Michael Flynn – Synthetic Biological Membrane | NASA Public Lecture | Science Lecture
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Michael Flynn – Synthetic Biological Membrane | NASA Public Lecture | Science Lecture

Welcome to that 2016 NASA Ames summer series To achieve human space exploration envisioned by science fiction authors we must take into consideration life support requirements When searching for habitable planets we look for liquid water Water is key to life as we know it and for human space exploration Today’s presentation entitled synthetic biological membrane will be given by mr.. Michael Flynn He is the principal investigator and lead for the water technology development laboratory here at NASA Ames Research Center and Has over 26 27 years of experience? Here in the Bachelors of Science at San Francisco State University in mechanical engineering He has received numerous awards a few of our two R&D 100 awards a Wright brothers medal an Arch T. Caldwell merit award and six NASA spotlight Awards Please join me in welcoming Michael Flynn Well, thank you for coming today I’m gonna give a presentation today that deals with an area of research called life support and it’s really going to primarily focus on sort of advanced research areas in life support and sort of a new direction for Enabling human exploration of space So the objective of this primarily is to kind of put ideas into your heads ideas that you as individual researchers here at NASA Might later on write proposals, and and do research and funding to enable those future missions to occur So the first question is what is life support alright So life support basically is a field of research that it addresses all Aspects of keeping human beings alive in space the easy part of spaceflight is getting to space you get a big aluminum Can you buy as much explosives as you? Can you get a match you light the match and boom you’re in outer space But now you’ve got to do something there And if it’s a human tended mission That can be very complicated because you need to keep the human being alive all those systems that we take for granted on the earth The ecosystems of biospheres that support us on earth don’t exist in that aluminum can So those functions need to be turned into devices into machines into small boxes Loaded into the spacecraft and then operate to keep you alive in space So the main objective of life support program is to keep the astronaut alive It’s always extremely embarrassing when the astronaut gets killed so we don’t want to have any of that happening we want to provide an environment That is entirely safe for spaceflight applications, and that sounds like a trivial task But that actually is the most important task of the life support system is it has to be robust and it cannot fail in a manner that allows the human life to be taken as part of the mission The other part of it is to provide a habitable environment space flights extremely expensive to keep an astronaut in space Costs a huge amount of money per hour and so providing an environment where they can be very very productive is Key, we astronaut to work on average 12 16 hours a day we try to get maximum work out of them because of the Expense associated with having them in space So it’s not enough to have like a camping environment it has to be a high quality environment The life-support system has to operate flawlessly be the behind the scenes we want to minimize the amount of maintenance Associated with it and then the final and the most important part deals with cost we have the ability to send humans to Mars Right now we have the ability to colonize Mars right now the technology does exist the problem is the price is too high? With NASA has done several missions where we’ve costed out the entire process of going to Mars And they average around four hundred billion dollars and Congress has told us that that is too much We are not going to give you four hundred billion dollars to do this mission You need to be under a hundred billion dollars and preferably around a half a billion dollar So one of the objectives of life support is to reduce the cost of keeping human beings alive So you can imagine if you have to bring water and air with you that’s an extremely expensive proposition So the ability to recycle things in sit you has a dramatic impact on the cost of conducting these missions I’m sorry. I went the wrong way So we know a lot about life support We know a lot about keeping human beings alive and the reason we know so much about it is because we’ve been doing it We’ve been doing it since at least 2009 and we’ve been doing it on the International Space Station the International Space Station is probably the most sustainable Habitat ever developed by mankind if you subtract out all the environmental catastrophe associated with launching it on the International Space Station we recycle all the water so if you want to be an astronaut you better be prepared to drink your own urine because that’s the Only water that’s available on the International Space Station in fact you better be prepared to drink the person sitting next to yous urine Because that’s the only water we also recycle the humidity condensate the breath the water and your breath that comes out You know here on earth we talk about carbon sequestration and global warming Well we do full carbon sequestration on the international space station. We remove all the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere We control around 400 ppm that carbon has turned into methane a fuel We also have research looking at turning to Graffiti carbon And we’re starting work looking at turning into bio plastics So we can make things like spare parts and things like that from the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere The oxygen you breathe That’s come by you guess it That’s also coming from your urine as well So we want to keep keep that urine theme going we purify the urine water the urine we turn it into water And then we put into an oxygen jet raishin system where we split the oxygen into hydrogen and oxygen And oxygen is what you breathe right, so it’s if it’s the International Space Station It’s like if you took a bunch of engineers And you lock them in a room and told them we want the most sustainable system You can possibly develop and money is no object you spend as much money on it as you possibly want You’d end up with something like the International Space Station completely solar-powered It’s been operating since about 2009 so we have the benefit of having learned all the lessons Associated with building and operating these systems and those lessons learned are key to providing direction for future research in development of life-support systems for instance for the colonization Exploration of Mars going to asteroids are going to other planets So life support pretty simple you produce Outputs waste water. You’re in humidity condensate feces water you produce carbon dioxide produce volatile organics you all smell pretty volatile organics solid wastes and garbage and feces and heat and the objective of life support is to take all of those outputs and Make them into the inputs right so you can think of it as a space a space suit a space station On the earth, but the idea is that you have to close all the loops And you have to balance the entire system from the standpoint of mass So the only thing you have to put in is energy in order to keep something alive indefinitely And when you look at that the biggest potential so this is a pie chart that shows If you didn’t do any recycling at all you just brought everything