UPR doctoral students place experiment on International Space Station
By John McPhaul
The work and dedication of doctoral students Liz Santiago Martoral and Alondra Rodríguez Rolón over recent years has earned them the opportunity to send their research project into space, aboard the International Space Station.
The students mentor, Dr. Eduardo Nicolau of the Chemistry Department in the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Río Piedras Campus, said the research conducted by the two students proposes extracting water from urine in a biofriendly way and, in turn, producing and storing energy in a clean zero-gravity environment.
Nicolau said the young women developed an operations manual so that the astronauts aboard the International Space Station could manage their project, and assured that -- after the launch that is scheduled for the week of June 6-8 -- the students must be available for a week and a half to answer any questions that the astronauts may have.
The analytical chemist said that since 2010 he has been investigating the ways in which urine can be purified and that the selection of Santiago Martoral and Rodríguez Rolón to collaborate in the development of the investigation arose after observing the passion, rigor and the talent of the young women when answering questions.
Now Santiago Martoral and Rodríguez Rolón are eagerly awaiting their project being sent into space, as they prepare to communicate with the astronauts. Both agreed that, throughout their time at university, they have had various opportunities to collaborate with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and that they long to continue their professional careers in Puerto Rico.
Santiago Martoral began the research three years ago for her doctoral thesis without imagining that she would obtain the funds and the approval from NASA to put it to the test in space. Now, she sees the occasion as an opportunity to show herself as an example for girls who dream of practicing a profession in the scientific field and to highlight the work of UPR-Río Piedras in the field.
“We want this project to be the beginning of many collaborations and inspire girls or boys who want to be in science; that they communicate, that they dare to search,” Rodríguez Rolón said. “We are here more than eager to provide you with all kinds of tools and for you to stay in your country, since the University of Puerto Rico has much to offer. The research that we are doing on a daily basis involves a lot of sweat, but it is to highlight what we have here on our island.”