Our Galactic Center:  https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/iotd.htmlConnecticut Space Grant Consortium

NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) is excited to announce recipients of its Spring 2020 Call for Proposals.  Award recipients include 9 faculty members and 8 graduate/undergraduate students, and are from 8 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

Leslie Frame
University of Connecticut
Development and Characterization of Extraterrestrial Soils for Local Vehicle Test Beds

       The United States has existing plans to return to the Moon, send manned missions to Mars and unmanned missions to Venus.  Lesley Frame (UConn, Assistant Professor in MSE) and Jani Macari Pallis (UB, Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering) will collaborate to create regolith/soil simulants for two small realistic test beds which will emulate Lunar, Martian, and Venusian landscapes. The proposed research and resulting test beds will be used by both UConn and UB to attract students into STEM capacity building opportunities, including participation in NASA challenges and research related to exploration, transportation and housing on these extraterrestrial surfaces.

Anna Kloc
University of New Haven
Evaluating the impact of human herpesvirus infection on heart function

       Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. The heart can be infected by viruses, which may lead to an inflammatory, and potentially life-threatening, condition known as myocarditis. Human herpesviruses, often reactivated in astronauts during space travels, have been implicated in heart disease. The goal of this research project is to analyze the genomic sequences of herpesviruses found in human cardiac samples, and characterize the expression patterns of inflammatory markers associated with heart disease. These analyses will lead to a better understanding of herpesvirus-induced heart pathology, and help develop diagnostic tools that assess cardiac disease progression. 

Robert O’Brien
University of New Haven
The Impact of Thermal Variations of Connecticut Salt Marshes on Associated Marine Wildlife as Detected Using Remote Sensing.

        As a result of climate change, sea levels are rising around the globe threatening the ecological role of coastal salt marshes. Remote imagery will be used to identify thermal variations and resulting wildlife behavior at three Connecticut salt marshes. The compilation of this salt marsh specific data will add to general knowledge, particularly building on ecology, environmental science, and marine biology. The creation of an efficient procedure for obtaining temporal data using remote sensing equipment such as small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (sUAV) and Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) cameras will optimize operational capability in future data collection missions.

Carter Takacs
University of New Haven
Investigating genetic compensation as a biological response to deleterious mutations

       Prolonged human exposure to ionizing radiation in space can lead to an accumulation of genetic mutations and increased cancer risk. Recent work has revealed that genetic mutations can be tolerated through genetic compensation, which refers to an organism’s ability to compensate for deleterious mutations by turning on unaffected genes that possess similar functions. We propose to use zebrafish as a model to 1) explore how this process is triggered and 2) identify cellular factors involved in this process. Ultimately, this work will inform biological strategies to mitigate the damaging effects of radiation, thereby enabling human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

Shue Wang
University of New Haven

Mechanoregulation of osteogenic differentiation in simulated microgravity

       Microgravity causes several physiological changes during space travel, including osteoporosis-like loss of bone mass. Although it is known weight-bearing exercises could potentially lower the risk of osteoporosis, the mechanisms underlying how mechanical loading affects cells and causes bone loss is not clear. We will first quantify the effects of simulated microgravity on osteogenesis – bone formation process- and identify the key signaling related to this process. Next, we will compare osteogenic differentiation in microgravity with and without applied mechanical compression to see if this returns the functions of the normal state. Completion of this project will provide a fundamental understanding of how changes in mechanical loading cause bone loss and osteoporosis, which will in turn improve and develop new treatments.


Faculty STEM Education Programming

Ruth Blake
Yale University
STEMing Up!

      The shortage of ethnic youth engaged in STEM indicates the need for STEM to be valued by parents— children’s first and most influential teachers. It is also often said that youth need rolemodels that “look like them”. We propose to develop an engaging workshop for parents living in underserved neighborhoods that will expose them and their children to STEM careers/research and will be presented by a team of primarily ethnic STEM professionals. Parents will receive knowledge /tools to recognize and promote STEM engagement by their young children and foundations to prepare them for future participation in STEM summer camps.

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 again 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.

Faculty Project

Ruth Blake
Yale University
Direct analysis of DNA-bound phosphate: Toward combining temperature with taxonomy in the search for life

       Isotope thermometry has been limited to only those organisms having biomineral hardparts such as shells, bones and teeth, which has excluded 2 entire domains of life: Bacteria and Archaea. The recently developed DNA Thermometry proxy, based on 18O:16O ratios of PO4 in DNA (DNA-PO4), now extends isotope thermometry to all lifeforms and habitats. Proposed work to develop methods for direct analysis of DNA-PO4 will allow faster analysis of smaller samples which is critical to future applications of DNA Thermometry including to linking temperature with taxonomy/metabolomics and addressing the key questions of who’s there? what they’re doing? and at what temperature?

