To effectively monitor plant nutrient uptake and cycling, optimize fertilizing and watering routines, and reproducibly grow healthy plants for consumption, researchers on board the space station must know the concentration of key elements, nutrients, and other constituents present in plant growth systems to a high degree of specificity and regularity. High frequency, accurate, in-situ data is currently not available however, as state-of-the-art elemental monitoring involves taking samples from these systems, returning them to Earth, and performing high sensitivity analysis in the laboratory. As these procedures are costly in terms of time and money, new technologies must be developed to enable in-situ, on-demand elemental analysis of liquids to support the rapid development of plant research in space.
Our innovation, Focused LIBS for Elements in Water Identification (FLEW.ID), enables in-situ, near-real-time elemental analysis of liquid samples in plant research systems. FLEW.ID performs qualitative and quantitative elemental analysis without the need for sampling nor any consumables. FLEW.ID utilizes miniaturized optoelectronic architectures, resulting in a drastic SWaP reduction that makes the instrument easily deployable on board the space station or other research or planetary environments. FLEW.ID meets the analytical needs of the plant research community to accurately monitor plant health, nutrient cycling, and other metrics to accelerate plant research in support of planned and future manned missions.
FLEW.ID enables on-demand, in-situ, real-time elemental analysis of fluid samples in plant growth systems for qualitative and quantitative analysis of nutrient cycling. When integrated into a plant research system like NASA's PONDS, FLEW.ID can provide online analysis without any sampling nor consumables. FLEW.ID is application agnostic and can be readily adapted to measuring other fluid systems, such as the closed-loop water recycling system on board the ISS, or solid samples, such as geological samples during planetary exploration.
FLEW.ID can perform in-situ analysis of heavy metals and other contaminants in aquatic ecosystems for pollution detection and monitoring. In industrial settings, FLEW.ID can perform in-line analysis of wastewater streams and process stream recycling. In medicine, FLEW.ID can detect trace elements and nutrients in liquid samples such as urine to assess and monitor patient health.