"When SpaceX launches its resupply mission to the International Space Station in early December, it will include a unique device created by the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s engineers. With the development of the new device, scientific experiments conducted in space may never be the same.

During the past two years, researchers from the Engineering and Innovative Technology Development group, or EITD, have designed and built three rapid-freeze devices, one of which will be included in the upcoming launch. The device will enable astronauts to quickly freeze biological samples down to negative 190 degrees Celsius.

“When you’re freezing biological samples as part of a scientific experiment, the most important thing is to freeze the sample as rapidly as possible,” said EITD Mechanical Engineer Brandon Smith, who also earned his master’s degree from the UAB School of Engineering. “In laboratories on Earth, they will dunk the sample in liquid nitrogen; but it wouldn’t be safe to use liquid nitrogen in space. So NASA needed something on the space station that could freeze samples comparable to liquid nitrogen on Earth.”

EITD took on the challenge as part of a $3.6 million contract with NASA. The completed devices will freeze from 20 degrees Celsius down to negative 60 degrees within one minute and down to negative 140 degrees within five minutes. With those freeze rates, samples frozen in space will be comparable to ones frozen in Earth-bound experiments.

In October of 2018, all EITD employees who worked on the Rapid Freeze project received awards from NASA. The awards were delivered to UAB by the NASA project manager in charge of the Rapid Freeze program, CJ Kanelakos."

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