NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) is pleased to announce the recipients of its Spring/Summer 2024 Call for Proposals. Award recipients include 17 faculty members and 22 undergraduate/graduate students, and are from 10 NASA CTSGC academic affiliate member institutions. Below are the names of all recipients of the Undergraduate/Graduate Grants, Scholarships, and Faculty Grants.

 If you an awardee listed below, your award letter will be emailed to you starting the week of June 17, 2024.

Congratulations to the following NASA Connecticut Space Grant award recipients!

Our next call for applications will begin 9/10/2024.

Faculty Awards

Curriculum Development Grant

Edward Moore
Central Connecticut State University
Development of Freshman Design Competition for Introduction to Engineering Course

Today, Introduction to Engineering is taught at Central Connecticut State University as a purely theoretical course without hands on project or laboratory components.  Introduction to Engineering is a critical class, setting the stage for the rest of their careers.  It must survey the many different skills and abilities that will lead to professional success.   Quantitative skills should be addressed, to be sure, but teamwork, leadership, design, budgeting, scheduling, communication, professionalism, and a passion for iteration should also be part of every engineer’s toolkit.  In an informal survey a group of upper division students give the existing course a 3/10 for “interest”.  This group of students stayed with the program despite the shortcomings of their introduction to the discipline.  It is likely that some students became discouraged and left the program entirely.  A redesign of the course should both enhance retention, as well as engender an appreciation in students for the many facets of engineering.

Addition of a design project to this course will align it with the NASA Exploration Systems Directorate, since this will improve the ability of engineering students to work in cross functional teams while solving open-ended design problems, the solutions to which must be highly reliable and cost effective.

Faculty Project Grant

David Shekhtman
Fairfield University
Spectroscopy of (2+1)- and (3+1)- Multiphoton Acetone Tracer Excitation for Nonintrusive Laser Diagnostics of High-speed Flow

The proposed project is the continuation of the spectral study of the acetone excitation process. Using an experimentally obtained acetone spectrum (many lines have yet to be identified with documented acetone energy states), the re-excitation of acetone plasma and photolysis byproducts will be explored to determine the practicality of SNR enhancement and two-line thermometry. The results will aid researchers when using acetone as a tracer in high-speed flow inside a ground-test facility. The proposed project requires additional optics to gain more knowledge on the excitation processes of acetone.

Faculty Research Grant

Djedjiga Belfadel
Fairfield University
Multi-Sensor Fusion for Robust Drone Swarm Navigation without GPS

This project aims to provide an alternative navigation system to enable a swarm of drones to conduct autonomous missions in a Global Positioning System (GPS) denied environment. To achieve this goal, we propose a relative navigation system, using an extended Kalman Filter (EKF) to fuse the observation from the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), an optical flow and a ranging sensor. This methodology uses two waveforms to achieve secure and high communication data rate using a low-cost beam-switching phased array. This system thus enables drone operations even in GPS- denied environments. This cost-effective solution aligns with NASA’s Space Technology strategic enterprise.

Michelle Fabiani
University of New Haven
Satellite Imagery for Archaeological Looting Detection

This project seeks to collect monthly satellite imagery on 661 archaeological sites in Lower Egypt in two time periods: 2015 – 2017 and 2018 – 2023. The resulting data will provide the seed for a future project to code for and analyze how looting activity changes over space and time in response to natural (environmental) and human (economic, conflict) influences. This work extends a previous pilot project, expanding the data collection approach and is an intermediary step towards identifying these risk factors and opportunity structures for looting activity. Relevant to the Science Mission Directorate, it will facilitate interdisciplinary analysis of landscape changes.

