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From lab-on-a-chip to lab-on-a-brane: the future of health-monitoring systems and controls - 13 November 2013

For more than a decade the interest in integrating sensor and analysis functions combined on a single device has been driven by diverse requirements. Technologies converging from integrated circuits to thin films to advances in enzyme technology have been investigated and integrated to create new methods in integrated environmental analysis and health-monitoring. The popular effort to create a lab-on-a-chip is now being overtaken by membrane or “brane” devices. The new devices exploit membrane structures and new technologies that allow for sensors, networks and computing to be integrated on a polymer or metallic substrate or layer membranes.

Health-monitoring as a field unto itself has been extended to nearly every application from actual health-monitoring of human, animals and produce to health monitoring of structures like bridges and buildings, and aircraft, spacecraft and rail systems. It is a vital component of increasing information and safety data on aging infrastructures and aircraft.

Now new materials and thin film computers are allowing the creation of membrane structures for the control of aircraft, robotics and board level drugs production; all of which require health-monitoring and sophisticated controls.

Early research completed by Los Alamos National Laboratory on the use of thin film sensors or smart skins in satellite security helped to lay the foundation for more sophisticated material devices and resident computing.

Aerospace Research Systems, Inc. announced recently that their technology has demonstrated neural control of membrane structures cementing their sensor fusion systems as some of the most competent. The advantages of the brane technology is in the creation of a new class of functional structures that serve not only as traditional structures but eliminate traditional sensor and control systems often with higher redundancy and resident computing.

Further, the US Air Force and US Navy have embarked on programs for aging aircraft that have created immense amounts of information on materials and structures reliability prediction. As new health-monitoring systems are able to integrate brane technology, the sophistication of the brane sensor networks will be able to exploit in situ, the condition and survivability models obtained from the aging aircraft data as well as the dynamic data for the vehicle involved.

These powerful new technologies offer a new perspective of the lab-on-a-chip, where future vehicles and structures will be able to control their own health-monitoring and operations and potentially their on maintenance.

Announcing Alien Contact Day or Life as We Do Not Know It - October 17, 2013

Alien Contact Day, October 17, 2013, has been created to build knowledge of lesser-known areas of the space science including astrobiology, exobiology and bioastronautics.

There are space scientists who spend their time researching the possibility of the types and forms of life that exist external to our earth and its environment. This means life not found within the primary sphere of influence of our planet. So theoretically it could also imply life forms that may be indigenous to the upper atmosphere through the Van Allan Belts, if such life were to exist.

So exobiology or astrobiology includes all other life forms that are “exo” or extraterrestrial to earth.

Other space scientists including planetary scientists, astrophysicists and engineers actively search for signs of alien life, particularly intelligent alien life, through programs like the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence or SETI.

Geneticists and evolutionary biologists study the evolution of life on earth to better understand what life may be on other planets. Further limiting life to only planets may be too narrow. Planetary moons, planetoids and even asteroids may be life supporting. This is of course more importantly based on the type of life. There may be life forms that can flourish in some very hostile environments. On earth there are simple life forms including bacteria that life around the vents of undersea volcanoes. It also appears that life survives in water housed in salt crystals under the dessert of New Mexico where no running water or sunlight has been for tens of thousands of years.

Environmental geologists and geochemists are studying the chemical and structural make-up of complex ecosystems on earth to better understand the potential for life even in our own solar system.

Bioastronautics or space medicine is an area of environmental medicine concerned with the health and performance of astronautics and other space workers. Other specialties including space psychology and space physiology support astronauts through research and participation is space medical operations.

The continuing discovery of planets in nearby and far away solar systems suggests that planets may be the norm for star systems. More than 2000 planets have been discovered orbiting stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Our solar system is towards the outer edge of the Milky Way, which makes us a little older than some of the solar systems towards the center. Maybe we will find that a majority of solar systems the age of our and older will have some planetary bodies orbiting their stars. We really do not know which solar systems are more likely to have planets based on anything more than the type of stars at their centers.

Over the next ten years, new technology will allow space scientists to analyze to a very fine degree the types of atmospheres and environments that these newly discovered planets possess. We know what a “life” signature or spectra looks like because we have been doing remote sensing from space on our planet for decades.

Recommended reading:

Popular Scientific Publication (lay person and scientist)

Life as We Do Not Know It: The NASA Search for (and Synthesis of) Alien Life By Peter Ward, Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 27, 2007)

SETI 2020: A Roadmap for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, By Ronald D. Ekers, SETI Press
(February 1, 2002)

Secondary School Level

Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction by Kevin W. Plaxco, Michael Gross The Johns Hopkins University Press; second edition ( July 26, 2011)

Academic-University-Professional Level

An Introduction to Astrobiology by Iain Gilmour, Mark A. Sephton Cambridge University Press (2004)

Astrobiology: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach by Jonathan Lunine Benjamin Cummings Publisher (2004)

Fundamentals of Space Medicine, By Gilles Clément Springer; 2nd ed. 2011 edition (June 2011)

 

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