Spring 2021 Award Recipients

by | May 5, 2021

NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) is excited to announce the recipients of its Spring 2021 Call for Proposals.  Award recipients include 14 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 Spring 2021 NASA Connecticut Space Grant award recipients! 

Faculty Research Grants

Sahar Al Seesi
Southern Connecticut State University
Gene Allele-Specific Expression (ASE) Estimation from Bulk and Single Cell RNA-Seq Data

Gene allele specific expression estimation is an interesting computational biology problem that answers the question of whether the paternal, the maternal, or both copies of an inherited gene are expressed (active) in a your body. This question is asked by many biologists, but the computational methods to address it are still not good enough to accurately give an answer. In this research project, we propose computational solution to address this problem using transcriptomic sequencing data. The project aligns with the mission of NASA’s gene lab, under the Human Exploration Mission Directorate, which focuses with mutli-omics (including transcriptomic) data-driven research.

Ali Bazzi
University of Connecticut
High-availability Energy Systems for Space Colonies

Space colonies have recently become of higher interest recently to explore new resources away from Earth. The main goal of this project is to significantly increase the availability of electrical energy systems in future space colonies during unexpected failures or events, thus enhancing the energy security of such colonies. The proposed research provides a framework and specific solutions where prediction, diagnostic, and fault-recovery methods, combined with enhanced microgrid architectures, will enable a more secure electrical energy supply for future space colonies. Future colonies will require a reliable and available power supply for many critical systems. Transformative approaches proposed here can provide relevant solutions. These include rapid fault prediction and diagnosis of system- and component-level faults in a colony’s electrical energy system, which is to be treated as an islanded microgrid; and utilization of unused power distribution and conversion capacity in available infrastructure to maximize the system’s available energy under faults and uncertain events.

Ruth Blake
Yale University
Extreme PO4 Biosignatures: Testing the Thermal Limits of the δ18O-PO4 Biomarker at Hydrothermal Conditions

The PO4 oxygen-isotope composition of DNA from biomolecules/biomass can serve as an internal thermometer and biosignature to study in-situ habitats of microorganisms from unknown and remote sources on Earth and on ocean-bearing worlds in our solar system. However, an offset in d18O fractionations was observed for (hyper)thermophiles, at temperatures greater than 70°C, making the application of DNA thermometry problematic for extreme hydrothermal conditions. To fully understand the mechanism of fractionation of internal PO4 pools, we propose to test the hypothesis that the offset is due to intracellular fractionation caused by production of PO4-rich compatible solutes that are enriched in d18O.

Dana Casetti
Southern Connecticut State University
Point Spread Function Modelling of WFPC2/HST Images with Deep Learning

This project will explore a novel way of achieving high-precision astrometry using deep learning techniques. We will work with WFPC2/HST images which are severely undersampled. The astrometric precision of these images is limited as a ”pixel-phase” bias is present even in the best, state-of-the art classical centering algorithms. We have identified an ideal and unique data set in the WFPC2 archive to explore and implement this deep-learning technique. The project has great synergy with existing research at SCSU and at Space Telescope Science Institute, and it involves two science departments at SCSU.

Byungik Chang
University of New Haven
Analysis of Energy Saving Wind Tower Erection on Mars

The main source of energy on Mars exploration missions is solar panels. However, the prevalence of dust on Mars limits their generation capabilities by blocking the solar cells thereby hindering their access to the sunlight. Surface winds on Mars typically move about 16 to 32 km/h. Thus, a wind energy could be another way to generate energy on Mars when humans arrive but it requires frequent maintenance and protection (take-down) because unpredictable weather. The primary goal of the research is proposing and analyzing alternative wind turbine erections and minimizing energy consumption in wind tower erection on Mars.

Eric Dieckman
University of New Haven
Ultrasonic Nondestructive Evaluation (NDE) of Additively Manufactured Metals (AMMs)

Additively manufactured materials (AMM) provide the ability to create complex parts without machining. These parts are difficult to inspect, primarily due to geometry and anisotropic/heterogeneous material properties. Detecting and classifying flaws in AMM is vital to their use in safety-critical applications, such as NASA’s spaceflight missions. NASA is developing AMM parts ranging from engines to antennas, which cannot be easily inspected – current inspection techniques are expensive, time-consuming, and difficult to apply outside a lab. Use of common ultrasonic testing equipment adapted to AMM can provide a way to leverage existing technology in the nascent field of AMM testing.

