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Institute for Cell Mimetic Space Exploration opens

By Edward Chiao

Feb. 10, 2003 9:00 p.m.

Monday marked the official opening for the new Institute for
Cell Mimetic Space Exploration at UCLA.

The joint partnership between UCLA and NASA aims to develop a
“lab on a chip,” which would carry out the same complex
functions of a full-sized scientific lab on a tiny chip.

Chih-Ming Ho, director for the new institute and associate vice
chancellor of research at UCLA, will lead CMISE researchers in
combining molecular biology with modern scientific technology.
Researchers will apply their knowledge of the biological cell to
all facets of space exploration.

“Basically, we want to learn why nature can produce such
an efficient system (a single cell) in such a small space,”
Ho said.

“Then we can expand this very small space to a very large
space.”

The CMISE researchers hope to improve the health monitoring of
astronauts and develop radiation-resistant suits which could
someday make human travel to Mars possible.

The result, Ho hopes, will potentially make space research safer
and more efficient.

“With an automated system, we can conduct scientific tests
without risking human lives,” Ho said in a statement.

Although UCLA will be contributing $5 million, the new institute
is mainly funded by a five-year, $15 million grant from NASA that
can be renewed for an additional five years for a total of $30
million.

“I was excited to learn that we were successful in
obtaining the highly competitive NASA center,” said Vijay
Dhir, dean of the engineering department at UCLA, after UCLA was
awarded the grant last summer.

“It is a recognition of the highest quality research we
are doing and of the excellent faculty we have.

The CMISE faculty includes researchers who are leaders in
various fields of biological sciences and engineering.

Of the faculty members involved with the institute, two are
Nobel laureates and three are academy members, a top science
honor.

“These faculty members have a track record of turning
scientific dreams into reality,” Ho said.

Along with Ho, the institute will be led by Carlo Montemagno,
co-director of CMISE and the Carol and Roy Doumani Professor of
Biomedical Engineering at UCLA.

The new institute is an example of the importance of
interdisciplinary cooperation and will focus on four primary paths
of research: energetics, metabolics, systematics and CMISESat.

Energetics focuses on building nano-sized (one billionth of a
meter) power generators for hybrid energy systems.

Metabolics will take biological cells, intracellular components
and molecular machines to sense and control single cells.

Systematics will combine both energetics and metabolics, and
scale these components into larger devices.

CMISESat, the fourth area of research, will be conducted at
Arizona State University to teach students how to build small
satellites to be launched into space.

These satellites, weighing about one pound, will be used as
models to show that CMISE research will work properly in space.

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Edward Chiao
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