The device ought to be able to catch more than 90 percent of the microbes that pass through it, Pillai says. Currently he and Beskok are doing research to aid in finalizing the design - checking to see how strong the electrode must be, for example, and what the optimum width and number of the micro-tubes would be. He hopes to have a prototype ready for testing about a year from now.
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Simulated microbes (synthetic microspheres) carrying a fluorescent dye are attracted to positively charged electrodes. Note the plus (+) and minus (-) signs denoting the charge of the electrodes.
"We also got funding from the State of Texas to develop a similar device for testing drinking water supplies," Pillai says. "The water utility of the city of El Paso (Texas) said that they would allow us to field test our device on their distribution system and see if it really works."
"Another version of our device that would be smaller and lighter will be designed for use in space."
It could come in handy onboard the International Space Station, for instance. And certainly such devices will be needed for extended trips to the Moon or Mars. Far from Earth, a Mars-ship's water supply will be continuously recycled, gathering water from every possible source-even an astronaut's exhaled breath and urine. Herding microbes in such an environment is obviously a good idea.