NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) is excited to announce recipients of its Spring 2019 Call for Proposals.  Award recipients include 10 faculty members and 27 graduate/undergraduate students, and are from 12 NASA CTSGC academic affiliate member institutions. Below are the names of all recipients of the Faculty Grants, Graduate/Undergraduate Grants and Scholarships. Congratulations to all the awardees!

Faculty Research

Lindsey Hanson
Trinity College
Nanoparticle-polymer composites as optical stress sensors for early damage detection

       Early detection of stress concentration is vital to the prevention of catastrophic failures in
aerospace components. An optical stress sensor, or material that converts mechanical stress into
an optical readout, would allow for non-destructive, high throughput assessment of stresses before
damage progresses. Recent work showed that the absorbance spectrum of gold nanoparticles
changes with compressive stress. However, neither the effect of uniaxial compression or tension
on the optical response nor that of incorporating the particles into a polymer is known. In this
project, we will lay the foundations for self-reporting composite materials by incorporating gold
nanoparticles into polymers and studying their optomechanical properties.

Susan Masino
Trinity College
Tree-based carbon: A comparison of existing models, direct measurement and citizen science

       Accurate measurements of tree volume and associated carbon storage are necessary to determine ongoing negative carbon emissions. Recent detailed measurements have found that the volume of larger, older trees is underestimated systematically. NASA satellites and missions have been focused on studying forests and the movement of carbon through ecosystems, and recently started a ground-based citizen science initiative using smartphones to measure tree height. Here, we partner established experts and undergraduate students to compare data gathered with traditional tools, state-of-the-art instrumentation and the citizen science initiative to enable cross-validation and highly accurate measurements of large trees growing within a forest setting.

John Mertens
Trinity College
Optimization of Chemical Kinetics Model of NH3 Combustion Using Experimental Data

       Developing the most efficient methods for Energy Storage is critical for many power systems, both
on earth and in space. Major new international efforts are underway to study the use of ammonia
(NH3) as an energy carrier, i.e. storing energy by synthesizing ammonia, and later recouping the
energy by combusting the ammonia. The goal of this study is to develop the definitive detailed gas
phase chemical reaction mechanism for ammonia combustion, using extensive pre-existing and
additional new experimental measurements as benchmarks. This is strongly related to NASA’s
Goal 2: Advance understanding of Earth and develop technologies to improve the quality of life on
our home planet.

Rob Narzarian
Fairfield University
Global Impacts of Mixing in Submarine Canyons

       Model simulations and observations suggest that individual submarine canyons can be regions of intense ocean mixing. Our goal is to calculate the total amount of the ocean’s mixing occurring in submarine canyons and determine its role in sustaining the ocean’s circulation. We will utilize a high-resolution ocean topography map and computational model for energy fluxes to calculate the mixing within each canyon based on Nazarian 2017a. This study supports NASA’s training and research missions by advancing our understanding of the distribution of mixing and its role in ocean circulation, as well as providing undergraduate students with a robust research experience.

Noah Planavsky
Yale University
Towards an Understanding of Phosphorus Cycling on Waterworlds

       Phosphorus is a key factor for life as we know it.. Continental weathering is considered
the only source of phosphorus to the oceans, implying that fluid-rich exoplanets (so called
waterworlds) may be biological deserts due to severe phosphorus limitation. However, in
contrast to the prevailing view, preliminary results from anoxic alteration experiments with
crystalline basalt indicate that anoxic basalt alteration is an efficient source of bioavailable
phosphorus. We plan to extend this research with experiments at a range of environmental
conditions, pH, pressure, and basalt types to provide a more robust framework to make predictions about exoplanetary biospheres.

Faculty STEM Education Research 

Elizabeth Cowles
Eastern Connecticut State University
Going Further: Do High School Research Experiences Impact Persistence in STEM?

       Attracting students to enter STEM fields is a NASA strategic goal. Research experience for undergraduates increases their persistence in STEM. Can research do the same for high school students? Here we assess the outcomes of a high school biotechnology research program. Our objectives are to analyze the effects of the following on applications and acceptances to college: student research participation, family influences, mentor-pairing and credentials in skill acquisition. The results will provide evidence on the most effective practices for attracting, retaining, and supporting students into college STEM programs.

Ivana Milanovic
Trinity College
Tree-based carbon: A comparison of existing models, direct measurement and citizen science

       One of NASA’s strategic objectives is cultivation of a workforce with the right balance of skills and experience. The proposed research will investigate the use of simulations,  application building, and inquiry-based learning (IBL) in the undergraduate engineering curriculum, specifically in the thermo-fluids topical thread. The objectives are to address the challenges of (1) moving students from being successful in highly structured tasks to navigating the unstructured tasks, and (2) fulfilling the ABET student outcome (k) which states that students should have the ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.

