In the final phase of the competition there were 16 research teams from different European universities who presented their projects at the ESA European Astronaut Centre, in Cologne (Germany), in December.
Next autumn the young researchers from the UAB and the UPC will participate in a campaign of three parabolic flights aboard the Airbus A300 ZERO-G that some astronauts use as part of their training. During the flights the aircraft accelerates as it gains altitude, then the engines are reduced to a minimum for 20 seconds while the plane traces a parabola in freefall.
For these 20 seconds, conditions close to zero gravity are attained within the cabin. These maneuvers are repeated up to 30 times during a flight, so that after completing the three flights in the campaign, the researchers will have had the opportunity to experiment with microgravity over a considerable amount of time.
The experiment is being coordinated by Sergi Vaquer and is called the ABCtr MicroG project. It will study the behavior of ABC transporters, biological agents that are responsible for removing drugs and other toxins from human cells, under microgravity conditions. For this purpose, the UPC and UAB researchers have developed a special protocol to enable the activity of these molecules to be measured very accurately during the 20 seconds of microgravity in each of the 30 parabolas on a parabolic flight. Arnau Rabadán is in charge of the technical part of the experiment that involves designing a mechanism to mix the biomedical fluid and the ABC transporters inside a syringe, activating the chemical reaction. All of this must be done at 37ºC, that is, human body temperature. After 20 seconds the system will introduce a liquid into the syringe to freeze the mixture so that it will not be affected by gravity and the experiment will be repeated in the next parabola.
The mechanism will be regulated by a control system, since the conditions for the experiment and the quantity of liquids to be injected must be precisely set. The control system includes active elements, such as the motor to drive the syringes, and also supervisory elements, such as the censors to regulate the temperature of the syringe where the mixing is done.
The engineering, production and flight preparation activities will be supervised by Felip Fenollosa, a lecturer at the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the UPC and co-director of the CIM Foundation. The CIM Foundation is a technological reference center of the UPC in the field of production technologies, and the design and building of the mechanism will now begin there. This will be based on a prototype of the equipment that was developed in 2008 at the CIM Foundation by Rosa Pàmies, a lecturer in mechanical engineering at the UPC.
Sergi Vaquer has worked as a crew physician at the Crew Medical Support Office of the ESA European Astronaut Centre, Cologne, and is currently a resident physician at the Hospital Parc Taulí in Sabadell (associated with the UAB) and a researcher at the Municipal Medical Research Institute (IMIM) of the Hospital del Mar. Arnau Rabadán is studying the Diploma in Mechanical Engineering at the College of Industrial Engineering of Barcelona (EUETIB) of the UPC, and the scientific equipment for this experiment will be the subject of his final thesis. He is currently on a research scholarship from the CIM Foundation.Other projects selected
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