with you on a mission to Mars What would be the relative mass and as you can see water is the huge? Huge piece of the pie everything else is a much smaller piece of the pie most of the missions that we’ve done in the past the the one I was referring to that was four hundred billion dollars assumed an Open lose case assume that you brought all of your waste brought all your water with you And then turned everything into waste, so they’re very expensive from the standpoint of bringing these materials along with you So this is the area that I primarily work in which is water because that’s the big the big Aspect of it’s a big part of it On the International Space Station, we have a very complicated system. I kind of went through a little bit I’ll go through it again with this diagram, but basically you have the crew they’re the center of whole system the crew are producing water in urine and They’re producing water and their breath it goes into the cabin atmosphere, and then they’re also producing feces right now We don’t do anything with the feces, but we are working on projects for recycling feces as well The humidity goes through a condensing heat Exchanger where the water is removed and then the carbon dioxide is passed to a co2 removal system where the carbon dioxide is removed out Of it the urine is sent to a urine recovery system where it’s purified and then that purified water is combined with the condensate water Into another piece of equipment that just makes it into drinking water make sure it’s pure make sure it’s sterile water Some of that water goes back to our oxygen generation system Where the hydrogen the oxygen is split the oxygen is provided back to the crew the hydrogen then is provided to the co2 Reduction system and is used to reduce the co2 into things like methane Graphitic carbon or bio plastics if you want to go that far to do that So like I said, we have a lot of experience. We’ve been operating the ISS water recycling system since 2009 Here’s a picture of the rack It’s a double rack You’re looking at about five hundred million dollars worth of equipment Right there on that system very very expensive piece of equipment and the reason for that is that? Well this picture is not actually quite right the reason for that is this in microgravity Right so that means that no technologies that we use on the ground actually work for this application Almost every technology that utilize in this system was custom designed for microgravity So for instance there are really no commercial pumps that work in microgravity with the exception maybe a peristaltic pumps Sensors connected sensors things like that They don’t work in microgravity either almost all of the content of this piece of equipment had to be developed through research Programs flight tested for microgravity application and then implement it and it’s something you guys all can can equate Relate to right I mean if I took a toilet Bolted it to the ceiling in this room and then told you that’s the bathroom. You got to use that toilet You’d realize the problems associated with microgravity Function water doesn’t flow downhill all of the assumptions that we use in water recycling systems here tres really really don’t apply when you start Doing microgravity experiments with them the other thing is that The International Space Station’s turned into this huge complicated machine. It’s it’s definitely the most Complicated device that humankind has ever made and of that system the most complicated Components are the life-support system Not only the most complicated, but also the most dangerous components are the life-support system for instance I talked about the water electrolyzer that makes oxygen it takes water it splits it into hydrogen and oxygen When you have hydrogen and oxygen together you have what’s called a bomb right and so that system is extremely dangerous And it’s enclosed in a Hastelloy explosion-proof Container so that if it was to explode it couldn’t take out the entire space station The urine we want we don’t want the urine to go bad We don’t want bacteria to grow into it decompose so we add a compound called chromic acid to it chromic acid is a strong Carcinogen it’s also extremely corrosive, and it turns that urine into the most hazardous fluid on the International Space Station there’s no other fluid that even comes close to us has it as that and then we Purify it and let the astronauts drink it so it’s kind of a crazy way of doing it So one of the key things that we’ve learned from building the International Space Station is that we have this this real significant problem Which is there’s only 24 hours in a day? Right so you can only do 24 hours a day worth of maintenance on the system And so if your system gets really complex And you need for instance 26 hours a day in order to maintain it you’ve created a significant problem And that’s where we are with the International Space Station that the maintenance requirements associated with this incredibly complex system Are becoming extremely problematic becoming very difficult for us to keep up on all the maintenance requirements from them? So this is one of the key lessons learned from this system, which is that? Maintenance and repair of these mechanical devices and the International Space Station is a mechanical device Has become a real significant problem for us, and if we’re going to go to Mars We’re going to go on a Mars mission, which is like a two to three-year mission to Mars and back We’re not going to be able to do this kind of maintenance on ISS. We can bring equipment down to earth It’s in low-earth orbit. We can bring equipment down We can repair it and we can return it on a Mars mission, and we can’t do any of that Any spare parts have to go along with the mission as primary payload, and they really drive the price up dramatically? for these types of systems for mechanical systems NASA typically requires Double or triple redundancy and that means you either need to have three pieces of equipment Or you need to have spare parts in order to replace the key failing components three times remember I talked about the price of these missions at around 400 billion dollars We need to drive the price down to below 100 billion dollars Well an easy low-hanging flute would be to develop systems that are so reliable that they don’t need those kind of redundant systems Right we could we could remove two to three billion dollars out of that price tag by taking that kind of an approach All right now we’re not the only ones the I assess program is not the only ones that have observed this the National Research Council has also Published a report on this topic looking at the lessons learned from the International Space Station and basically came to the same Conclusion that unless we make significant changes to the basic concept of how we do life-support, and how we support these missions It’s unlikely that we will ever get to where we need to get which is a cost effective mission to travel and colonnades and colonize Mars So let’s talk about that for a second going to Mars, so let’s say it’s a three-year mission all right That means that your system your life-support system has to function for three Years with minimum maintenance and no failures because it’s the life-support system fails on that mission You lose the mission astronauts die on the mission the mission is lost right so it’s a critical function of the of the spacecraft is to have that function now what we use right now are machines the international space station is is composed of a lot of different machines with pumps and rotating devices that all function