NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) is excited to announce the recipients of its Fall 2020 Call for Proposals.  Award recipients include 5 faculty members and 28 undergraduate/graduate students, and are from 12 NASA CTSGC academic affiliate member institutions. Below are the names of all recipients of the Undergraduate/Graduate Grants, Scholarships, and Faculty Grants.

Congratulations to the Fall 2020 NASA Connecticut Space Grant award recipients! 


Undergraduate Research 

Gabriel Galeotos – University of New Haven 

Assessment of Cytokine Expression Patterns Associated with Heart Disease 

Heart disease is a significant issue faced by people throughout the world, which is associated with higher mortality.  Astronauts traveling in space experience decreased cardiac function, manifested as dizziness and shortness of breath.  Simultaneously, they exhibit aberrant immune system gene expression patterns, which predispose them to infections both in space, and upon return to Earth.  The goal of this project is to define the expression patterns of inflammatory markers associated with viral infection of the human heart.  These analyses will provide a better understanding of molecular mechanisms that underlie cardiac disease, which may guide future diagnostic outcomes. 


Benjamin Martinez – Wesleyan University 

An Unbiased Survey of Black Hole Activity in the Local Universe 

Cosmological simulations have shown that the fraction of low-mass galaxies in today’s universe that contain a nuclear black hole is directly related to the mechanism by which massive black hole seeds formed in the early universe. We have obtained optical emission-line measurements for an unbiased sample of local galaxies using a variety of instruments and will separate the objects into four distinct activity classes. We must remove continuum features from our spectra via the process of starlight subtraction, and examine X-ray and near-IR source catalogs for additional evidence of black-hole accretion to create a comprehensive picture of black hole activity in the nearby universe. 


Sarah Myrick – University of Connecticut 

Titanium Metallurgy on the Moon 

Titanium alloys are highly desirable for aerospace applications because of their lightweight, high specific strength and corrosion resistance. Fortunately, it is known that the moon is rich in titanium ore, which can be extracted and processed in ceramic crucibles using concentrated solar energy. Manufacturing of goods using readily available resources in space would significantly reduce transportation costs. Nonetheless, one major challenge in titanium metallurgy is metal-mold reactions. My goal is to examine the use of the novel ceramic oxide perovskite–Strontium zirconate– as a mold material, because it shows a notably low thermal conductivity and high chemical stability. 


Kimberly Paragas – Wesleyan University 

Gas Giant Atmospheric Mass Loss 

Atmospheric mass loss is one of two aspects that influence the evolution of planets, making it essential for understanding their origin. The helium 1083 nm line offers insight into the atmospheric escape of close-in exoplanets, which significantly sculpts their population. This project aims to detect excess helium absorption in the atmosphere of the gas giant HAT-P-18b and estimate its present-day mass loss rate by using transit observations taken with an ultra-narrow band filter. The outcome of this project will provide valuable data for constraining mechanisms of mass loss, as helium outflows have only been detected in 5-6 planets to date. 


Kiarra Richardson – University of New Haven 

Harnessing Microenvironment Regulation of Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells (hMSCs) Differentiation in Simulated Microgravity 

One of the essential problems that astronauts need to overcome during prolonged space travel is osteoporosis-like bone mass loss. Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) based therapy is an attractive tool for bone tissue engineering and regeneration. In this project, I will investigate how microenvironments, including substrate stiffness and geometry guidance, affect osteogenic differentiation in a simulated microgravity. The outcome of this project will provide fundamental understanding of osteogenic differentiation and aid in the prevention of bone loss, not only in microgravity but also potentially in age-related osteoporosis.” 


Mason Tea – Wesleyan University 

Analysis, Characterization and Variability of Local, Accreting X-ray Binaries with Archival Chandra Observations 

Compact objects are often found in binary systems, emitting X-ray radiation from plasma in their accretion disks as they siphon material from a donor star. Observations of these X-ray binaries (XRBs) in nearby galaxies provide the best opportunity to study gravitational effects of compact objects on their environment and the high-energy physics powering their emission. In performing a detailed spectral & temporal analysis of the roughly 80 brightest X-ray sources within 15 Mpc, I hope to assess their spectral state and variability in order to more accurately constrain the parameter space and local population of XRBs and black hole binaries (BHBs). 


Molly Watstein – Wesleyan University 

New Insights into AGN Unification from NuSTAR Observations of Nearby Seyfert 2 Galaxies 

Recent X-ray studies have reported a correlation between accretion rate and the presence of a hidden broad-line region in obscured active galactic nuclei (AGNs), suggesting that a substantial revision of the unified model for AGNs is needed. These investigations, however, were based on soft X-ray data, which are unreliable for determining intrinsic luminosities and accretion rates in such objects. Using NuSTAR data in the hard 3-80 keV band, I will determine the intrinsic X-ray luminosities of a large sample of obscured AGNs that have sensitive Keck spectropolarimetry observations, which will afford a definitive test of the accretion-rate hypothesis. 