Faculty Travel

Ivana Milanovic
University of Hartford
Travel to ASME FEDSM2020 conference in Rosen Shingle Creek Orlando, FL

       One of NASA’s strategic objectives is cultivation of a workforce with the right balance of skills and experience. My research ‘Simulation-Based Approach to STEM Challenges,’ funded by CT SG Educational Grant 2019-2020, investigated the use of simulations, application building, and inquiry-based learning (IBL) in the undergraduate engineering curriculum,
specifically in the thermo-fluids topical thread. The project findings are described in detail in American Society of Mechanical Engineers Fluids Engineering Division Summer Meeting (FEDSM) conference paper ‘Unified Assessment Approach for Courses with Simulation Component.’ I am seeking funds to support travel to the ASME FEDSM2020 conference and present my research findings.

Faculty-Student Research

Sarah Maurer
Central Connecticut State University
Development of heterogenousa abiotic mixtures and analysis of their potential for chemical evolution

      Heterogenous abiotic mixtures will be prepared as is produced from interstellar and geochemical reactions. These mixtures will be used to model chemical evolution as a precursor for the origin of life. The mixtures will be exposed to cycles of drying and wetting such that would happen naturally from day/night cycles. The mixtures will be analyzed using LC-MS and analyzed using multivariate statistical analysis to determine the mixtures and conditions that are most likely to lead to complexity, and possibly life. NASA supports this work through its Science directorate under the Planetary Science Division through their Exobiology program. 

Peyton DeBowsky
Manchester Community College

Nathan Linklater
Central Connecticut State University

Graduate Research Fellowship

Logan Fries
University of Connecticut
Tidal Features in Merging Galaxies at z ~ 0: Quantifying their Color and Mass-Ratio

      Gravitational interactions between galaxies are predicted to produce tidal features during the first close passage and the final merging phases. We present a study to analyze the optical color of tidal features from a sample of 56 post-mergers from Weston et al. (2017) (Mstellar > 2 x 10^10 M, z < 0.08) We plan to analyze the SDSS ugriz images using a new morphological substructure extraction and quantification method by Mantha et al. (2019) which reliably extracts low surface brightness features. Ultimately, we hope
to distinguish whether tidal streams come from a wet or dry merger remnant which will help to estimate the makeup of the ages of stars within the streams.

Katie Stubbs
Wesleyan University
Characterization of volatile zonation in lunar apatite and britholite

       Lunar apatite and britholite, minerals found in rocks formed by late cooling of magma, is important for learning about water and its history on your moon. By investigating the spatial zoning of elements like REEs, chlorine, fluorine, sulfur, and others, we can determine if they made their way into their crystal structure by typical crystal fractionation (volcanic cooling) or by metasomatism (hot water delivering elements after the crystal has already formed). This fits into NASA’s Science Directorate by uncovering more of the moon’s history, and especially investigating how water behaves in volcanic processes

William Theune
University of New Haven
Investigating the role of the neuroprotective gene adnp in neuronal development and maintenance

      Exposure to radiation and microgravity can contribute to increased risk of neurodegeneration. This proposal aims to examine the role that the activity-dependent neuroprotector (ADNP) gene plays in neuronal development and maintenance. ADNP/ADNP-derived peptide NAP has been shown to provide neuroprotection, and mutations in adnp are associated with Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism and neurodevelopmental disorders. I propose to 1) generate adnp knockout and overexpression zebrafish models to characterize adnp function in neurogenesis and 2) decipher gene regulatory networks regulated by adnp through transcriptome analysis. This work will provide valuable insights for mitigating harmful effects of cosmic radiation and microgravity during space travel.


Undergraduate Research Fellowship

Maeve Cantwell
University of Hartford
Nozzle noise: Simulation for jet engines

      A rectangular mixer-ejector nozzle will be explored with the ultimate goal of achieving jet noise reduction for various aircraft concepts. The proposed research will employ Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and Computational Aeroacoustics (CAA) to assess the performance of an 8:1 aspect ratio rectangular nozzle used together with a simple ejector box. Flow quantities will be evaluated as a function of geometric parameters with and without mixing tabs. The goals are to: (1) validate simulation results with the experimental data from NASA Glenn Research Center, (2) pursue further modifications in mixer-ejector nozzle geometry, and (3) reduce noise in jet engines.

Grace Percival
University of Connecticut
Correlations between Supermassive Black Hole accretion rates and fundamental properties

       Since the turn of the century, black holes have confounded scientists, trapping everything that falls inside of their event horizon, including light. Given their integral role in the evolution of galaxies, understanding black hole behavior could yield important insights into the early Universe. Using fundamental properties, such as black hole mass, spin, and accretion rate, to understand what makes a black hole active or quiescent could be the key to uncovering larger truths about the cosmos.

Undergraduate Scholarship

Anthony Cammuso
Central Connecticut State University

Matthew Iossa
Central Connecticut State University

Community College Scholarship

Derlyn Hernandez
Naugatuck Valley Community College