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Vapor Thermal Modulation for 2D Gas Chromatography

Sponsor: NASA, NSF ECCS, Agilent Technologies

The NASA astrobiology program has a primary mission to explore organic signatures on extraterrestrial bodies within the solar system. Microchip-based comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography (GCxGC) coupled with mass spectroscopy provides a promising means for the NASA to achieve this mission with limited resources. This project aims to develop a key subcomponent of the microfabricated GCxGC system, a thermal modulator (TM), using MEMS technology. The TM is a crucial device to achieve high sensitivity in the GCxGC system by providing 10-to-50-fold detection enhancement. It produces very narrow injection plugs for very rapid second-column separations. The MEMS device developed in this project is integrated with microfabricated GC columns and generates heating and cooling cycles between -50°C and 250°C over short timescales (~500-1000 ms). Significant technological advances are being explored to reduce space, mass, and power resources required for the organic vapor separation process with the MEMS-based TM device. The system incorporating the TM provides the opportunity to conduct complex in situ sample analysis with minimal temperature control requirements.

Optical and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images of microscale thermal modulator and its packaging with an environmental chamber on a printed circuit board (Left). The device placed at the junction between the 1st and 2nd columns modulates 1st dimensional vapor chromatograms to dissect them into several sharp peaks injected to the 2nd column (right).

References:

Kim, S.-J., Reidy, S.M, Block, B., Wise, K.D., Zellers, E.T., and Kurabayashi, K., “Microfabricated Thermal Modulator for Comprehensive Two-Dimensional Micro Gas Chromatography: Design, Thermal Modeling, and Preliminary Testing,” Lab Chip, 10, 1647-1654, 2010.

Kim, S.-J., Reidy, S.M., Block, B.P., Wise, K.D., Zellers, E.T., and Kurabayashi, K., “A low power, high-speed miniaturized thermal modulator for comprehensive 2D gas chromatography,” Proc. the 23rd International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical System, MEMS 2010, Hong Kong, pp. 124-127, January 24-28, 2010.

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