Student Project 

Zachary Andalman – Yale University 

Active-Adjustment Ornithopter 

An ornithopter is a flying machine which generates thrust and lift by imitating the flapping motion of birds. While ornithopters have greater maneuverability and stealth compared to traditional aircraft, they are much less efficient. The Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association (YUAA) will design and build an ornithopter using active adjustment systems to improve efficiency. Active adjustment systems allow the ornithopter to adapt to conditions in real time using on-board sensors and microcontrollers. YUAA will also utilize aerodynamics simulation software to optimize the mechanical design. The project will require a combination of engineering precision and creativity.” 


Samuel Dorman – Fairfield University 

Integration of an Automated Jewelry Unpacking Method in Production 

Biomerics NLE is a company which engraves thousands of bracelet charms every week. The charms arrive individually packed in a protective film and arrive in boxes of well over 100 charms. Our task is to design a fully automated machine responsible for passing the charm bags through the system and ultimately discarding the protective bag and the tag that is attached while the charm is placed in a plastic sorting tray. The tray contains a matrix of one hundred charms and is easily stacked, thus allowing the charms to be easily moved to the next step in the engraving process. 


Saachi Grewal – Yale University 

Rover with Robotic Arm 

Rovers and other unmanned vehicles allow humans to explore new places and learn more about our cosmic surroundings in places a human cannot safely venture at present. Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association (YUAA) will design and build a rover with a robotic arm, able to move and perform tasks through remote operation. We will attempt high levels of engineering precision to create a rover with custom built parts, suspension kinematics, a functional robotic arm, and mechanical and electrical integration. The project has adapted due to Covid-19 restrictions and allows members working remotely across the USA access to engineering. 


Ohsafa Harding – Fairfield University 

Assistive Robotic Arm for Wheelchairs 

The “Robotic arm for wheelchair users” enables a person in a wheelchair with limited mobility to perform daily functions such as picking up and placing objects and opening doors. The arm will be suitably mounted on a wheelchair. To keep the cost of the product low, the structure of the arm will be 3D printed. The robotic arm will have five degrees of freedom, using DC and servo motors and featuring 2 elbow joints, 2 revolute joints, and a gripper mechanism. The arm will be manipulated using a repurposed user interface such as a game controller. 


Patrick Meagher – University of Connecticut 

Measurement of Dodecane Droplet Combustion Under Microgravity Conditions Achieved Via Sounding Rocket as Part of 2021 Spaceport America Cup 

This project measures the liquid surface regression rate of a dodecane droplet burning under microgravity conditions. Remote visual observations as well as pressure, temperature, and local acceleration will be recorded using a specially developed microcontroller. The experiment will be packaged into a student built hardened payload fitting a 3 CubeSat formfactor. Microgravity is achieved by flying the payload to a target apogee of 30,000 feet aboard a student manufactured sounding rocket as part of the 2021 Spaceport America Cup. The rocket is propelled by a student researched and developed 39,000 newton-second solid rocket motor. 


Robert Merlino – Fairfield University 

Investigation of Sand Ingestion in Aircraft Combustor Liner 

The combustor liner in a turbine engine consists of effusion cooling holes that allow air to pass through them and keep the liner itself cool. When sand and other particles enter these holes, they may block or stick to the holes, decreasing the engine’s ability to control its temperature. This creates obvious issues for safety and could potentially blur cooling requirements for such engines. It is the goal of this project to examine the effect different surface roughness values of the holes due to common machining processes have on the rate of particle buildup and in turn airflow blockage. 


Audrey Whitmer – Yale University 

IREC Rocket 2021 

The Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association (YUAA) is devoted to helping undergraduates pursue their passion for aerospace. The Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) at Spaceport America helps us achieve our mission. This year, we will continue research on designing our own solid fuel rocket motor, exploring the thermochemistry of combustion. Additionally, we will finish constructing a composite 2-stage rocket with innovative fabrication techniques to propel it to 30,000 feet above ground level, where redundant onboard electronics will deploy parachutes to safely recover the rocket and rover payload. This innovative rocket will be flown at IREC during the summer of 2021. 


Hannah Zukowski – Trinity College 

System Design and Spectral Analysis of Turbulence in Blood Flow for Aortic Valve Stenosis 

Aortic valve stenosis is caused by the narrowing of the aortic valve located between the left ventricle and aorta. We propose to investigate a quantitative analysis of sound signals produced by a similar system, enabling a repeatable and unbiased diagnosis of the severity of a narrowing. The goal of this project is to identify a relationship between the severity of valve stenosis and the frequencies of sound signals due to pulsatile flow through the valve. This research aligns with NASA’s Mission Directorate for STEM research and engagement as it will provide us with experience researching mechanical, electrical, and biological systems. 