Chee-Hoi Leong
Central Connecticut State University
Effect of Chronic Eccentric Cycling Training on Bone Mineral Density in Healthy Females

Exposure to microgravity in space leads to skeletal muscle atrophy, reduced muscular function, and bone mineral density (BMD) loss. Current exercise countermeasures, including structured programs with basic equipment like treadmills and cycle ergometers, aim to mitigate these effects but fall short due to insufficient training stimulus. Eccentric cycling, however, offers high-force, low-demand exercise, potentially restoring muscle function and BMD more effectively. Our study aims to assess the effects of 8 weeks of chronic eccentric cycling on BMD, body composition, and muscular function. We hypothesize significant improvements to BMD, body composition, and muscular function, aligning with NASA’s mission to design effective space exploration exercise protocols.

Cheryl Li
University of New Haven
Skeleton Tracking for Space Explorations

Space exploration is driven by humanity’s long-standing dream of venturing beyond our planet. Beyond scientific advancement, it fosters technological innovation and prompts us to ponder profound existential questions. However, challenges such as astronaut health and productivity in space persist due to hazardous conditions. To address this, researchers are developing Human-Robot Interfacing systems, expanding beyond remote operations to various setups like co-located and group interactions. This research aims to offer a promising solution by leveraging advancements in computer vision and AI. In particular, the project utilizes depth cameras to track human movements in real time, enhancing the control of robots for space exploration. The short-term goals of this research involve constructing a sophisticated 3D skeleton tracking system and developing advanced algorithms, while the long-term objectives aim for autonomous exploration robots to support in-site resource utilization and surface construction for space exploration.

Nikodem Poplawski
University of New Haven
Automated Asteroid Occultation Project

We propose to support and expand a local network of Northeast USA telescopes–partially or fully automated, located at local (primarily CT) astronomy clubs, private residences, local colleges, and perhaps secondary schools, for the primary purpose of observing asteroid occultations. Specifically, observing with many telescopes will increase the number of observed chords per successful occultation which will improve shape and position estimates. The resulting observations will improve upon the knowledge of asteroids, perhaps planetary moons, through accurate measurements of size to better than sub-km, shape of similar accuracy, and position (sub milli-arcsecond accuracy) of these solar system bodies.

Sriharsha Sundarram
Fairfield University
Triply Periodic Minimal Surface (TPMS) Metal Foam – Phase Change Material (PCM) based Passive Thermal Energy Storage Units

The goal of this project is to explore the use of metal foams with triply periodic minimal surface lattices as thermal enhancers for phase change materials in thermal storage units. A fabrication approach using metal 3D printing is employed to manufacture lightweight arbitrary structures that serve not only as thermal enhancers but also offer load bearing capabilities. The thermal performance of these structures will be characterized via experiments and simulations. This project ties in directly with the Space Operations Mission Directorate which has identified heat rejection and storage systems as one of the technology areas relevant to the agency’s mission.

Brian Wells
University of Hartford
Design and Application of Multiscale Metamaterial Devices Used in Space Imaging and Communication

Metamaterials are a form of synthetic composites that can manipulate light in ways that are not possible with naturally occurring materials. These materials can potentially revolutionize space communication and imaging, crucial to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). However, one of the biggest challenges to realizing these advancements is the difficulty of fabrication and production. This project aims to explore new fabrication techniques using FDM and SLA 3D printing along with PCB plotting. We propose to develop, produce, and test a variety of new dielectric, conductive, and semi-conductive filaments and resins that can be implemented into 3D printing technologies. These materials will be used to fabricate several theoretically novel imaging and communication metamaterial devices. We’ll construct a stand-alone electromagnetically shielded anechoic chamber to ensure accurate results for precise microwave metamaterial characterization. This will also act as a springboard for near-future funding proposals. A minimum of ten undergraduate research students across disciplines will be engaged in these projects, and the findings of the proposed and previous related projects will be published in top peer-reviewed scientific journals upon completion.

