It’s not every day that NASA calls and asks you to participate in one of its elite student programs. In NNU’s Department of Engineering, however, two groups of students were chosen to do just that, and students are taking away valuable experience that could land them back at NASA someday.

Engineering teams

Dr. Dan Lawrence, chair of engineering and physics at NNU, states, "I am thrilled! Our students are ambitious and deserve these opportunities of distinction."

After researcher Dr. John Simpson introduced NNU engineering students to his hydrophobic material developed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory last year, students began brainstorming potential uses. Not only did Team Super-Hydro test the material during the 2011 Microgravity University Systems Engineering Educational Discovery (SEED) program, a second NNU engineering team, RockSat, decided to further test the material in one of its experiments.

Developed in partnership with NASA and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, the RockSat program guides faculty and students from across the United States through the construction of a rocket payload before launching the rocket composed of payloads from various universities. Participants built a computer board and a scientific experiment (Geiger Counter), programmed the system and mechanically integrated it into the RockSat payload canister at a workshop last summer.

NNU’s RockSat team is now in the process of building two experiments into its rocket payload that will be launched in June when the team flies to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Va. After the payload is recovered, the team will compare the before and after samples of each experiment.

The first experiment will test the superhydrophobic material in a high-vibration, high-acceleration environment to determine the feasibility of using the material on future space missions.

“Essentially, the material is tiny glass cones that cause water to ball up and roll off. We are testing if the high forces and vibration of a rocket flight would damage the surface to the point where it wouldn’t repel water effectively,” Ben Gordon, sophomore team member from Oakridge, Ore., shared.

The second experiment partners the RockSat team with company engineers at American Semiconductor Inc. to test radiation-hardened chips. “Sometimes chips have errors when processing data. These errors can increase when radiation is present (like in space). We are hoping that these new chips will have fewer errors compared to regular chips,” Gordon continued.


Watch Team Super-Hydro's experiment from Microgravity University 2011.

Find out more about the research and see updates from our two NASA teams online.

Team RockSat

Team Super-Hydro

Team Super-Hydro is working on a 2012 experiment that will expand last year’s research on the superhydrophobic material. Now that the team knows the material will hold up in zero gravity, they can focus on the material’s application in water-purification systems aboard spacecraft. Microgravity University is designed to expose these promising young engineers to NASA operations, enabling them to gain research experience and to play a role in advancing America’s space program.

Team Super-Hydro will work to separate water vapor from liquid water in a passive, phase-separation system. In this process, the impurities stay behind in the liquid while the vapor is cleaned, condensed and reused.

NNU’s student team leader Kevin Halle explains, “NASA’s Waste Management department wants us to test how the maximum amount of water, vapor or liquid can be retrieved from the waste “brine” produced in the space station’s filtration system. The current water purification method leaves a small amount of brine behind. Our experiment tests a possible add-on to the current system that will recover even more water without using a significant amount of additional energy.”

Dr. Dan Lawrence, NNU’s chair of engineering and physics, states, “I am thrilled. Both RockSat and Microgravity University are incredible opportunities for our students and faculty. It shows the significant educational research experience all of our students receive under the guidance of their professors. Our students are ambitious and deserve these opportunities of distinction.”


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