New Technology

Revolutionary technology enhancements have radically changed the world of biological research. As a result, technology now plays a central role in accomplishing scientific goals. Electrophoresis can be used for the separation of materials using a weak electrical field. There are many different kinds of electrophoresis. All of these carry with them a potential corrupting risk that involves convective forces, i.e. the convection created by the accumulation of heat in certain areas. In gravity, ions will be moved by gravity as well and may not evenly distribute over the plate. In microgravity, however, the ions are drawn directly to the plate and give a more even distribution. This is useful for getting a faster separation of materials and products of higher purity. However, this process is still somewhat in its infancy as far as space projects are concerned.

Further research into the physiology of plants could lead to new categories of plant-based technologies. Work in gravitational biology and ecology could help us design hardier crops for space farms and onboard food production, as well as more efficient biologically based waste management systems. Crystals grown in space can help improve catalysts used to extract oil, enhancing the yield of petroleum products. The use of microgravity and vacuum production techniques in space might trigger the next generation of highly pure and accurate semiconductors for use in electronics. Demands for resources such as power and data communications may spur private space development investments to provide commercial services to space experimenters. For all these reasons and more, the ISS will serve as a laboratory and testbed for the development of new processes, products, and services to benefit life on Earth and in space (Figure 1-25).

Figure 1-25. Astronaut Peggy A. Whitson holds a soybean plant growth experiment in the Destiny laboratoty on the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of NASA.
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