NASA Space Grant Funds UNH Work to Thwart Bacteria on Spaceships
NASA Space Grant Funds UNH Work to Thwart Bacteria on Spaceships

by Karen Grava
Director of Media Relations

When astronauts spend long periods in space, they have to fight off not only homesickness but illness from bacteria that grows in their environment.

Kagya Amoako, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and coordinator of the new master’s degree in biomedical engineering, is developing new surfaces that will thwart the bacteria that he says are rampant in the areas astronauts in space use every day.

The work is being supported by a grant from the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium.

Kagya Amoako

“Microbial contamination of walls and surfaces of habitable spacecraft compartments pose a health hazard to astronauts on long missions,” said Amoako, the head of UNH’s new Biomaterials and Medical Device Innovation Laboratory. “Several bacteria species have been found on surfaces of the control center, dining area, sleeping quarters, hygiene facilities, exercise and scientific equipment of the international space ship and the Russian-manned space stations.”

The bacteria comes from the gut microbiome of crewmembers, contact operations during prelaunch preparations and load deliveries to space vehicles, and from structural materials, wall finishes, and gaseous and liquid environments.

“Our lab is working to develop polymer materials that can be used in the habitable quarters of spaceships,” Amoako said.

They will attempt to modify the polymer currently used by incorporating nitric oxide gas that would react to light, moisture and temperature to emit a gas to kill the bacteria. 

Nitric oxide is used by the human immune system to kill pathogens, and it is hypothesized that the gas damages bacteria membranes, modifies their DNA and inhibits replication. 

Both undergraduate and graduate students are working on the project. “The project provides experiential learning opportunities for UNH students and could attract future grants and industry partnerships,” Amoako said.

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