NASA 1998 SBIR Phase I

PROPOSAL NUMBER: 98-1 13.02-9737

PROJECT TITLE: Fluorescence Lifetime Vertical Profiler


The innovation is a vertical profiler capable of measuring in real time the structure of chlorophyll concentration and of phytoplankton photochemical efficiency in the water column. These are critical parameters for determination of ocean primary productivity from remote sensing of ocean color. Current profilers do not provide accurate biomass (because of fluorescence quantum yield variability), nor any information on photosynthetic status. The proposed profiler incorporates novel technology developed at Ciencia for photosynthetic analysis based on chlorophyll fluorescence lifetime measurements, and will be the first in situ system to incorporate this novel capability. Low ocean chlorophyll concentrations require a detection sensitivity of 0.1 ug/L. This presents a major challenge because to obtain accurate values of photosynthetic parameters the exciting light intensity must be kept very low to not disturb the photosynthetic system. To achieve this detection limit will require several innovations, which include development of a highly efficient optical design with an integrated flow-through sample interface, and a high-gain, low-noise detection system. Additionally, the system must incorporate provisions for self-calibration on the fly, and embedded intelligence for instrument control, data acquisition, analysis and communications. Finally, we have proposed an innovative packaging design to enable operation to depths (pressures) of 500 m.


The first product will be a vertical profiler for oceanographic use. This will be a compact, submersible unit. The market niches to which these products would be targeted include in situ assessment of phytoplankton for basic research and for environmental monitoring. Additional related products would be portable instruments for shipboard use and laboratory instrumentation. In addition to marine applications, the development of sensors is a high priority for agriculture. Economic, environmental and regulatory issues are putting pressure on farmers to manage their croplands more carefully by supplying fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and water at carefully controlled and variable rates. To accomplish this, sensors such as the ones proposed here will be needed that provide accurate information on the physiological status of the crops. High value crop farmers (e.g. California vineyards) are already experimenting with spectral analysis of crops to assess health in efforts to detect plant stress before it is visible to the naked eye. This is vital because replanting is costly about $20,000 per acre [Ref. 38]. For example. Rapid determination of freeze damage to citrus might assist with rapid harvest decisions and help stabilize prices. We expect that our proposed products would find ready acceptance in such applications.


Salvador M. Fernandez
Ciencia Inc.
111 Roberts Street, Suite K
East Hartford , CT 06108


Ciencia, Inc.
111 Roberts Street, Suite K
East Hartford , CT 06108