RUM professor lands $750,000 grant to study water use in space

Professor Marco A. de Jesús Ruiz

By John McPhaul

Dr. Marco A. de Jesús Ruiz, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Mayagüez Campus (RUM by its Spanish acronym), received a grant of $750,000 from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in order to explore applications for the reuse of water and other wastes in long-term special space missions.

The project, called the Center for Sustainable Technologies for the Reclamation and Reuse of Water, received a matching of funds of $375,000 from UPR, for a total of $1.125 million, which will be used to develop technologies to recover, treat and purify the water used in long-term space missions, in particular from body fluids.

De Jesús Ruiz is the principal investigator of an interdisciplinary team made up of Dr. Félix Román Velázquez, also from the RUM Chemistry Department; David Suleiman Rosado, from the Chemical Engineering Department; Matías J. Cafaro, from the Biology Department; and Pedro Tarafa, from the Civil Engineering Department. Also, Dr. Oscar J. Perales Pérez of the Department of Engineering and Materials Sciences, who recently passed away, was part of the work team.

“This project consists of an initiative of the Mayagüez University Campus to develop water filtration and recycling systems in a more efficient and functional way, in such a way that they allow maximizing the reuse of water resources in space missions and facilitating exploration of our solar system and nearby areas,” de Jesús Ruiz said. “When astronauts are on a long-term space mission, the biological waste, the materials that are consumed; everything must be reused as the available resources are limited. Even in the particular case of water, this has a significant weight in the material that is being transferred in the space mission. So, this resource should be used to the maximum of its capacities and preferably reused with a view to reaching a 100% reclamation or, preferably, a value close to this.”

He added that to achieve such challenging goals, a team was formed of experienced researchers who have collaborated on various projects for a decade. The aim is to develop new nanobiotechnological approaches to the recycling and functional reuse of water with strict control and supervision systems to produce safe and high-quality drinking water.

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