and and you all have an appreciation for Reliability associated with machines that’s similar the world you live in right I mean you you all probably have cars or your parents have cars, and you know cars break down Right, there’s no guarantee when you get in that car and you want to drive somewhere that it’s going to get you to that place And you have a triple-a card too in case it breaks down you can stay at a hotel or something like that But what if it wasn’t the case so let me give you an example, I’m gonna give you an example through a proposition Here’s my proposition. I’m gonna buy everybody here a brand-new car Any kind of car you want? All right, it sounds like a pretty good deal so far right But in return for that you have to do something for me. You have to drive that car You have to drive it 24 hours a day seven days a week 365 days a year for the next three years That’s roughly what it would take for a Mars mission for a life support system to function on a Mars mission You can’t take it to the shop and have any maintenance done to it at all because on a Mars mission There’s no shop to go to to get meat and it’s done on it, and if it breaks down I’m gonna kill you okay? So it sounded like a good deal, but not sounding so good anymore is it Right and that’s the problem with mechanical devices mechanical devices break down for a car to drive for three years Continuously you’d be putting like 500,000 miles on it And we all know there was no way your car is gonna drive for 500,000 miles without breaking down It’s just not gonna happen right so I have another proposition. Hopefully a better proposition for you. I’m still gonna get your car Don’t worry you’re all still gonna get your car and in return for that you have to do something for me and what you have to do is you have to as a Human being just simply stay alive for three years right just stay alive I Mean even if you’ve just recently diagnosed with cancer. You could probably eat that out three years, right? That’s the difference between machines and biological processes right the level of reliability is orders of magnitude better for human beings average lifespan of a human being is about 65 70 years The average life span of your car running continuously, it’s about two years Right why is this well it’s obvious its evolution right you as a human being you have over four billion years of evolution behind you four billion years of Trying every different possibility in determining. What is the optimal solution to longevity? For your particular species that you’re in your car has what generously 150 years of evolution. That’s the Industrial Revolution Right so the level of refinement that has occurred in biological processes is order magnitude better than what exists in mechanical So if we can take the lessons learn from the biological process specifically the ATLA lessons learned from that evolutionary process and apply it to the development of life-support systems we can achieve much higher levels of reliability All right, so what I need is I need a life support system. That’s good for three years Guaranteed will not break down No maintenance required for it right. Hey el if I can do three years. I cap I do five years Do five years I probably do ten years, and if I can do ten years I can probably do twenty thirty years out of it, right So with that proposition the question is is that is that at all possible or am I just? You know chasing at chasing at stars here on this are there any examples Of water recycling systems out there that have that kind of longevity are there any systems water recycling systems that are good for 80 years No maintenance you never have to do any where thing with them, and they work perfectly for that period of time Nobody knows of any Trees you are all examples of water recycling systems so right answer You are all examples of water recycling systems. I guess you guys are all planning on living for probably 80 years Your small intestine takes everything you drink all of the water separates out any bad bacteria viruses any Contaminants allows the water to pass through and other things that are necessary for your body into your blood There’s no maintenance on your small intestine. There’s no such thing as small intestine replacement surgery You don’t go into the shop to get it tuned up every once in a while It just works incredibly reliably And it works reliably because that evolutionary process has has driven at that and what it’s taught us is that massively parallel Systems and targeted regenerate are the key particularly for for water recycling and small intestine system So there are two applications that were that we primarily look at one of them of course is a small intestine in the human body The other one is a plant root zones. You know there there are there are trees in California that grow for thousands of years They grow in dirt. I mean what kind of water recycling system Can you pour dirt into and it’s good not going to clog it up? I mean there are none that that we’ve manufactured have that capability but plants have that capability you know to have extremely long lives Live in an environment where they can’t move no matter what happens they have to adapt to it and And survive through that and the key of course is the root zones the membranes that exist inside the root zones and the small intestine The same thing the key to the functionality the key the reliability is the membranes that exist in your in your small intestine All right Now that process let’s talk a little about the small intestine because it’s a little more than just membranes that’s going on there There’s also a technique called forward osmosis It’s it’s really extremely important to how your body works, and how your small intestine works And you guys have probably heard of for DAWs Moses. That’s like biology one class in High school you probably learned about it, but maybe you forgot about it So I’m just going to give you a little bit of a tutorial on what forward osmosis is so you know you drink water That goes into your small intestine on the other side of the small intestine is blood Right and the water has to move from your intestine into the blood Right way that works is because your blood has a higher osmotic potential than what you’re drinking That’s why if you’re ever lost at sea and a raft They tell you don’t drink salt water right because salt water has a higher osmotic potential than your blood And so it’ll cause the process to work backwards You’ll take the water out of your blood and it’ll go into your small intestine, and then you’ll become even more dehydrated So what’s this osmotic potential this this magic osmotic potential right? It’s a water recycling system That doesn’t need any electricity or any pumps or anything it. Just kind of works right now I’ll give you an example of it so if I had a glass of water I set the glass of water right here, and I filled it up with tap water and then I took a shot glass of saltwater and carefully poured this shot glass of saltwater into the larger cup of fresh water and Then just left it there. That’s the kind of experiments I like ones where you don’t do anything you just go away have lunch come back later I would no longer have a ball of salt water inside the fresh water anymore right it would evenly mix And I just have salty water inside there right and that’s driven by a process called entropy entropy guides everything that occurs in the universe basically what it states is that it takes work to make order and Then things naturally go from order to disorder and enter as a measurement of the rate at which they go from