Graduate Studies


First Advisor

Benjamin Terry

Date of this Version


Document Type



A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, Under the Supervision of Professor Benjamin S. Terry. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2021

Copyright © 2021 Grant Phillips


The discovery of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) drastically increased the speed at which genetic material such as DNA and RNA can be identified in the lab. Scientists can now identify target species such as viruses and bacteria in a matter of hours after a sample has been collected. The popularity of PCR has led to the development of lab-based systems that automatically prepare collected samples in an effort to increase result throughput and reduce the risk of human error. Recent developments in PCR technology allow scientists to carry out PCR in the field, further reducing the time needed to obtain results. To automate the sample collection and preparation process, a portable collection and preparation platform has been developed. This system, an effort of the National Strategic Research Institute, is stored in the fuselage of a Lockheed-Martin Stalker Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, and is capable of sampling an airspace and returning detection results while in flight.

In this work, a microdispenser capable of operating in a compact space is conceptualized and developed. The microdispenser is then paired with a sample distribution sub-system in order to interface with a commercial PCR machine. The microdispenser is evaluated against the needs of the PCR machine. Next, a controller is developed to coordinate the microdispensing system with the rest of the payload and the Stalker’s onboard computer.

Advisor: Benjamin S. Terry