The Portable Unit for Metabolic Analysis (PUMA) is an instrument that measures several quantities indicative of human metabolic function. Specifically, this instrument makes time-resolved measurements of temperature, pressure, flow, and the partial pressures of oxygen and carbon dioxide in breath during both inhalation and exhalation.

Portable instruments for measuring these quantities have been commercially available, but the response times of those instruments are too long to enable temporal resolution of phenomena on the time scales of human respiration cycles. In contrast, the response time of the PUMA is significantly shorter than characteristic times of human respiration phenomena, making it possible to analyze varying metabolic parameters, not only on sequential breath cycles but also at successive phases of inhalation and exhalation within the same breath cycle.

In operation, the PUMA is positioned to sample breath near the subject’s mouth. Commercial off-the-shelf sensors are used for three of the measurements: a miniature pressure transducer for pressure, a thermistor for temperature, and an ultrasonic sensor for flow. Sensors developed at Glenn Research Center are used for measuring the partial pressures of oxygen and carbon dioxide:

  • The carbon dioxide sensor exploits the relatively strong absorption of infrared light by carbon dioxide. Light from an infrared source passes through the stream of inhaled or exhaled gas and is focused on an infrared-sensitive photodetector.
  • The oxygen sensor exploits the effect of oxygen in quenching the fluorescence of ruthenium-doped organic molecules in a dye on the tip of an optical fiber. A blue laser diode is used to excite the fluorescence, and the optical fiber carries the fluorescent light to a photodiode, the temporal variation of the output of which bears a known relationship with the rate of quenching of fluorescence and, hence, with the partial pressure of oxygen.

The outputs of the sensors are digitized, preprocessed by a small onboard computer, and then sent wirelessly to a desktop computer, where the collected data are analyzed and displayed. In addition to the raw data on temperature, pressure, flow, and mole fractions of oxygen and carbon dioxide, the display can include volumetric oxygen consumption, volumetric carbon dioxide production, respiratory equivalent ratio, and volumetric flow rate of exhaled gas.

This work was done by Daniel L. Dietrich, Nancy D. Piltch, Mark E. Lewis, Jeffrey R. Juergens, Michael J. Lichter, Peter M. Struk, and Dale M. Diedrick of Glenn Research Center; Russell W. Valentine of Case Western Reserve University; and Richard D. Pettegrew of the National Center for Microgravity Research.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steve Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-17945-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from the archives here.