David Rice, president of Milwaukee-based Rice Technology LLC, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee scientist Marcia Silva are among 10 finalists in a NASA program aimed at finding ideas to solve critical problems on Earth and in future space exploration.
The NASA iTech initiative, now in its third cycle, seeks entries from innovators in the areas of augmented reality advancement, medical breakthrough and “X-factor innovation” — an entry that doesn’t fit a specific focus area but has potential to fill a critical need for NASA.
Rice Technology has developed a sensor that is able to detect multiple contaminants in water, including dissolved and suspended solids, phosphorus, bacteria and viruses. It’s led by Rice and Silva, facility manager of the UWM Water Technology Accelerator. The team submitted a patent application in August 2017 and has had multiple UWM engineering students working on the project since 2014.
“To measure contaminants in water, there are many different ways of doing it, but each instrument is designed to measure one particular contaminant — a meter that measures suspended solids, one that measures the pH and so on and so forth,” Rice said. “But what is sorely missing is a device that can measure how much bacteria there is in water and how many viruses there are in water on a real-time basis. You can do this but it takes a day or more and it involves a lot of laboratory work.”
Their device simplifies the process, Rice said.
“It uses no chemicals and it uses a tiny amount of electricity, little electromagnetic fields, that can measure all those contaminants simultaneously, within seconds,” he said. “It’s very small, it’s very lightweight, it takes very little power and it’s inexpensive.”
Rice, an electronic engineer, said the product has taken about three years to create. He has worked with Marcia Silva, researcher and facility manager of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Water Technology Accelerator. Rice previously participated in the Global Water Center’s startup accelerator program with his former venture, Noah Technologies, which produced a leak detection sensor for use in homes or businesses.