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NASA grant to help University of Idaho researchers working on a space station project

UI student.Space Station experiment
Courtesy of University of Idaho College of Engineering
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UI undergraduate and graduate students have staffed the team led by Dr. Matthew Bernards.

The $100,000 will help engineers refine a new compound already tested in space.

NASA is showing confidence in a University of Idaho research team that’s working on a new product for the International Space Station.

The space agency has granted $100,000 to the team led by Chemical Engineering Professor Matthew Bernards. He and his team are developing a compound intended to prevent the spread of bacteria. Last December, Bernards says astronauts took it into space and applied it to the space station’s door handles.

“Our polymer prevents any bacteria that would be on the astronaut’s hands from being transferred from the hand to the door handle and then a subsequent second astronaut touching the same door handle and now picking up that bacteria," he said.

That means it could prevent the spread of bacteria in the enclosed living and work areas.

Whether the compound works isn’t yet known. The astronauts collected data and sent it back in January. The research team is now analyzing it.

Bernards says the new grant will allow his team to reformulate the polymer for a second test in space.

"The payload will be developed over the next academic year," he said. "It will start in the fall, kind of the August time frame, and we’ll use an interdisciplinary team of engineers, who, over the course of the next school year, will design and build and test and demonstrate all of the safety aspects of the payload.”

The goal is to send the polymer version 2.0 into space sometime around the spring of 2024.

Bernards’ research team includes faculty members, but also undergraduate and graduate students.