order to disorder right so when you were guys were kids and your parents would scream and yell at you and tell you to go clean up your Room and you would go clean up your room. They’d come back there a couple days later We’re mad at you saying you didn’t clean up your room You were right they were wrong you cannot keep a room clean is actually impossible To keep a room clean You can’t do it All right, so let’s go back to my glass example now if I take my cup and I separate into halves I put a membrane separating the cup into two halves on one on one side I put fresh water on the other side I put salt water and the membranes a special membrane the membrane will allow water to pass But it will not allow salts or anything else to pass across it It’s basically your small intestine if I took your small intestine and glued it into a cup put water on one side Salt water on the other side set it there left it there went to lunch came back two hours later What would happen so entropy is real right can’t change it half something has to happen here Water all the fresh water will go from fresh water side of the cup over to the saltwater side of the cup That’s what’s shown in this in this diagram So we start off with tap water and salt water equal Heights Membranes separating between the two of them let it sit for a while Virtually all the fresh water is going to go and dilute out the salt water salt water is going to raise in height Higher than the equal to the amount of water that passes across it And that’s a actually a way of measuring entropy It’s a very simple experiment to measure entropy and I joke about small intestines But some of the earliest entropy tables and no any of you are engineers have worked with entropy tables before We’re actually Generated that way because it’s an easy experiment to do all you need is a ruler to measure the change in entropy and they did In fact use small intestines calf intestines and things like that to run that experiment so very well known experiment The other important part of this for does Moses concept is this membrane this little black line Looks pretty simple when it’s a little black line, but it actually turns out It’s a lot more complicated than that in your body your small intestine is made out of lipids As a matter of fact you’re made out of lipids your skin is lipids All the membranes in your in your cells are lipids your small intestine is lipids Lipids are naturally produced molecule That’s produced by mammalian cells and and other types of bacteria a lipid has two tails it has a head group Hydrophilic head group that means that the head group likes to be in water, and it has a hydrophobic tail group which means the tail group does not like to be in water a Cousin of the lipid is the fatty acid fatty acid only has one tail group It doesn’t have two tail groups But it does have a head as well and has a similar hydrophobic hydrophilic characteristics these Characteristics mean that if you look at this picture on the bottom here if I take a bunch of these Molecules and put them into a cup of water The head groups are going to face out and the tail group is going to face together because the tail groups don’t want to be In contact with water which means it’s going to naturally form a lipid bilayer Right and you’re made of lipid bilayers your skin is a lipid bilayer your small intestines the lipid bilayer The house the paint you put on your house is a lipid bilayer lipid bilayers are ubiquitous around you in Products you buy and everything and you’ve all seen it you take a little bit of soap Soaps made of lipids take a little soap put it on a glass of water You’ll see it spread out across the top of glass of water It’s making a lipid bilayer on it one of the great things about these and very important for your small intestine Is that that if you rip that lipid bilayer open? It’s just going to reseal itself It’s going to grow it’s going to regenerate itself in your body in your small Intestines as its mammalian cells that are on the back side of a small intestine that hyper Express lipids so the membrane itself is soaking in lipids and fatty acids as well fatty acids turn out to be extremely Important as well so your small intestines of regenerative membrane It’s a membrane that when it gets damaged it can repair itself the fatty acids provide some protection to it so it means when you eat something consume something if it forms a solid that’s going to stick to the membrane It’s going to stick to the fatty acid coating before it’s going to stick to the membrane and the fatty acids will just wash off as part of the Bacteria so that’s what we want to develop right we want to develop a water recycling system that simulates the small intestine And that’s the key aspect of the small intestine that provides. It’s it’s longevity It’s it’s it’s 80 plus 90 year life a boat associated with it So here’s a pic tutorial that kind of shows how this process would work So down here we have a solution in this solution we’ve taken ecoli and Whedon ethically engineered the e.coli so that the e.coli are hyper expressing fatty acids and These are the fatty acids and also lipids as well We use e.coli rather than mammalian cells because men cells are very hard to grow and e-coli is almost impossible to kill So it makes a lot easier so the lipids then can replace any damage that occurs This is the lipid bilayer here, so this would be the the actual membrane itself And if there’s any damage to this lipid membrane the lipids in solution can replace the missing lipids in there But more importantly than that are the fatty acids the fatty acids are permeable through this lipid bilayer membrane and so when they When they’re on this side we modified this solution so we have a high solubility of fatty acids when they permeate through the membrane into the feed solution they have a very low Solubility so they form a solid phase on the surface of the membrane. This is like a sacrificial biologically sacrificial coating on the surface of the membranes so if for instance beta radiation in space Attacks the water produces hydroxyl radicals that would oxidize the membrane and damage the membrane they’re going to damage the fatty acid layer before they damage the lipid layer If anything is going to precipitate out shown here. They’re going to attach themselves to the actual fatty acid layer rather than the lipid layer And then the flow of fluid across the top strips off the fatty acids when the fatty acids are stripped off then more fatty acids Permeate through the membrane to replace those So that’s the basis of the concept of this Regeneron membrane it pretty much follows The way your small intestine works at least it follows sort of the lessons learned of how your small intestine works That’s not exactly the same as your small intestine, but the idea is that it mimics that regenerative capabilities? It’s taking the lessons learned from that evolutionary development of your small intestine and applying it to a mechanical system So just kind of a summary we actually have a water recycling process that we utilize that in and that’s this system right here What so the way this works this this osmotic agent loop is where the bacteria grow so we the genetically engineered bacteria Are in this loop the feed which is urine and humidity condensate is on the other side And this is the bio membrane right here the red would be the bio membrane so the fatty acids are applied to this side of the membrane and then the genetically engineered bacteria on the other side so this solution is very high in Concentration and lipids and fatty acids and the lipids