Graduate Research Fellowship 

Zachary Lane – Central Connecticut State University 

Syntrophy within Ferroglobus placidus and Other Archaea Species 

In the beginning, Earth was devoid of oxygen and was comprised mostly of metal reducing organisms. Ferroglobus placidus, an isolated archaea from a submarine hydrothermal vent, is a hyperthermophile that reduces Fe(III) to Fe(II) and has been shown to be able to utilize specialized shuttles for growth. Through shuttle-mediated interspecies electron transfer, two separate species can use this shuttle to generate a syntrophic relationship. In this study, we propose to investigate the mechanisms of syntrophy between two sets of hyperthermophiles. Results will aid NASA’s goal to further research the “origin of life on earth and the search for life elsewhere”. 


Jonathan Mercedes-Feliz – University of Connecticut 

Improving Supermassive Black Hole Accretion Models with Cosmological Hyper-refinement Simulations 

Understanding the connection between massive black holes and their host galaxies remains an unsolved problem in astrophysics. I propose to investigate the physical mechanisms that drive black hole growth by using new ultra-high resolution simulations that for the first time, resolve transport of gas down to sub-parsec scales in a fully cosmological context. I will test predictions of popular sub-grid accretion models against gas inflow rates explicitly resolved at sub-pc scales in simulations for different physical conditions. These results will be used to identify the most promising mechanisms to develop an improved accretion model for future large volume cosmological simulations. 


Javier Portillo – Yale University 

RNA Polymerase Ribozyme Evolution and the Origins of Life on Earth 

Early in Earth’s history, during the “RNA World,” it is hypothesized that an RNA may have had the ability to self-replicate via RNA-polymerization and been able to support primordial RNA populations and RNA genomes. However, a self-replicating RNA has yet to be discovered. Here, we aim to create highly efficient RNA polymerases using in vitro selection methods coupled with next-generation sequencing to experimentally investigate the origin and evolution of RNAbased life. The creation of an RNA self-replicase offers a glimpse into how life may have originated on Earth and provides a path to creating synthetic life in a test tube. 


Undergraduate Scholarship 

Stephanie Brij-Raj – Fairfield University 

Nathan Green – University of Hartford 

Anthony Ragazzi – Trinity College 

Skyler Szot – Trinity College 

Erkin Verbeek – Trinity College 


Community College Transfer Scholarship 

Caleigh Dodge – Central Connecticut State University 

Nhat Pham – University of Bridgeport 

Jaime Torres-Latorre – Central Connecticut State University 


Community College Scholarship 

Daniel Gaewski – Naugatuck Valley Community College 

Ashley Indrisek – Naugatuck Valley Community College 


Faculty Project Grants 

Luz Amaya – Central Connecticut State University 

Design and Manufacture of Portable Solar Potable Water Generation System 

“This project will design and manufacture a low-cost, portable, and efficient potable water generation system using solar power. This self-sustainable system will generate drinking water and can be utilized mainly in low-income and disasters areas. This project is a continuation of a research project with positive results, however, still requires modifications that meet design constraints such as portability, variation of atmospheric conditions (humidity and temperature), and lower manufacturing costs. Development of this system will be the first of its kind, advancing water generation systems with renewable power. Additionally, this project involves multidisciplinary research combining expertise across multiple departments.” 


Bryan Connolly – Eastern Connecticut State University  

Building an Open Source Micro-Tomato Breeding Collaborative for Space and Off Planet Colonies. 

Tomatoes are a popular nutritious vegetable that will likely be grown on the space station and off planet colonies. A limited number of extremely small statured tomatoes, dubbed micro-tomatoes, exist that are 12” tall, making them ideal for growing in the confined habitats of space. These tomatoes have very limited genetic diversity. I propose to create diverse gene pools of small statured tomatoes by hybridizing micro-tomatoes with other tomato types that vary in color, flavor, shape etc. These gene pools will be shared with universities, schools, and amateurs to develop a network of breeders to select new micro-tomatoes for space. 


Myrta Groeneveld – Manchester Community College 

Math Advancement Program 

Manchester Community College proposes a Math Advancement Program to target students placed in the lowest level of mathematics. The program promotes a mixture of learning skills, individual growth and subject mastery. We aim to create a course that provides individualized curriculum and an inviting environment, where students learn about basic concepts of mathematics as well the different resources available to them on campus and in the community. There is a need for a booster program where students can remediate their basic math skills while developing their academic and organizational skills. These skill-sets lead to an increase self-confidence and college success. 


Xin Ye – University of Hartford 

Acute Effects of Combining Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation and Voluntary Isometric Exercise on Neuromuscular Functions 

Aligning with the Human Exploration & Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) to provide countermeasures to microgravity-induced human neuromuscular deterioration, the purpose of this investigation is to examine the acute effects of combining neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) and isometric exercise (ISO) on human neuromuscular functions. At least 28 healthy participants will be recruited to participate in this 4-visit experiment. The participants will undergo different exercise modalities (Control, ISO, and NEMS + ISO), and pre- and post-measurements such as strength and motor unit firing properties will be conducted to evaluate the efficacy of the combined exercise modality (NMES + ISO). 


Faculty Travel Grants 

Reihaneh Jamshidi  University of Hartford