Aug 30, 2018

Students Fly in Vomit Comet to Test Out 3D Printed Bioplastic Tools

University of Calgary students are working on a project which could provide astronauts with 3D printed plastic tools made from feces and genetically engineered bacteria. The students recently tested the tools out during a flight on the "Vomit Comet".

Alina Kunitskaya and Sam Wilton-Clark, a Schulich School of Engineering student and a health sciences student, from the University of Calgary, are turning feces into 3D printed plastic products. The hope is that their project could be useful for astronauts traveling to and colonizing Mars.

By using excrement and genetically engineered bacteria, astronauts can produce bioplastic to 3D print parts or tools and greatly reduce the equipment needed on board.

Kunitskaya explains: “Although our initial project was focused on Mars, astronauts are going to face similar challenges on the way to Mars and they’re still going to be producing fecal waste, obviously, on their way to Mars while they are in zero gravity, so we still want to be able to transfer their waste product into something useful while they’re transiting.”

Last year, the students were part of the team which won a gold medal at the International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation’s giant jamboree in Boston.

Now, the students are taking their idea to the next step. Just this week, Kunitskaya and Wilton-Clark flew in a jet which can simulate zero gravity, known as the Vomit Comet, to test out the 3D printed tools. Rather than using actual feces, the students used a formula similar to poop which was developed by NASA.

Testing Plastic Products Made from Poo in the Vomit Comet

Perhaps not exactly the most enjoyable sounding afternoon, flying in the Vomit Comet enabled the students to test out one of the steps involved in their process. The students explain that everything went well and the trip was a success.

However, if you’re wondering whether the Vomit Comet is as bad as it sounds, Kunitskaya explains that, unexpectedly, the microgravity portion of the ride wasn’t where she felt most sick – it was afterward.

The Vomit Comet was useful in helping the students collect data which they will be looking over before they know exactly how well the procedures onboard went.

Kunitskaya explains: “The big purpose of this project is to prove the feasibility of the process we proposed for a particular step of our big process. If our hypothesis is right, then we can further develop that process for our application and also look for applications on Earth. If our hypothesis was wrong, we might have to look for different options.”

As the process has been proven to work on Earth, the students will now be working on optimizing it so that it works well in microgravity. But, they’re feeling positive about their project and the benefits it can provide for astronauts.

The next step is to present the findings from their experiment at a conference in Bremen, Germany later in the year.

Source: CBC

License: The text of "Students Fly in Vomit Comet to Test Out 3D Printed Bioplastic Tools" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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