and fatty acids permeate across the membrane in here and provide a protective coating to it All right, so that’s the the synthetic biological membrane technology now there are other lessons that we’ve learned from the International Space Station that also have taken us in this direction of using the experience of Evolution to resolve our problems, and I’m going to talk about two of those here The rest of presentation one of them deals with when you have a closed spacecraft environment things build up in that environment trace contaminants Contaminant you didn’t even know existed in that environment over very long periods of time if they don’t have a method of being removed They’re going to build up in the spacecraft cabin, and we’re going to talk about some of those applications And then the other one deals with this issue of things precipitating out and the problems associated with astronaut bone loss And how that the impact that that has on water recycling systems Okay, so the one of the projects that were working on is dealing with the International Space Station a failure of the International Space Station Water recycling system to be able to remove a particular trace contaminant It’s building up in the space environment it actually exists in the air environment That’s where it’s coming from is coming in through the condensing heat exchanger and getting into the water treatment system This is a plot showing from 2010 all the way to 2016 looking at tall organic car carbon content of the output of what’s called a multi filtration bed and as you can see Normally, we have very low concentration of organics, but then every once in a while we have these events that are occurring that are causing contaminants to to appear in high concentrations and Occasionally exceed our minimal acceptable level for the product water quality and what’s happening here? Is that we have this compound It’s in a very very low concentration But one of the technologies in the ISS system is an absorption bed, and it builds up these compounds on it, and then eventually it desorbs those compounds and that’s why we see these Peaks coming out and so we want to do is we want to get a Technology that’ll allow us to remove these compounds out of there So this is a float around the ISS system I remember I was four into these multi filtration beds so water comes in here Goes through a filter goes through this multi filtration bed Then it goes through this catalytic reactor that oxidizes it and the problem is this multi filtration bed is failing over long periods of times So the approach is to replace those multi filtration beds with a bio membrane with a biological membrane to to fix that and we’re using a technique of membrane called an aquaporin Membrane it’s very similar to the member. I just described you It’s a lipid base membrane, but it has a protein embedded it called aquaporin protein And you guys are all based on aquaporin proteins aquaporin proteins are how your your kidneys work and separating water from your blood They’re key in your cellular function for increased flux water channels in cells They’re commonly found in in root zones of plants as well to Accelerate water transport across membranes. It’s a very unique protein because it’s charged in the center has a positive charge in the center So that means that any sort of salts are charged molecules that pass through that You’d have to get both charges to go through you’d have to get the positive and the negative to go through and you can’t get The positive to go through because the center of the protein has a positive charge associated with it so water can pass through it Salts can’t pass through it any organics that integrate organic acids or any organics that have a charge can’t pass through it Even if they’re small enough to pass through the the pore in the in the system The Nobel Prize was actually awarded to the person who found this in 2013 and there have been several development activities that have come out of that Experience and one of them is developing membrane space with these aquaporin proteins into it So we’ve been working with these proteins for some time now this actually shows what the membranes actually looked like they’re little fibers that have Been coated with lipids and the aquaporin proteins and his little contactors We’ve been doing experiments on international space station where we’ve been taking wastewater on the space station and processing through them And we’ve also been doing a lot of ground-based work Simulating the wastewater, that’s on the international space station and processing it through This is just some typical results They say these are mainly Contaminants out of the cabin right so there’s semi vault organics normally membranes cannot reject semi-volatile contaminants It’s only with these aquaporin proteins that we get any rejection of semi-volatile contaminants out of these membranes as you can see we have about a 50% a 50% reduction in the total organic carbon of the water going through it which meets our target for the downstream Volatile removal assembly and this is the the problematic compound DMS D. That’s building up in the International Space Station And we can really dramatically have an impact on that it actually rejects DMS D Very well from about 20 parts per million We can get it down to around one or two parts per million and hold it there pretty reliably alright so that’s another example of basically a biological technology a Biological technology that has been optimized that protein the structure of that protein has been optimized over the four billion years of life That is existed here on earth And it is an endpoint that is perfectly designed for doing separations of biological fluids and of course on the space station our wastewater is a biological fluid So and that project is actually moving to a flight project and so next year We’ll be transferring to a flight project and in the year after that they’ll be working to replace the multi filtration beds on ISS with that technology Now another technology that I want to talk about there isn’t actually biological But I need to sort of set the stage for an another biological Technology deals with a failure that we had on the international space station Almost a month after we installed the water recycling system on the ISS The the urine processing system actually stopped functioning it stopped functioning because because there was a compound that was Precipitating out in it called calcium sulfate calcium sulfate comes from the fact that when you take astronauts And you put them in space they lose bone mass since they don’t have the loading that you typically have here on earth They’re floating around in space your body automatically redistributes calcium in your in your in your body moves Bone from your legs and moves it up to your head and change it around and also you excrete an awful lot more Calcium in your urine under those circumstances and NASA is a very conservative organization so we all freaked out about that and We give them lots of calcium supplements and things like that that do virtually nothing because it’s a regulatory process and so all that calcium ends up in the urine and With if it mixes with sulfate or carbon dioxide it produces calcium sulfate Calcium carbonate is a byproduct and that was a failure mode for the ISS water recycling system So we had to bring that thing back down to earth He had a chisel chip out all the calcium out of it And then reef lie it back up the International Space Station it cost about a hundred million dollars to do that very very expensive So needless to say NASA