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Fall 2015

Inquiry Magazine Archive

  • Spring 2016

    Spring 2016: Premium Blend

    Found in everything from space shuttles to dental fillings, composite materials have thoroughly infiltrated modern society. But their potential is still greatly untapped, offering researchers ample opportunity for discovery.

  • Fall 2015

    Fall 2015: Collision Course

    Within the particle showers created at the Large Hadron Collider, answers to some of the universe’s mysteries are waiting.

  • Spring 2015

    Spring 2015: Almost Human

    Model systems like pigeons can help illuminate our own evolutionary and genomic history.

  • Fall 2014

    Fall 2014: Small Wonder

    UT Arlington's tiny windmills are bringing renewable energy to a whole new scale.

  • Winter 2014

    Winter 2014: Overdue for an Overhaul

    The stability of our highways, pipelines, and even manholes is reaching a breaking point.

  • 2012

    2012: Mystery solved?

    Scientists believe they have discovered a subatomic particle that is crucial to understanding the universe.

  • 2011

    2011: Boosting brain power

    UT Arlington researchers unlock clues to the human body’s most mysterious and complex organ.

  • 2010

    2010: Powered by genetics

    UT Arlington researchers probe the hidden world of microbes in search of renewable energy sources.

  • 2009

    2009: Winning the battle against pain

    Wounded soldiers are benefiting from Robert Gatchel’s program that combines physical rehabilitation with treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • 2009

    2007: Sensing a solution

    Tiny sensors implanted in the body show promise in combating acid reflux disease, pain and other health problems.

  • 2006

    2006:Semiconductors: The next generation

    Nanotechnology researchers pursue hybrid silicon chips with life-saving potential.

  • 2005

    2005: Imaging is everything

    Biomedical engineers combat diseases with procedures that are painless to patients.

Air Time

Breathing Life into Space Travel

NASA chooses UT Arlington to develop oxygen recovery technology for mission to Mars 

illustration of space traveller

While robots have studied Mars for more than 40 years now, human exploration of the Red Planet remains an unfulfilled mission. Armed with a $513,356 NASA grant, an interdisciplinary team of UT Arlington researchers is moving the dream closer to reality.

Through its Game Changing Development Program, NASA selected UTA as one of four U.S. institutions to develop improved methods for oxygen recovery and reuse aboard human spacecraft. The agency says the technology is crucial to “enable our human journey to Mars and beyond.”

The principal investigators are Brian Dennis, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Krishnan Rajeshwar, Distinguished Professor of chemistry and biochemistry; and Norma Tacconi, research associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

They will design, build, and demonstrate a microfluidic electrochemical reactor to recover oxygen from carbon dioxide that is extracted from cabin air. The plan is to construct the prototype over the next year at the University’s Center for Renewable Energy, Science, and Technology.

The team will demonstrate the prototype to NASA at the end of the project’s 15-month Phase I period and, if they are selected for Phase II, build a full-scale unit.

“We hope the technology will be flight-tested on the International Space Station sometime in the future,” Dr. Dennis says. “That’s what we’re really excited about and what we’ll be aiming for.”

Their design uses water and carbon dioxide as reactants and produces oxygen and hydrocarbon gases, such as methane. The gases can be vented into space and the oxygen used for breathing. Current oxygen recovery methods on the International Space Station achieve about a 50 percent recovery rate. The UTA team hopes to increase this to 75 percent or more.

A better rate means less oxygen needs to be stored, freeing up precious cargo space for prolonged missions.

“We have developed a nanocomposite electrode that speeds oxygen evolution at lower potential. That basically means it can produce more oxygen in a shorter time frame with less power and less reactor volume,” Dennis says. “This is important since power on a spacecraft is limited because it comes from solar panels, and spacecraft capacity also is limited. Things should be as compact and lightweight as possible.”

Illustration by David Plunkert

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