Xingguo Xiong
University of Bridgeport
Machine Learning based Wildfire Detection Using Satellite Imagery and Drone Surveillance

This project proposes a machine learning-driven wildfire detection system integrating satellite imagery with drone surveillance. Machine learning analyzes satellite images to pinpoint potential wildfire spots, enhanced by drone surveillance to address image gaps. Equipped with sensors and cameras, drones capture data including GPS, temperature, and humidity, providing detailed insights into wildfire activity. Combining satellite imagery’s wide coverage with drone’s flexibility ensures accurate and timely detection. AI automation enhances detection processes, enabling firefighters and communities to respond swiftly and evacuate efficiently. This aligns with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) which seeks to expand the frontiers of broad scientific pursuits in Earth Science, enhancing early wildfire detection and response capabilities.

Faculty Travel Grant

Meredith Hughes
Wesleyan University
Bringing Wesleyan Astronomy Students to Green Bank Observatory

We propose a 3-day trip for Wesleyan astronomy students to Green Bank Observatory, where they will experience hands-on telescope use and access to a receiver lab in the context of a world-class observatory.  Given the shift of our field towards remote observations, it is increasingly necessary to provide opportunities for students to experience hands-on data collection and the operation of a national facility.  This course is the “advanced observational” offering in Wesleyan’s astronomy sequence, and is aligned with NASA’s mission directorates in terms of astrophysics education, specifically developing student capability in the area of science-enabling technologies through exposure to instrumentation.

Faculty/Student Research

Haoyu Wang
Central Connecticut State University
Remote Robotic Repair Based on Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and AI

The goal of the research is to develop an intelligent remote-control system for robots to conduct repairs using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to get control commands from the user and allow the user to visualize just-in-time data analytic and real-time video feed of the operation site. Robot Operating System (ROS) will be used to connect sensors, robots, and VR and AR devices. Large language model and deep learning will be used to build AI models for intuitive and intelligent human-robot interfaces.

STEM Education Research Grant

Tomoyasu Mani
University of Connecticut
Molecular Quantum Days for High School Students

This project proposes to develop a new outreach program, weekend workshops (Molecular Quantum Days), targeted at high school students focusing on molecular quantum science and technologies.  The new program will allow high school students to explore the quantum world through molecular science, connecting quantum concepts with phenomena/technologies students find in daily life. Students will explore fundamental concepts in quantum mechanics through hands-on activities and discussions facilitated by PIs and undergraduate/graduate assistants. The project aligns with NASA’s mission to develop cutting-edge quantum technologies for space exploration and scientific discovery under the Space Operation and Space Technology Mission Directorates.

Jacob Werblow
Central Connecticut State University
The Power of STEM: Capturing Teacher Voices in the NASA Astro Camp Teacher Prep Program

Conducted by the CT STEM Academy, the NASA Astro Camp Teacher Certification Program gives classroom teachers and aspiring educators the chance to learn how to inspire youth to learn about astrophysics, earth science, and heliophysics, which directly align with NASA’s Exploration Systems Development and Science Mission Directorate. Building off the success of our Spring 2024 research  grant, where we trained 13 individuals and conducted an external evaluation using surveys, we now propose to provide a level-I training at CCSU in the Fall and to conduct an external evaluation focus group with the participants of the program.

Graduate and Undergraduate Awards

Graduate Research Fellowship

Nicole Beauregard
University of Connecticut
Integrating Machine Learning with Evolutionary Algorithms for the Rapid Discovery of High-Performing Metal-Organic Frameworks for Gas Adsorption

This project proposes to develop an integrated genetic algorithm (GA) random forest (RF) machine learning algorithm (GARF) to design and screen high-performing metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) for gas adsorption. Using only molecular building blocks and crystal information as input, the algorithm can rapidly build novel MOFs and accurately predict their methane, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide storage capabilities. These gases are all of major importance during space flight and are all involved in the Sabatier reaction. Adsorption is a safer and more energy efficient way for storing gases. This algorithm’s ability to rapidly identify candidate materials would be invaluable for materials discovery.