was very interested in Developing technologies that would prevent that from happening and so we had a lot of funding to look at different technologies And this is one of the technologies called Electrodialysis metathesis that allows us to actually deal with this calcium issue and remove it from solution and prevent it from causing problems We integrated it with the space station what urine processor that’s basically what’s on the right height right hand side there and what we did is we Turn the system on and then we ran the urine processor at very high water recovery rates And then we just tried to make it fail try and see if we could make it fail These are some pictures that show the inside of that system these discs Here are the heat transfer surface And you can see here is with the the electrode allen smith Metathesis system off and you can see the calcium scale formation and then these are a bunch of different runs where we had the system On as you can see it totally resolves that calcium problem So the basic approach was NASA had this problem problem was that these end points these byproducts of treating human wastes are precipitate out of solution they’re causing problems are causing systems to fail and Having them making them have to come back to earth be repaired and come up with solutions to solve that problem Not a good situation if you’re on your way to Mars to have those kinds of failure modes be a parent a much better approach Is to sort of change your entire philosophy as as to how you would conduct one of these systems So this is back another picture of this bone. This is astronaut bone basically is what it is. There’s two different kinds There’s the green kind. That’s Russian astronaut bone, and there’s the brown kind. That’s us astronaut bone there It’s kind of complicated. Why that why the colors are different? But basically what this material is is It’s gypsum so mixtures of calcium sulfate and calcium carbonate are commonly called jibsen in another word You’ve probably heard of his wall board so sheet rock. That’s used in houses probably in this room We have sheet rock here right so on ISS. We have developed a system where if this material fails It causes the water recycling system fail However, it’s a useful product. I mean it’s a construction material, so we’re kind of taking the wrong approach here Rather than having this end point be a failure mode We should have this end point be something of value if you’re on your way to Mars The waste that you have is the best resource that you have The best material that you have so the more you can utilize that waste for some beneficial purpose the better off you’re going to be So this is a project that was called water walls It’s funded through the Nayak proposal and that was the objective of this it was to take all of those human waste byproducts all of the nastiest most disgusting byproducts the concentrated urine by-product the Concentrated feces all the garbage. That’s produced on space station all this bone astronaut bone material That’s been produced and turned it into something That’s useful for that space mission so the idea was you have an inflatable habitat. This is a Bigelow inflatable habitat And then you basically start off with some water in some bags on the walls and as time goes on the astronauts produce waste and the waste that the astronauts produce is used to convert the Inflatable structure into a rigid structure, so this is like a living organism. It has a berth It’s launched Flay table structures launch the inflatable structure is deployed Then this habitat has a life and the life is during the period of time that you have astronauts in it And they’re producing wastes and those wastes Then are filling out the construction of the entire habitat and then it has a death and the death of course is when it’s all used up all the Capacity of the system is used up And it just simply becomes a an enclosed volume in orbit between Earth and Mars And you know like a taxi system for going between the earth and the Mars Now the real objective with this waste is radiation like I said before we have the technology to go to Mars The problem is we can’t afford to go to Mars and the real reason we can’t afford to go to Mars is radiation protection You’re going to get a good dose of radiation on your way to Mars You’re gonna get galactic radiation And you’re gonna get solar radiation if there’s a Sun flare occurs on your way to Mars You could just get killed by the radiation radiation levels could be high enough It would just kill you on the spot the Galactic radiation would call it’s just gonna cause a significant problem for you No matter what it’s more of a constant. This is a plot that shows galactic galactic radiation and solar radiation not taking into account Sun flares on solar radiation and the maximum dose limit that a human being can get of Radiation during the period of time and as you can see we can get right up to around like 170 days and after 170 days You are definitely giving yourself cancer on this mission right so that’s a big problem so NASA has to provide radiation protection Material this is assuming an aluminum canister like International Space Station canister So we need to provide radiation protection that means we need to bring material from the ground in order to provide radiation protection If you look at that for a 240 day space mission you’re talking about 130,000 kilograms of water it would be required to provide Radiation protection it turns out the only things that really work for radiation protection are water and polyethylene it’s really the hydrogen is the key you need to get hydrogen hydrogen is the key for providing radiation protection and 130 130 thousand kilograms of water means this mission is not going to happen There’s no way we can afford to launch those kinds of volumes into into space If you just look at solar radiation that it’s not quite as bad you need about 25,000 kilograms of Water in that application, so where are we going to get all this water? We’re going to get all this radiation protection material Well, we have the International Space Station It has a water recycling system on it, and it produces a concentrated by-product They also produce feces on the international space and they produce garbage on the international space station So the water walls concept is to harvest all of that stuff that disgusting byproducts of human waste Process it and then use it for radiation protection in a mission in a spacecraft that will be traveling between Earth and Mars so how does that work so if you look at that at the masses that are required for that if you look at a six-person crew on the International Space Station achieving 80% water recovery they’re gonna produce about 6,500 kilograms a year which means for solar radiation it would only take about four years to stockpile enough material to provide that radiation protection material for a Bigelow type inflatable structure application And if you want to do galactic radiation it would take about ten years to produce that kind of wastewater you have to launch anything From the ground you’re basically getting all this material in orbit for free as a matter of fact We typically destroy all that waste by by re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, which costs money, too So you’ll actually save money so the basic concept And this is a that’s a bunch of different life support functions that all fall into the same concept And I have these picture toriel graphics to kind of describe how this works is You have the crew in the spacecraft all their wastewater is put into these