Reihaneh Jamshidi
University of Hartford
Thermal and Mechanical Analysis of 3D-printed Structures for Space Applications

3D-printing facilitates creation of more complex geometries using less amounts of materials and manufacturing steps in comparison with conventional manufacturing techniques. This enables component design and fabrication of space systems with less production time and cost, and environmental impacts. The challenge however, is qualification and verification of 3D-ptinted materials for space applications, as the extreme space environment imposes stringent requirements. The proposed study will investigate the effect of thermal cycling in space, on the mechanical properties of the 3D-printed parts. Thermal cycling can produce stress in structures, which contributes to mechanical defects and failure. This is extremely important for study of 3D-printed materials for space applications, as these structures are built layer upon layer, and stress can initiate delamination and breakage at the interface between the layers.

Derek Laux
Eastern Connecticut State University
Examining the Effects of Microgravity and Space Radiation on Cellular Senescence

Space travel exposes the human body to unique threats. Microgravity and cosmic radiation can both contribute to physiological health risks, including cardiovascular changes, muscle atrophy, and bone density loss. Astronauts show elevated levels of senescence, which seems to provide a molecular explanation for many of the health problems related to space travel. How microgravity and radiation induce senescence and components of these cells that may contribute to disease remain unknown. This study will address NASA’s goal of understanding biological responses to spaceflight by examining how microgravity and radiation induce cellular senescence and by examining molecular targets to alleviate age-related dysfunction.

Seok-Woo Lee
University of Connecticut
Development of Small-Scale Cryogenic Linear Actuator by Using Novel Intermetallic Compounds

Space missions often involve ultra-cold environments, and cryogenic actuators must be mechanically robust for long-term cyclic work, generate high power, as well as perform high precision motion in such extreme environments. Recently, we discovered a novel intermetallic compound CaFe2As2 that meets these demanding requirements. In this project, therefore, a new type of cryogenic linear actuator will be developed by performing the combined set of works that include the evaluation of cryogenic linear actuation performance, understanding of physics behind cryogenic actuation properties, and the development of proto-type linear actuators that operates at a temperature between 4 and 150 K.

Robert Nazarian
Fairfield University
Increased Heat Stress in a Changing Climate

In a warming climate, changes in heat stress more significantly impact human health than the increase in temperature alone; some studies go so far as to suggest that the tropics may not be habitable due to extreme heat stress. Our goal is to use an ensemble of high-resolution climate models to calculate the change in heat stress over the northeast US through 2100, focusing on the compounding effects of increasing temperature and relative humidity. This study supports NASA’s training and research missions by advancing our understanding of our changing climate and providing undergraduate students with a robust research experience.

Aaron Van Dyke
Fairfield University
Examining Sex Differences in Brain and Behavior After Long-Term Social Isolation Using Rats

The psychological and biochemical effects of living in confined conditions for prolonged periods that are typical of orbital and deep-space missions have not been fully explored. This collaborative project will examine sex-specific effects of social isolation on locomotor, anxiety, social, and cognitive behaviors using rats. Adolescent male and female rats will be confined to social isolation (1 per cage) or small groups (2-4 per cage) for 5 weeks before behaviors are assessed. Subsequently, protein markers for decision making and memory will be quantified using Western blotting. This interdisciplinary project will train undergraduate students in behavioral and biochemical techniques.

Faculty STEM Education Programming

Ruth Blake
Yale University
FemLED STEAM: Young Inner-city Females Lead, Envision, and Develop for STEM

There is a shortage of Inner-city students exposed to Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). In supporting NASA’s mission directorates that seeks to inspire the pursuit of careers in STEM within traditionally unrepresented groups, the proposal’s goal is to develop a STEM workshop for inner-city females focused on STEM career development, STEM women of color history, STEM appreciation role-playing, and STEM product-creation. Participants will 1) have the confidence to pursue STEM careers, 2) advocate for peers with STEM interest, 3) develop a greater awareness of diverse STEM fields, and 4) appreciate the mentoring and cross-cultural experience with university STEM students.