Faculty STEM Education Programming

Donna Hylton
Middlesex Community College
Adventures in Learning STEM Camp

     Adventures in Learning STEM Camp seeks to get children excited about learning by presenting opportunities to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math in creative and innovative ways.  Campers learn about the marvels of science through scientific experiments, experience computer technology, learn the wonders of math, and the value of engineering. This year our camp will be working with the Middletown Public Schools to help prepare pre-school children for kindergarten by using a program called Bridges to Brilliance. This app teaches young children letters, numbers, and concepts of STEM. Children will have tablets to explore during our program and this will be reinforced by integrating Lego projects for hands-on creativity.

William Herbst
Wesleyan University
A public Lecture on Astronomy at Wesleyan University

       We propose to build on the legacy of the Sturm Memorial Lecture Series and contribute to a celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of NASA’s landing on the Moon by providing a public lecture on the topic of astronomy by a prominent astrophysicist for the greater central Connecticut community.

Faculty-Student Summer Research

Haoyu Wang
Central Connecticut State University
A wearable system for quick visualization and diagnosis of issues in space using mixed reality technology

       This research will contribute to NASA’s Human Exploration and Development of Space strategic enterprise. The goal of the research is to develop a wearable system based on mixed reality (augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)) to help human quickly visualize and diagnose issues in space vehicles or habitats. Two undergraduate students will design and prototype the system which integrates Microsoft Hololens (AR), HTC VIVE and MANUS VR (VR), and a computer through software development using their application programming interface (API).

Graduate Research Fellowship

Alexandra Garza
University of New Haven
Zebrafish as a Model for Genetic Compensation to Counteract the Negative Impacts of Increased
Mutational Load on Humans in Space

       The impact of radiation on astronauts is a significant concern for space travel. One
proposed mechanism to combat the mutational load associated with this radiation is genetic
compensation. This compensation allows an organism to upregulate similar genes to compensate
a mutated gene for its functional loss. This proposed research aims to use zebrafish as a model to
assess the degree of sequence similarity required for genetic compensation, and to further
characterize the role of upf1 in this pathway. Overall, this work will point to potential strategies
to counteract the negative impacts of increased mutational load on humans in space.

Cory Jubinville
University of Connecticut
Evaluation of Novel Genetic Enhancer Elements in Muscle Regeneration by CRISPR-Cas9 Editing

       Extensive skeletal muscle atrophy experienced after short periods in low-gravity
exhibits a significant obstacle to NASA’s strategic goal of maintaining constant human
presence in low-Earth orbit, and deep space exploration. Muscle maintenance and
regeneration by muscle stem cells combats muscle atrophy upon activation of genetic
myogenic programming. However, understanding genetic regulation of genes crucial to
muscle stem cell activation, such as myoD, remains elusive. This project evaluates novel
regulatory enhancer element influence on myoD by disrupting predicted enhancers via
CRISPR-Cas9 editing. Understanding genetic regulation of muscle stem cell activation will
set the foundation for targeted interventions remediating spaceflight-associated muscle

Malena Rice
Yale University
Asteroid Occultations Using a Large Network of Small Telescopes

       We explore the feasibility of and present initial designs for a large network of small telescopes
purpose-built to monitor stars for occultations by solar system minor planets. Precise
measurements of the orbits of minor planets, achievable with this network, will provide critical
clues about perturbations by other objects in the solar system, constraining the
abundance/distribution of as-yet undiscovered asteroids, moons, and planets (such as the
proposed Planet Nine). Such a network directly addresses NASA’s strategic goal to “expand
human knowledge through new scientific discoveries” by studying the architecture of the solar
system to understand planetary system formation more generally.

Jeffrey Steiner
University of Connecticut
Proposed Habitat Design and Analysis Methodology for Various Locations on the Lunar Surface 

       The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has established that a long-term human presence in orbit around, and on the moon, is a significant focus in the development of space exploration. The objective of this project is to develop a methodology of analysis which is applicable to habitats constructed in various locations on the lunar surface. This methodology will address the effects of temperature cycling, micrometeoroid impact, and radiation exposure on any future habitats, built with various methods of construction. The methodology will be validated by designing a proposed lunar habitat which utilizes prefabricated composite layers shielding a dome-shaped frame.

Undergraduate Research Fellowship

Sean Byrne
Central Connecticut State University
Mass measurement of the faintest quiescent black hole binary system

       Black hole research applies to NASA’s astrophysics roadmap from 2013. In section 4.2 of the roadmap under the question “how does our universe work?”, black holes are the subject matter for extremes. We will be obtaining five orbital light curves of the black hole binary system XTE 1118+480. This stellar massive black hole has the shortest confirmed orbital period; four hours. The binary pair also has the lowest quiescent accretion rate. With the light curve and orbital period, we will estimate the orbital inclination and find a precise mass ratio and distance. This information will help us study X-ray transients.