small little bags the bags then process the waste water using forward osmosis to remove the water out of them and The water then goes through an RO system is provided back to the crew the bags eventually become completely filled with this Basically grow solid materials. It’s still mostly water, but it has a lot of solids byproducts into it and and then those are vacuumed processed and then the solid bags become like tiles they become radiation protection tiles and then these tiles are placed on the outside wall of the Spacecraft and so as a function of time the spacecraft capacity for radiation protection Increases you know as the humans generate more and more waste The basic bag we use is commercially available product so hydration technologies X packed bags afford osmosis bag This is a great little product if particularly if you live here in California where there’s earthquakes right no earthquakes I tell you should keep five gallons of water, and if your bed and every year you should replace the five gallons of water Right how many people do that? Nobody does that right well with this little bag. You can buy this little bag it has about a 10-year life You just throw that under your under your bed when there’s an earthquake And you need water wake up pee in the bag. You got all the water you want as a matter of fact We actually sometimes have cocktail hours where we make all the interns pee in a bag And then we have a cocktail hour and make them all drink their own urine They get really excited about that This is an example of an actual test producing this material, so this is urine brine Concentrates feces and garbage all mixed together, and then we process it in the bag And you can kind of see we produce this kind of tari material It’s kind of like toffee basically is what it is, and we took those samples and sent them and had radiation Dosing done with them what we found was that we actually can dry them a little a little too much And we need to drive a little si need have a little higher water content our real focus was drying enough so that Bacteria can’t grow in them so they’re basically sterile, so nothing can grow inside of them, but that actually resulted in a little bit Too low water content, so we need some more processing to do there But that’s the basic idea so you’re gonna take these bags all those endpoints the life-support system are going to be processed inside the bags you won’t cut them open and the bags are assembled either on the outside or the inside of the Spacecraft to provide radiation protection as a function of time right so the system has a life expectancy we also do this with for humidity control same thing we have a bag the bag has has a Different type of membrane that allow allows gases to pass through it so the humidity the water vapor in the air Goes inside the bag the water is cooled through a cooling system, and then it accumulates the water in the bag We recycle the water in the bag and provide fresh water back to the crew carbon dioxide Control and oxygen generation is done by growing algae inside these bags. We populated with algae again it’s a membrane that allows gas to pass through it the carbon dioxide goes into the bag the The algae used the carbon dioxide as a food source They also electrolyze water and produce oxygen, so oxygen comes out of it And then eventually the bag becomes completely full of dead algae And then it’s processed similar to the waste water and turned into a tile used for radiation protection as well Now these systems are our put on the outside So these are the bags here on the outside of the habitat the Bigelow habitat And that’s kind of a cross-section Showing it takes multiple layers of bag one bag is not going to provide enough radiation protection So you have to provide multiple layers of the bags in order to get the targeted water targeted level of radiation protection This is a diagram This just kind of goes into a little bit more detail on how these bags would be placed and how they would be plumbed together On the inside there’s a protective screen so that you don’t put a hole in them if something gets gets free out of the system So this is an analysis that we did looking at the radiation protection So these are layers of bags how many layers of bags? Would you need in order to get this protection level? so this is for the solar ray and this is for the Galactic radiation and really within about two layers of Bags we can pretty much sequester all the solar radiation very simply the galactic Radiation is a much more difficult one to deal with it takes actually quite a bit quite quite a few layers of bags in order to get to an acceptable level of radiation exposure now what you have to do is you have to tailor the number of bags and number of radiation protection for the duration of the Mission because of course radiation is an exposure function and so it’s a function of how often it is exposed the Other thing you get for this technology is you get all of your life support functions integrated into them This is a very complicated diagram I’m not going to go through in a lot of detail But very similar to that one I showed for the International Space Station system earlier in the presentation where the crew is the center We have an air revitalization system that has the algae in it and a humidity control We also have bags used for volatile contaminant destruction climate control And then the urine and black water processing and there are also some power systems that we can integrate into that as well For doing it How much time to have that perfect? So what I’ve outlined here are these basic concepts of taking these biological functions not actually biologic by out biology But the biological functions and integrating them into mechanical systems produce a new class of technologies that are integrated what we call Biologic organs or biologic functions we haven’t only been doing those for spaceflight applications We’ve also been doing terrestrial applications for that and this is a picture of the green building It’s right across the street from us right over here, and that system has a water recycling system It has a forward osmosis water recycling system integrated into it so it functions the same basic way your small intestine functions Takes all the hygiene water purifies it and we use it for flushing toilets in the building and that’s a picture of the system It’s been operating now for about two years pretty much continuously. We actually haven’t been putting water back in the building yet. That’s something That’s going to happen pretty soon That’s what we’re really interested in testing and getting Operational data, but that’s a primary objective It’s a way of way for us to test forward osmosis Systems for spaceflight applications for years and years and years with human waste as input into them The other thing that came out of that process of the army heard about green building application And they asked us to build one of these biological Biologic systems for them so we built a forward operating base water recycling system It uses the the synthetic biological membrane inside of it And this is for Ford operating base forward operating bases the sort of the smallest fixed facility that the army operates out in the field And if you look at conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan the highest death rate associated with those was contract employees so local Afghani Iraqi employees working for the US Army trucking material to Forward Operating Base is trucking water Fuel to forward operating bases and then waste back out from Ford operating bases so the Army