Dominic Flores
University of Connecticut
Dielectric Elastomer Actuator Grippers with Sensing Capabilities for Space Applications

Soft robotics introduces an innovative approach to address challenges in navigating and operating within unstructured settings. The aim of this research proposal is to focus on the development and assessment of soft robotic gripping mechanisms by leveraging dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs). Incorporating intrinsic proprioceptive sensors allows these grippers to provide detailed feedback on system dynamics. This grant will support a research effort which showcases a sophisticated four-fingered gripper. The device will be designed to unfold from a compact configuration and be tested in low pressure, high radiation, and extreme temperature configurations.

Josué Martínez-Martínez
University of Connecticut
CARES: Computer-Aided Robust and Explainable Systems for Space Health

AI systems in healthcare can suffer a decrease in accurate and explainable diagnoses when they are exposed to variable imaging conditions. Specially, in space astronauts need a reliable, robust and explainable computer-aided system that they can trust for the decision-making. We propose a training methodology grounded in trustworthy AI principles, prioritizing these attributes during model development. The methodology is based on Wasserstein distance, designed to penalize reliance on non-realistic features during learning. This ensures the system maintains high diagnostic accuracy and explainability across diverse conditions. Our work signifies a significant step towards resilient and understandable medical diagnostics during space missions.

Sahib Sandhu
University of Connecticut
Space ready deployable composites based on compliant capacitors

Soft robotics offers solutions for navigating unstructured environments and manipulating irregular objects. This project leverages insights gained from a NASA CT Faculty Project grant to enhance the capabilities of dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) for use in deployable structures for space applications. DEAs, functioning as solid-state devices, can be integrated into origami and kirigami structures to enable significant changes in area and volume. This project aims to facilitate the development of a deployable structure composite capable of expanding its area by 100 times while withstanding harsh radiation, temperature, and pressure conditions.

Alexander White
University of Connecticut
Spacecraft Landing System using Soft Tunable Tensegrity Structures

I am writing to propose a project exploring the use of soft tunable tensegrity structures for the landing of spacecraft, applicable to the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. Tensegrity structures, characterized by their pre-stressed, non-linear members, offer unique advantages for space applications due to their lightweight, adaptable nature and inherent shock-absorbing properties. By leveraging advancements in soft robotics and tunable materials, this project aims to develop innovative landing solutions that enhance the safety, reliability, and versatility of spacecraft landing systems.

Undergraduate Research Grant

Grace Forrey
University of Connecticut
Dust Attenuation Maps from Balmer Decrements in Galaxies at 1<z<3

Dust is a key ingredient for galaxy growth, but because it blocks light, it is also a major nuisance for observations of galaxies. I will be using in-hand spectroscopy from the JWST to measure how dust is distributed in a diverse sample of galaxies in the early universe, and to correlate those results against the properties of the galaxy. This will provide important empirical constraints for observational and theoretical studies that need to model the spatial distribution of dust. This project directly aligns with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, which further emphasizes its relevance and importance.

Lia Gilmore
University of Connecticut
Impact of Active Galactic Nucleus on Molecular Gas Properties in Galaxy Centers

We have conducted preliminary research on the relationship between the ratio of kinetic and gravitational potential energy, as parameterized by σ^2_mol/Σ_mol, and the radius out from the active galactic nucleus (AGN) of the NGC 3621 galaxy. This proposal for further research will solidify the conclusions of this preliminary research by expanding the sample of galaxies to derive a generalized relationship. The significance of these findings is that they build upon previous research done on this galaxy sample and build on the understanding of the effect of the galactic environment on molecular cloud properties.

