NASA Develops an Anthrax Detector - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

10/31/02

NASA Develops an Anthrax Detector

NASA scientists have developed an alarm system that could "sound off" when our air is contaminated. The bacterial spore detector was developed at NASA's jet propulsion lab in California. Here's how it works:

"It's attached to a pump. It's sucking in the air. If there's spores present in the air, they get sucked in and deposited in our sampler. Our sampler sits in a microwave which then bursts the spores open, but in the case where you do have very low concentrations, we would detect the spores, the alarm would go off in half the time it would take for a person to breathe in a lethal dose," says NASA researcher, Dr. Adrian Ponce.

A chemical inside the spore reacts with the sensor triggering an intense green luminescence that sounds off an alarm. Dr. Ponce says it would even pick up a puff of white powder if it's released from an envelope. Lab tests would then need to confirm what type of contamination set off the alarm.

NASA researchers say an ideal place for locating this device would be in an air duct. The only problem right now is the thing is so big it fits on a giant cart. But the jet propulsion lab is working with universal detection technology to develop a commercial anthrax spore detector that should be available within six months to a year. And that device is expected to be similar to the size of a smoke detector.

Before launching a spacecraft, technicians have to make sure earth germs won't be transported to other planets. That's how the jet propulsion lab became involved in monitoring bacterial spores.

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