wants to develop a Forward Operating Base That’s completely self-sufficient similar to like a Mars base kind of an application and so this technology was developed for that’s been very successful It’s gone through a very competitive process And it does look like it is going to become the baseline system for the US Army in the future Okay, so because the conclusions here So the objective of this presentation was to give all of you guys ideas so that when you go on do master’s PhD? Thesis is you know what you’re supposed to be doing you write a proposal you submit it to NASA I review your proposal and you get funding all right It’s pretty simple equation and what we’re really interested in is reliability issues any kind of issues that address reliability. That’s a key Aspect of in the life support arena the area that we’re doing primarily work in is looking at integrating Biological mechanical systems together not developing biological systems we have done that before we’ve done by our reactors to treat wastewater by our reactors produce carbon dioxide Things that produce carbon dioxide we call them crew members. We don’t need any more crew members We don’t want any more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere But integrating biological systems into making for instance biological materials that have unique characteristics associated With them that provide reliability, those are the types of things that we’re looking for So some examples of other projects that we’ve been looking at is. There’s a group a university group That’s actually making CCD cameras out of biological so they grow bacteria They genetically engineer the bacteria to express a protein When light hits the bacteria that protein is expressed a protein is conductive and you can measure? The change in the amount of proteins in – and you can actually make a small amra That works using that technique and CCD cameras are very susceptible to radiation So they’re a problem heart think of your heart heart your heart is a pump Runs 24 hours a day seven days a week 365 days a year for 80 years. I mean there are no pumps Commercially or NASA that come anywhere near that level of reliability that is the most reliable pump by far out there We also have a project where we’re looking at developing an auto immune system a synthetic immune system So the idea is you’re on your way to Mars and you get diagnosed with some sort of a disease or some sort of sickness and this system allows you to like your body would to produce antibiotics to produce proteins to produce enzymes to respond to the disease that you have there and that’s again done by Genetically engineering eco light to express those compounds so all right, so that’s all I have time I have four so if anybody has any questions Thank you So we have time for a couple of questions So if you have a question raise your hand wait for the microphone and please ask one question only Thank You Great talk Michael I have a specific question for you And then something general to follow the specific question is that biological systems are wonderful no doubt But it’s kind of a misconception to say that they that they’re so Stable because they’re repairing themselves all the time and the repair takes energy so that the system although, it’s Wonderfully efficient in terms of how long it lasts. It’s actually repaired a lot So you kind of describe that with lipids yeah? So let me give you an example of that so in the bio membrane project where we were Repairing the membrane as it gets damaged we need a source of energy Right to do that And there’s two sources of energy that we’re looking at one of them is the feed the feed is human waste So that has nitrogen phosphorus sulfur in it has an organic content And so the idea is the bacteria would actually live off of that organic content That’s they’re somewhat problematic because it is waste so a lot of the energy has been removed out of it’s not a high energy Solution so another approach we’re looking at is using actually sino bacteria genetically engineering cyanobacteria to express the fatty acids that we’re interested in and then we could use carbon dioxide and crew cabin light as a Source of energy, but you’re absolutely correct. You know biological systems do carry some overhead I think that’s what you’re kind of driving at associated with their operating But you know in many cases like with regard to a separation memory is treating human waste I mean bacterias gonna grow in there one way or another so you might as well have it do something good for you right So water scarcity is definitely an issue in space, but as you highlighted with the The army topic that it’s also an issue on earth. There are a lot of people who don’t have access to clean water Are there any lessons from your studies so far in? port osmosis membranes that could be applied to water technologies here on earth yeah So that is an area that we do actually a lot of work into and I only kind of touched on that with the army system So here in California. We have a drought right Oh, and the governor comes out and says you know you had got a country water consumption by 20%, right? Why can’t I just pull out my credit card and solve that problem? why can’t I go into Home Depot with my credit card and just Eliminate the drought as a problem go down there by a water recycling system hook it up in my house, right? Well the reason is because you go down there you buy that put it in your house. You’re never gonna maintain it, right You’re never gonna test it you’re never gonna make sure the water is good. That’s coming out of Jason Go there plug it in and that thing better work without any maintenance For a predetermined life period of time and it better be cheap to operate right it’s almost identical to the criteria for a Mars mission That system needs to run continuously for a three-year period of time with no maintenance and not require any testing because you’re on your way to Mars if the tests Say that we can’t drink the water That’s not particularly useful because you’re drinking the water anyway right you don’t have any option any backup situation so to take their that Put put the power in the consumers hands to address the water recycling issue you need to have water recycling systems that are very very reliable that don’t fail and So the bio membrane project is a project that we feel is a real game-changer in that area because that allows you then to develop A water recycling system for instance that you might hook up to your washing machine that would recycle the water in your washing machine And it has self repair characteristics to it right so fine don’t maintain It don’t pay any attention to it that thing will just sit over there and repair itself on its own all right So you’re absolutely correct we have some big proposals in the state of California to do human health studies and human factors studies and do 300 400 homes put water recycling systems into them that are going right now through the state whether they get funded or not depends on the state, I guess Yeah So with that please join me in thanking Michael Flint for an excellent. Talk. Thank you very much You

4 thoughts on “Michael Flynn – Synthetic Biological Membrane | NASA Public Lecture | Science Lecture

  1. More Science Public Lectures in One Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFZintr4sXc&list=PLLZ3K5tYrdDuxojnan1tLcXUWHGrgddtD

  2. so why artificial…., just use plants to do the job…, breed algae, or fungi, or other organisms to do the job…same with pumps…trees pump. pighearts pump…etc..

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