Reem Kharbouch
Fairfield University
Acoustic Drone Localization

The proposed project focuses on advancing drone navigation capabilities in GPS-denied environments by employing an innovative, cost-effective solution. A key aspect of this project involves the development of an acoustic source localization method using a drone-mounted phased microphone array. This methodology enables drones to detect and localize objects through sound, facilitating autonomous missions and ensuring seamless operations even in GPS-denied environments. To achieve this objective, the project seeks to characterize a microphone sensor array, which will be mounted on a drone. This array will be used for object detection and localization, as well as implementing obstacle avoidance and performing localization tasks. Additionally, the drone’s propeller blades will be modified to optimize performance and minimize interference with the acoustic sensor data. This initiative aligns with NASA’s Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan, which supports the agency’s overall mission. Specifically, it relates to the Autonomous Systems element within the Technology Area: Systems Engineering, which ultimately advances the future of autonomous drone operations. Furthermore, this project is in line with NASA’s Technology Taxonomy, particularly within the scope of Autonomy and Robotics, which aims to develop technologies for autonomous operations and advanced robotic systems. The proposed drone navigation solution directly contributes to this area by advancing autonomous capabilities for seamless operations in GPS-denied environments.

Carlos Ordonez
Wesleyan University
Enstatite Chondrites Earth’s H2O

Enstatite chondrites aand re thought to be the main contributor to Earth’s water budget. Current measurements propose that enstatite chondrites contribute up to 92% of the water to Earth’s mantle. Although the latter may seem possible, minerals with minimal H2O content are difficult to measure while at the same time negating hydrogen contamination from the Earth’s atmosphere. In this research, we will use a new state-of-the-art technique that allows us to make measurements of extraterrestrial water uncontaminated by Earth’s water, allowing us to assess if enstatite chondrites are a source of Earth’s water.

Rebecca Sousa
CT State Community College – Housatonic
Ancient DNA Preservation in Environmental Samples

Studying and understand the workings of ancient DNA is key to better understand our evolutionary process along with confirming and even discovering new principles of environmental and archeological sciences. The objective of this research proposal is to investigate the complete range of ancient DNA molecules deposited by past organisms, preserved over thousands of years within milligrams of sediment collected from archaeological sites. We aim to characterize this abundant new source of information and to study the mechanisms that facilitate the preservation of DNA molecules in the environment over extended periods of time. Deepening our understanding of how the Earth and its environment fluctuates over a span of thousands of years can bring us to an understanding of our universe in a way never thought imaginable before.

Dylan St James
University of Hartford
Influence of duration of concentric muscle action on exercise-induced muscle fatigue in humans

Aligning with the Space Operations Mission Directorate to enable sustained human exploration missions and operations, this investigation explores the influence of duration of concentric muscle action on neuromuscular fatigue, which can shed light on training programs for astronauts who train for, live in, and return from space. At least 24 participants will be recruited for this 4-visit experiment. They will undergo testing and procedures familiarization during the first visit; exercise protocols will be applied to the following visits with pre and post measurements of neuromuscular parameters such as strength, muscle architecture, and muscle excitation.

Jeremy Wilson
University of New Haven
Analysis of Epstein-Barr Virus Persistence in Human Heart Tissues Using Single-Cell RNA Sequencing

The goal of the project is to analyze Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) persistence within human heart tissues through single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq). EBV is present in upwards of 90% of the population and is commonly reactivated during long term spaceflight, which could have a negative impact on cardiovascular health. This project will help determine the effect of EBV within the heart by measuring the genome-wide transcriptional profiles at the individual cell level. This project is important for the NASA’s science directorate as it will help elucidate the effect of EBV persistence on the gene expression profiles in the human heart.  

Student Scholarships

Scholarship: Community College

Kevin Concepcion
CT State Community College – Naugatuck Valley

Scholarship: Community College Transfer

Josh Calderon
University of Connecticut

Joseph Hawker
Central Connecticut State University

Scholarship: Undergraduate

Katelyn Birdsey
University of Hartford

Katherine Boehme
University of Hartford

Michael Freeman
Eastern Connecticut State University

John Gouveia
University of Hartford

Christopher Kokko
University of Hartford

Gabriel Kwarteng
Central Connecticut State University

Drew Lauzier
University of Hartford