KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Safeguarding astronauts as they spend time in space is a top priority for NASA and researching the best methods of achieving that goal is essential. Just ask Marie Bridges, a recent graduate of Western Michigan University’s electrical engineering program.
Encouraged by Dr. Bradley Bazuin, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bridges applied for a Michigan Space Grant Consortium Grant, which funds undergraduate and graduate level projects that relate to the space industry and can be tied into NASA’s strategic interests.
Bridges earned a grant and went to work on a project with a personal twist.
“I have a hormone condition that impacts millions of women in the U.S.,” says Bridges. “It affects fertility and wellbeing, but there is little scientific understanding of its cause. That’s why I wanted to develop a project that can enable research at NASA as well as possibly support fertility research down the road.”
Bridges’ idea for the project materialized when she learned that the industry standards for measuring hormone concentration were expensive and require large equipment, which can be problematic in space. She developed the concept for a senior design project along with Alex Whipple, another recent electrical engineering graduate. Bridges and Whipple presented their project, “A Fully Flexible Handheld Wireless Estrogen Sensing Device,” at the 2022 International Conference on Flexible and Printable Sensors and Systems.
“Our motivation was to make it easier for NASA to study the long-term health effects, including reproductive health and biological rhythms, in space,” says Bridges. “Our system required much less analyte and material than conventional systems, as well as utilizing a cost-effective fabrication process.”
For the senior design project, Bridges and Whipple worked with faculty advisor Dr. Massood Atashbar to define, develop and test a viable printed electronic estrogen sensor. They also collaborated with the Center for Advanced Smart Sensors and Structures to produce a complete battery-powered, flexible, wireless printed circuit board for sensor data measurements that can be recorded to any nearby Bluetooth-enabled device. The result is a fully functional IOT measurement device that can be easily worn by a person to continuously monitor estrogen levels.
“Essentially, the device is a handheld circuit with a sensor that can measure the amount of the hormone estradiol, a form of estrogen that is naturally occurring but could be made synthetically," explains Bridges. "The project aimed to determine if a small, handheld, cheaper device can measure estradiol with comparable accuracy to conventional methods. After testing our prototype, we found that our device was sensitive to estradiol, and a line of best fit that related the sensor reading to the estradiol concentration with an R^2 value of 0.9901, indicating a high correlation between the values.”
Bridges says the process from earning a grant to presenting the findings at an international conference involved many aspects from her curriculum in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences as well as learning some new skills.
“There was developing the printed circuit board and schematic, C programming, and quite a bit of chemistry,” says Bridges. “We also had to learn square wave voltammetry and the sensor fabrication methods. Another huge aspect was project planning.”
Now both Bridges and Whipple have taken on careers. Bridges is a Leadership Development Program associate at Rockwell Automation; Whipple is an electrical engineer at Bryce and Associates in Kalamazoo.
Want to check out the duo’s poster presentation? Check out Bridges’ LinkedIn post featuring the poster.
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