Prof. Zachary Gagnon to receive NASA’s Early Career Faculty Award

July 28, 2017

Zachary Gagnon, assistant professor, has been selected to receive NASA’s Early Career Faculty Award.

These awards recognize outstanding early-career faculty researchers, and challenge them to examine the theoretical feasibility of ideas and approaches critical to making space travel, exploration, and science more effective, affordable, and sustainable.

Gagnon’s project — “Rapid and Simple Sample Acquisition During Space Flight: Simultaneous Extraction of Proteins and Nucleic Acids from Bodily Fluids and Cabin Water Using FreeFlow Bi-directional Isotachophoresis”—aims to dramatically improve the hardware used to monitor the health, safety, and performance of crews on long space flight missions.

Many standard methods for analyzing protein and nucleic acids to screen for disease, establish deviations from health, and detect viral or bacterial infections in humans and in cabin air and water are not ideal for space missions because they may require long processing times, are labor intensive, and often use hazardous chemicals, Gagnon says. The project aims to use the electrokinetic method, isotachophoresis (ITP), to develop a liquid handling and sample acquisition technology that will accomplish the separation, concentration, and extraction of nucleic acids and proteins in a single step.

In general, Gagnon’s research focuses on new ways of utilizing electrokinetic and microfluidic phenomena for biological and biomedical applications. In particular, he is interested in how electric fields interact with fluid interfaces to induce precise injection and selective mass transport, with the goal being to apply electro-fluidic phenomena to protein purification, cell migration and rare cell isolation applications.

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