Earlier this month a rocket supplying the International Space Station carried oral bacteria and saliva gleaned from the mouths of 30 UNLV dental clinic patients. The experiments were carried in special kits — which contain 3D-printed, battery-powered microfluidic pump devices — that were developed by university engineering students. After the samples are returned in July, scientists will study bacterial growth rates and efficacy of the company’s products compared with kits that remained on Earth.
UNLV Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Patrick Zhai, who worked on the project, said that along with learning how to promote dental health in zero-gravity, he hopes the effort will get more students interested in space exploration.
“Along with firefighter and dinosaur hunter, astronaut seems to be on every child’s list of dream jobs,” Zhai said. “Now, my astronaut dream has come true in another way.”
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