In this Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase II effort, Leiden Measurement Technology (LMT) will build a Sample Pre-processing Instrument for Chemical Exploration (SPICE), an automated sample pre-processing module capable of efficiently extracting chemical analytes from solid samples for delivery to analytical instruments. SPICE will work in conjunction with a number of in-situ analytical instruments, meeting the needs of a large variety of customers, including NASA. More specifically, (SPICE) consists of an ultrasonic sample chamber that can be operated in two different modes: (1) A static mode for mixing and homogenizing the sample, and (2) a dynamic mode that flows solvent (e.g., water) through the ultrasonic chamber during sonication to avoid the re-adsorption of the analytes to the solid surfaces. This second mode is useful for extracting the maximum amount of analyte from the solid sample with a reported increase in extraction efficiency of up to 70 %. Where traditional extraction from soil/mineral samples mostly involves the removal of organics from the exposed surface, ultrasonic acoustic energy can be used to rupture small particles and break apart aggregates to expose inner surfaces that can trap chemicals of interest. The increased efficiency that can be achieved with ultrasonic assisted extraction (UAE) is a technology that supports high precision in-situ measurements, as called out in subtopic S1.07 (In Situ Instruments/Technologies for Lunar and Planetary Science) of the NASA SBIR call.
The detection of life on planets (and other bodies) is an important goal for NASA that requires the identification of molecular biomarkers. It is also important to identify other chemical species that provide insight into makeup of planets, moons and small bodies. Unfortunately, many of the interesting molecules that NASA is interested in are present in very small quantities. The SPICE instrument uses ultrasonic assisted extraction to maximize the removal of these molecules from solid samples and then delivers them to analytical instruments.
The SPICE module will be designed to act as a remote, autonomous instrument which is ideal for processing samples under dangerous circumstances such as in an area of high radiation or an area of severe chemical contamination. The module will also be useful in the analytical laboratory for the consistent extraction of soluble chemicals from solid samples.