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A St. Louis startup’s technology, designed to detect air quality problems on Earth, may also be headed into space.

Applied Particle Technology, based at the BioGenerator in the Central West End, recently won a $100,000 prize from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which is looking for ways to protect astronauts from airborne pollutants. The win could lead to a test of APT’s sensor on the International Space Station, and perhaps eventually to its use on manned missions to the moon or Mars.

APT was founded by two Washington University chemical engineering Ph.D. graduates, Jiaxi Fang and Tandeep Chadha, and their professor, Pratim Biswas. The company is developing sensors to detect aerosols, which are liquid or solid particles suspended in the air.

At 5.5 ounces, its sensors are small enough to be worn on, say, a factory worker’s belt. The sensors also transmit exposure data in real time, alerting factory managers or public health officials to an air-quality emergency. That alone, Biswas says, is a big advance over existing sensors, which are bulky, expensive and not monitored continuously.

APT also is working on the capability to distinguish among types of particles, which would help users identify the source of pollutants.

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