BOONE – Appalachian State University has received another $94,000 from the NASA-sponsored N.C. Space Grant consortium to support research associated with aeronautics and space-related science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. This brings Appalachian’s four-year total award close to $400,000.
Appalachian State University student Cherie Epley works in a campus chemistry lab during her N.C. Space Grant fellowship. She is researching the conductivity of advanced polyelectrolytes used in the development of fuel cells and rechargeable batteries.
(Appalachian photos by university photographer Marie Freeman)
The funds will support the work of 12 Appalachian students, two of whom will work at NASA facilities this summer, and three faculty members.
Their projects range from developing electrostatic screens to keep lunar dust from collecting on space vehicles, to leading science education activities for North Carolina youth and monitoring air quality in the Appalachian Mountains.
“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. 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,” said Anthony G. Calamai, dean of Appalachian’s College of Arts and Sciences and campus director of the grant program.
“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.
Dr. Chris Brown, director of N.C. Space Grant, said, “We are pleased to be able to provide support to students and faculty for space-related training and research. In partnership with NASA, the N.C. General Assembly, industry partners and private individuals, we bring to bear the great strength of our university system in preparing for future space exploration.”
Appalachian’s most significant student projects funded by the grant are:
- Graduate student Jarrad Miller and undergraduate Nathanael Cox will study at the NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Electrostatics and Surface Physics Laboratory. They will build and test prototypes of an electrodynamic screen designed to keep dust from accumulating on space equipment, including roving vehicles, to be used in NASA’s planned return missions to the Moon by 2020. The students will conduct their work under simulated lunar conditions using actual lunar dust. Miller, who is from Linden, Va., is pursuing a professional science master’s degree in engineering physics and received $8,000 for his fellowship. Cox, an undergraduate physics major from Boone, received $6,000.
- Graduate student Carla Penders received $6,000 to continue her research related to stream hydrodynamics. She is developing a modeling process that uses digital images to automatically determine grain-size information about the stream’s sediment. NASA is interested because her method could be used to determine planetary features. Penders of Deep Gap is pursuing a master’s degree in engineering physics.
- Mathematics major Steven Harenberg of Brevard received $5,000 to work at Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in Rosman, N.C., on four projects: solar energy testing, radio telescope control testing, a citizen project gathering astronomical photographic data, and science education activities for academically gifted youth.
- Physics major Isaac Bryan of Hickory received $5,000 to conduct nanoscience research with Appalachian’s Dr. Tonya Coffey using the university’s new National Science Foundation-funded atomic force microscope.
- Chemistry major David Bowman of Boone received $5,000 to assist Appalachian researchers in studying the effects of natural and man-made aerosols on regional climate and ecosystems. He will quantify chemical compounds in the atmosphere and identify them as natural or man-made.
- Chemistry major Cherie Epley of Morganton received $5,000 to research the conductivity of advanced polyelectrolytes used in the development of fuel cells and rechargeable batteries.
- Chemistry major Ashley Kanupp of Vale received $5,000 to help advance the development of solar panels by making derivatives of porphyrins in order to improve photoconductivity. Porphyrins mimic the activity of chlorophyll by absorbing light over a range of wavelengths.
The three Appalachian faculty receiving N.C. Space Grant funding include Calamai, who received $20,000 to support students throughout the summer and academic year with research and travels funds to attend professional meetings where they may present their research findings.
Dr. Libby Puckett and Dr. Brett Taubman from the Department of Chemistry also received funding. Puckett received $9,000 from the Higher Education Program to develop a weekly series of seminars and demonstrations related to energy and the environment for students interested in interdisciplinary research in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Taubman received $15,000 from the New Investigations Program to support his research examining the effects of atmospheric pollutants and natural aerosols on the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface, which influences climate and weather.