Urey Life Detector

The Urey: Mars Organic Oxidant Detector has been designed by NASA-funded researchers to look for life on Mars. This "life detector" will check for life's essential molecules at incredibly small concentrations. Urey will also distinguish between amino acids made by biological and non-biological processes.


(Urey: Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector)

The device is named after Harold Urey, who received the 1934 Nobel Prize in chemistry; Dr. Urey is also known for a 1953 experiment with Stanley Miller in which it was shown that a lightning-like discharge in a test tube full of methane, hydrogen, ammonia and water could produce amino acids.

Every form of life on Earth has proteins assembled from chains of amino acids. However, amino acids can be made both by living organisms and by non-biological processes. The presence of amino acids alone do not prove the existence of life.

It turns out that non-biological processes create a 50/50 mix of left- and right-handed versions of the molecules. Living things on Earth, however, make and use left-handed amino acids almost exclusively. Clever Urey the life detector will be looking for the ratio between left- and right-handed molecules.

A Urey component called the micro-capillary electrophoresis unit has the critical job of separating different types of organic compounds from one another for identification, including separation of mirror-image amino acids from each other. "We have essentially put a laboratory onto a single wafer," said Dr. Richard Mathies of the University of California, Berkeley, a Urey co-investigator.

The European Space Agency has chosen Urey to be part of the payload for the ExoMars rover planned for launch in 2013. The rover will grind Martian soil to a fine powder and then deliver it to a suite of instruments, including Urey.

The Urey sensor will remind many people of the long range "sensor scans" on science fiction programs like Star Trek. However, author Frank Herbert thought about the idea a decade earlier in his short story Cease Fire:

The antennae of the Life Detector atop the OP swept back and forth in a rhythmic halfcircle like so many frozen sticks brittle with rime ice...
(Read more about Frank Herbert's )

You might also be interested in this earlier article on life detecting sensors: Zoe Robot To Find Life On Distant Worlds. See also these related stories:

Read a bit more at the Hubo lab website.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/13/2007)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 0 )

Related News Stories - (" Space Tech ")

Habitability Of Galactic Bulge - Good News For Foundation Fans
'Toran resigned himself to days of careful plotting between Jumps.'- Isaac Asimov, 1955.

Lava Tubes On Mars And Moon May Be Huge
'Most of the stuff written about Bats' Cave gives a wrong impression.' - Robert Heinlein, 1957.

Powdered Regolith Propulsion
'... filling their great tanks with the finely divided dust which the ionic rockets would spit out in electrified jets.' - Arthur C. Clarke, 1951.

Tether Asteroids To Save Us All
'If anything can glue the asteroids back into the planet they once were, magnology will do it.' - Richard Wilson, 1958.

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

Habitability Of Galactic Bulge - Good News For Foundation Fans
'Toran resigned himself to days of careful plotting between Jumps.'

Lava Tubes On Mars And Moon May Be Huge
'Most of the stuff written about Bats' Cave gives a wrong impression.'

Olfactory User Interfaces - Judith Amores Dissertation
Awakened with a whiff of lemon.

Personalized Masks Appear
'The tiger stripes on Jim's mask... made the young people easy to identify.'

Foiling Facial Recognition, Fighting Coaster Viruses, Harlan Ellison-Style
I have no mouth and I must scream.

Ford Uses Obedient Robot Dogs To Update Facilities Maps
'If he sent out two or three of the small tele-operated devices... [he] could see machinery and construction details in real time from both above and below.'

AirTouch Panels Means No More Dirty Touchscreens!
Useful interfaces now appear in thin air.

EllipticaRunner Robot Is Fast, Amazing, Slightly Worrisome
'THEY sent A SLAMHOUND on Turner's trail in New Delhi...'

SPECTER Electroshock Round Fireable From Shotgun
'...the balls sent by this gun are not ordinary balls, but little cases of glass.'

100 Terabyte Exadrive SSD Also Has Biggest Price
'A man could carry AIs or complete planetary dataspheres in a Schrön loop.'

Mechanical Milking Of Microalgae For Fuel Production
'They call 'em culture tanks. They have bugs -- germs -- growing in them.'

Feel Virtual Reality In Mid-Air!
'...a pressure on the lips - warm and soft, moist and sweet.'

Electric Lasso Gives Police Options
'The blast of silver threads enveloped her...'

TytoCare Offers Futuristic Home Care
'Immediately an enormous apparatus fell on to her out of the ceiling...'

Powdered Regolith Propulsion
'... filling their great tanks with the finely divided dust which the ionic rockets would spit out in electrified jets.'

Ford's SafeCap, Opposite Of Niven and Barnes' Napcap
'In the napcap a client became an instant yoga master...'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.