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07/13/2016 10:32:08

Special Delivery

From the exploration of other planets to the meanderings of single cells through our bloodstream and into our tissues, Caltech and JPL researchers are thinking about transportation in unexpected ways. They're using transformative delivery methods to land on Mars, collect data in hard-to-reach locales, and shepherd drugs to the brain.

For example, chemical engineer Mark Davis is building on his experience with nanomaterials to create a nanoparticle delivery vehicle that would encapsulate chemotherapeutics and carry them to where they are supposed to go in the body. These nanoparticles should stay in the blood until they reach a tumor and then release their payload, thus allowing the drugs to destroy solid tumors while sparing healthy tissue.

Lance Christensen, a senior atmospheric scientist at JPL, invents tunable laser spectrometers that basically sniff the atmosphere for trace measurements of gases. Such spectrometers can be carried on drones to measure the abundance of atmospheric gases such as methane, water vapor, and carbon dioxide.

And then there's geochemist Ken Farley, the project scientist for Mars 2020, the new rover mission. He is helping define the science goals for the Mars 2020 mission and determining how to pack an assembly of all-new scientific instruments onto an existing rover. And he has to do all this in time to meet the "very hard" launch date of 2020—when Mars and Earth are closest in orbit to each other.

The overall focus for all of these researchers is to better be able to ask big questions about the origins of life, to monitor the earth's emissions and overall health, and even to treat some of the most devastating diseases we encounter. For more about their efforts, read Special Delivery on E&S+.

Written by Mark Wheeler