In the summer of 2016, Tom D’Auria of the University of Connecticut, received his first grant from NASA CTSGC; the Faculty-Student Summer Research Grant under advisor Dr. Luyi Sun. At the time Tom had just completed his second year in UConn’s chemical engineering program and had spent the prior semester researching nano-materials in Dr. Sun’s lab. Over that summer Tom continued his work in polymer-inorganic hybrid nano-coatings for tunable iridescence and other applications. However, in addition to continuing this research project, he also trained and supervised three community college students also working in Dr. Sun’s lab. This collaboration between engineering 4-year undergraduate and community college students is one of the trademark features of the Faculty-Student Summer Research program. Read more about this summer experience here.

Following this summer program, Tom continued research in Dr. Sun’s lab for the entirety of his Junior year. The progress made over the summer was so substantial that after this third year, Tom was listed an inventor on a patent submitted by Dr. Sun, covering the tunable iridescent nano-composites Tom had been researching during the academic year and summer research experience.

With this project largely wrapped up by the summer of 2017, Tom looked to gain experience in industry to compliment his nearly two years of research experience. He was awarded an Industrial Internship by NASA CTSGC to work at Proton Onsite in Wallingford, CT. Tom spent the summer their learning about the company’s production of PEM electrolysers for hydrogen fueling. Working in the manufacturing department, he designed and worked to implement multiple cost-saving measures on the factory floor.

As the internship came to a close, and with Tom’s senior year approaching, he asked Proton to sponsor his upcoming Senior Design Project. In particular, he pitched the idea that the company’s manufacturing process was wasting money on a particular platinum plating line and that his experience with nano-coatings offered a route to a substantially cheaper method. Coming full circle, Tom brought Dr. Sun on as the project advisor in a perfect combination of the nanomaterials research and manufacturing experience that Tom had developed over his college career.

While the Senior Design Project is still underway, Tom was invited by the NASA CTSGC leadership team to attend the National Council of NASA Space Grant Director’s meeting in Washington, DC. AT the meeting Tom presented the ongoing work within this collaboration between Proton and UConn, and also told his story of how NASA CTSGC has been involved in every meaningful career move during his time in college. For those interested, Tom and his team will be at UConn’s Design Day on April 27, 2018 at Gampel Pavilion to conclude this project, and his college career.  The NASA CTSGC leadership team wishes Tom the very best in his future endeavors!

UConn chemical engineering seniors working on the Proton sponsored Senior Design Project (from left to right) Alex Keane, William Tait, Kyle Terracciano, and Tom D’Auria


Tom speaking with NASA Office of Education Associate Administrator Mike Kinaid at National Council of NASA Space Grant Director’s Meeting in Washington, DC about his NASA CTSGC funded work.