North Carolina Space Grant funds student research projects

What did you do this summer?

A select group of Appalachian State University students participated in research funded by the NASA-sponsored N.C. Space Grant consortium to help solve some of today's most relevant science issues.

In the past four years, Appalachian has received nearly $400,000 from N.C. Space Grant consortium to support research associated with aeronautics and space-related science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, much of it taking place during the summer.

This year's funds supported the work of 12 Appalachian students and three faculty members.

The students' projects ranged from solar energy testing to air quality monitoring, solar panel and fuel cell development and lunar dust mitigation.

"The highest level of teaching that our faculty do is to get students deeply involved in their studies outside the classroom through such activities as undergraduate and graduate research," said Anthony G. Calamai, dean of Appalachian's College of Arts and Sciences and campus director of the grant program. "Our retention with these students is high and they tend to outperform students who don't take advantage of such opportunities. Once they get into research, they get hooked, stay in the STEM disciplines, and typically do better following graduation."

"This is our fourth year of funding from N.C. Space Grant, and every year we've been ranked No. 3 in terms of student proposal success and we've had the highest ranked faculty proposals in the New Investigations Program for two of those years. That speaks volumes, given the competition includes schools like Duke University, N.C. State University and UNC Chapel Hill," Calamai said.

N.C. Space Grant is a consortium of 11 academic institutions that conducts programs designed to equip the current and future aeronautics and space-science workforce in North Carolina.

N.C. Space Grant receives its primary funding from NASA, but also partners with industry, non-profit organizations, and state government agencies to fund opportunities for students and faculty to engage in hands-on aeronautical and space-related research.

NASA awarded $785,000 to the N.C. Space Grant this year, which was distributed across the consortium and supported 33 faculty and 62 graduate and undergraduate students. All the funding is awarded in response to competitive proposals from the students and faculty. The funding supports research, higher education course development, K-12 professional development, and public outreach throughout the state.

Member institutions are Appalachian, Duke University, Elizabeth City State University, N.C. A&T State University, N.C. Central University, N.C. State University, UNC Asheville, UNC Charlotte, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Pembroke and Winston-Salem State University.

Some of the 12 Appalachian students participating in 2009:
Click to view larger image.

Cherie Epley

Major: Chemistry
Research: Fuel cell development

"I feel excited to be a part of tomorrow's smart technology," says Cherie, who spent her summer studying the conductivity of advanced polyelectrolytes used in the development of fuel cells and rechargeable batteries. "Fuel cells, when proved successful, will change the way we harvest and process energy without environmental hazard. Green jobs are becoming the future and I feel that this experience is helping to prepare me for tomorrow's workforce."

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David Bowman

Major: Chemistry and Applied Math
Research: Air quality

"It's given me a great opportunity to sample the air we all breathe—the air that matters to me, my family and my friends," David says of his contributions to Appalachian's federally supported AppalAIR project. AppalAIR studies air pollution's affects on regional climate and ecosystems. David participated in data acquisition and chemical analyses of air pollutants. "This research project has given me a wide variety of opportunities to do research and apply my mathematical knowledge," he said.

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Jarrad Miller

Major: Engineering Physics (graduate student)
Research: Lunar dust mitigation

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Jarrad assisted with new technology that will aid NASA's return trip to the moon, planned for 2020. "Charged dust particles posed a big problem on the last mission to the moon," Jarrad said. To keep dust from sticking to space equipment, scientists are developing a technique in which dust is removed using an electrodynamic screen that produces an electric field gradient creating a force that can move the dust. "It's great working with people who have so much experience. Working at NASA has given me great lab experience and a good idea of what real research is like," Jarrad said.

Click to view larger image.

Nathanael Cox

Major: Physics
Research: Lunar dust mitigation

"It's a great feeling to know that things you have worked on will directly assist the people and machines that explore space in the future," said Nathanael Cox, one of two students who spent their summers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center building and testing electrodynamic screens to keep dust off space equipment. "The NASA scientists gave us a lot of responsibility in our work and freedom to try different approaches to all of the problems that can arise. I think the most beneficial thing is seeing how the things you've learned about in class apply to real situations."

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Page last updated: September 7, 2009