Emily Hughes
Wesleyan University
Experimental Evaporation of Martian Brines to Determine Spectroscopic Signatures

       A central element of NASA’s strategic plan is the quest for the discovery of life on Mars via rover
and orbiter missions. Stable liquid water is often considered the necessary precursor to life. Brines,
with depressed eutectic temperatures, are the most promising form in which liquid water may be
stable on the Martian surface. We will experimentally create, and evaporate, Martian analogue
brines in a Mars chamber, and obtain Visible-Near Infrared (VNIR) spectra from these brines,
which we can compare to CRISM data. This aids in determining the validity and potential locations
of stable liquid water on the Martian surface.

Anthony Ragazzi
Trinity College
An Embedded System to Monitor the Breathing Condition of Astronauts Using Wireless Data Transmission and Machine Learning

       The underlying research proposes to build an embedded system that uses adaptive
supervised machine learning to evaluate breathing signals of astronauts. The signals will be
measured with an abdominal strain gauge and transmitted to the main processing station using
wireless communication (i.e., Bluetooth) for further analysis. Breathing features will be extracted
using in-house developed algorithms and analyzed via supervised machine learning to classify
breathing measurements to: normal breathing, breathing with body movement, movement
without breathing, apnea or loss of sensor connection. The proposed design provides real-time
monitoring of an astronaut’s health condition and generates timely warnings when unexpected
urgencies emerge.

Andrew Reardon
Yale University
Natural Teleoperation of a Robot Arm Using a Sensory Sleeve

       Given the danger of spacewalks, decreasing the number of hours astronauts spend outside of the spacecraft is imperative for crew safety. Towards this objective, I propose a method using natural human motion to control a robot arm. Specifically, I will use stretchable sensors embedded in a sleeve to measure an operator’s arm position to teleoperate a robot arm for remote repairs and upgrades of spacecraft. The soft sensors are flexible, washable, and do not impede movement. The outcome of my proposed work will be a wearable sensory sleeve for robot teleoperation to address NASA’s technology thrust in Remote Interaction.

Brenna Roberston
University of Connecticut
Fitting Observed Spectral Energy Distributions to Determine Black Hole Spin

        The pursuit of new knowledge about the universe has been a driving force in scientific discovery.
One of the most mysterious objects in the universe are supermassive black holes, which have
recently been found to be at the center of all galaxies. Growth of central black holes is highly
correlated to galaxy evolution and feedback, so learning fundamental properties such as mass,
spin, and accretion rate are crucial to understanding much larger astrophysical phenomena. In order
to determine black hole spin, we will fit theoretical models to observed spectral energy

Student Project

Alexander Kavadas
Central Connecticut State University
Modular Collision Avoidance System For Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

       The proposed project is to create a stand-alone collision avoidance system for UAVs that will allow for pilots to receive feedback on their position relative to the various obstacles experienced in average UAV missions. The system will work off of feedback controls to designate certain distances between the UAV and the obstacle as safe or dangerous. The system will consist of two components: the system that is attached to the drone, and the ground unit.

Donovan Ross Palmer
Trinity College
Land-based autonomous navigation vehicle

       This design project seeks to create an artificially intelligent land-based vehicle capable of autonomous navigation and real-time mapping of its surrounding environment. The objective is to have the robot be capable of self-localization using mobile mapping and GPS waypoints, maneuver around any physical obstruction, and be able to respond to other outside stimuli when necessary. Unmanned vehicles provide opportunity to tackle NASA’s mission of space exploration and scientific discovery as it is imperative that if we are not the ones exploring the universe, that we have technology with artificial intelligence do it for us.

Abigail Ridler
Eastern Connecticut State University
The effects of dietary antioxidants on the development of insulin resistance in hindlimb suspended mice

       Astronauts in space often face complications of muscle atrophy and metabolic stress. One such
problem is the development of insulin resistance due to the build-up of reactive oxygen species
(ROS) and glycogen in weight-bearing muscles. This study aims to determine the effects of
dietary antioxidants on glycogen stores, the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and
insulin resistance in hindlimb-suspended mice, using glucose tolerance tests and glycogen and
superoxide dismutase assays. The results of this study can then be used in the formulation of
diets for astronauts in order to reduce oxidative damage, and possibly increase space exploration

Student Travel

Arun Malla
University of Connecticut
Engineering Mechanics Institute 2019, at California Institute of Technology


Undergraduate Scholarship

Lukas Corey
Yale University

Alexander Henton
Wesleyan University

Alisa Levin
Trinity College

Keduse Worku
Yale University

Isabella Yung
Trinity College

Community College Transfer Scholarship

Debora Cruz
Central Connecticut State University

Caleigh Dodge
Central Connecticut State University

Amara Falotico
Central Connecticut State University

Jacob Parent
University of Connecticut

Ashton Stephens
University of Connecticut

Community College Scholarship

Zachary Dezeil
Three Rivers Community College

Jimmy Mendoza
Middlesex Community College

Miguel Montijo
Naugatuck Valley Community College

Elizabeth Schneider
Naugatuck Valley Community College