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UH researcher develops camera that detects ancient life form

compact color biofinder
Zoe Dym
/
HPR
The Compact Color Biofinder can be used in space to find organic material.

A researcher from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa developed a new instrument that is able to detect ancient life forms. The Compact Color Biofinder can be used in space to find organic material.

The project was funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Office of Naval Research.

The Biofinder can detect microscopic organic materials that cannot be seen with the human eye from a distance of three to five meters. Bigger targets can be seen from a distance of 30 meters.

compact color biofinder
Zoe Dym
/
HPR
The Compact Color Biofinder is able to detect microscopic traces of organic matter by finding its fluorescence signals. The beaker of water (right) is mixed with a small amount of rhodamine. The image created through the Compact Color Biofinder (left) shows the bits of rhodamine undetectable with the human eye.

Not only can the instrument be used to make new discoveries, but it can also be utilized for planetary protection. This prevents astronauts and objects from contaminating other planets with microscopic particles from Earth.

It can also be used on Earth to scan for microplastics in the ocean.

Anupam Misra is a researcher at UH Mānoa and the lead developer for the Compact Color Biofinder. He has been working on the instrument since 2016.

"We are looking for the fluorescence signals," says Misra. "All biological material have fluorescent signals which are less than a lifetime of 15 nanoseconds. And so they're very fast fluorescence, and all the minerals have — they call it phosphorescence — so their lifetime is in microsecond to millisecond. So we use that criteria to separate our biological materials."

The Compact Color Biofinder can potentially be mounted on the Mars Rover to find ancient life forms.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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