrom returning to teach chemistry ... - The Missoulian - April 7th, 2017
- No longer in limbo: Journal lifts 2015 expression of concern from chemistry paper - Retraction Watch (blog) - April 7th, 2017
- Team chemistry key to Kilgore's soccer success - Longview News-Journal - April 7th, 2017
Recommendation and review posted by Guinevere Smith