Student-Faculty Summer Research Grants

Haoyu Wang
Central Connecticut State University
Robotic Intelligent Grasping for Unknown Objects Using Vision, Force Sensing, and Deep Learning

This research will contribute to NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The goal of the research is to develop a robotic intelligent grasping system using vision, force sensing, and deep learning. The system can be mounted on a vehicle on another planet to help on tasks such as retrieving samples or conducting repair or maintenance jobs. Two undergraduate students will design and prototype an error tolerant gripper and integrate it and a deep learning computer to an ABB IRB 1200 robot with integrated force control and vision. They will also develop system software for vision, force control, and deep learning

Cy Yavuzturk
University of Hartford
Transport and Flow Characteristics of Graphene-Doped Nanofluids in Double-Pipe Heat Exchangers

The objective of the proposed study is the experimental/analytical assessment of heat transfer and flow characteristics of graphene-doped nanofluids in concentric tube heat exchangers. A double-pipe system will be configured such that graphene-doped primary fluid of varying graphene volume fractions flows in the inner tube while a secondary flow of deionized water counter-flows in the annulus. The controlled changes of thermal properties will allow for the assessment of nanofluid heat transfer characteristics. The study results have implications in the characterization of heat transfer phenomena using graphene-based nanofluids in cooling applications for operation of aeronautical vehicles and related subsystems.

Graduate Research Fellowship

Jacob Bowie
University of Connecticut
Effectiveness of a Minimal Exercise Training Program on Athlete Detraining as a Model for Countermeasures to Microgravity Effects on Skeletal Muscle

The Human Exploration Mission Directorate defines cardiovascular and muscular fitness as a research focus area. We aim to 1) quantify detraining to support use of this as a validated microgravity research model and 2) to assess the effects of a once weekly exercise protocol (MRP, Maximal Returns Protocol) on post-season, 12 weeks detraining among trained athletes. MRP is an evidence-based protocol designed to maximize the adaptive response. If MRP is effective, we will observe maintained or improved (vs. control) cardiovascular function (i.e., VO2max, heart rate during maximal exercise) and muscle strength (i.e., bench, squat, handgrip strength).

J. Andrew Casey-Clyde

University of Connecticut
Multi-Messenger Detections and Constraints of Supermassive Black Hole Binaries

The local number density of supermassive black hole binaries (SMBHBs) is expected to be directly observable with gravitational waves via pulsar timing array experiments, while the masses and redshifts of SMBHBs contributing to the gravitational wave background (GWB) is expected to contain information on both the black holes themselves, and the galaxy mergers that produce these binary systems. We propose to develop a framework for constraining the masses, redshifts, and local number density of SMBHBs with the GWB. In addition to providing more general constraints on their population, this framework will tie SMBHB population models to a future observable.

Erica Misner
University of New Haven
Zebrafish (Danio rerio) as a Model for Borrelia Burgdorferi Infection

With constant improvements to space travel come more opportunities for exposure to novel and dangerous pathogens. Unfortunately, in vitro antibiotic testing does not represent accurate clinical efficiency against pathogens. Our objective is to establish zebrafish as an inexpensive, simple organism for the testing of antibiotics against resistant strains of bacteria. Straightforward immersion infection techniques will be utilized to infect zebrafish with Borrelia burgdorferi, shown to be highly antibiotic-resistant and capable of surviving extreme conditions including vacuum. Well-established PCR methods and antibiotic-susceptibility testing will be performed as proof of concept. These techniques can be applied to deep space exploration vessels as well as underserved communities with minimal laboratory equipment.

Undergraduate Research Grant

Anna Fehr
Wesleyan University
Dynamical Study of HD 106906’s Disk Morphology and External Perturber

A debris disk is a collection of dust and other debris around a star, analogous to the Kuiper belt around our Sun. While debris disks are common around main sequence stars, HD 106906 is one of few systems known to host an external planetary-mass companion as well as a directly imaged debris disk. Hence, it provides a unique opportunity to analyze dynamical interaction between the two, where the properties of both can be measured. In this project, we will interpret observations of disk morphology alongside orbital constraints derived from the proper motion of the planet by using dynamical models.

Hannah Lewis
Wesleyan University
Determining the Mean Molecular Weight of Gas in the Debris Disk Around 49 Ceti

Circumstellar disks are collections of gas and dust around stars. There are two types: the younger, gas-rich protoplanetary disks, and the more evolved, gas-poor debris disks. However, some debris disks such as 49 Ceti are gas-rich, which poses important questions about circumstellar disk evolution and our understanding of our solar system’s evolution. This project proposes to combine observations of vertical structure with measured excitation temperatures from C18O line ratios in the disk around 49 Ceti to determine H2 density, which will indicate whether the gas is primordial or second generation and yield important insight into the process of disk evolution.

Eric Rumsfeld
Wesleyan University
Measuring Dynamical Masses of Gas-Bearing Debris Disk Host Stars

Dusty debris disks that orbit main sequence stars are comparable to our Solar System’s Kuiper belt. While debris disks have less gas than their younger counterparts, a surprising discovery by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is that many of these debris disks do in fact have substantial reservoirs of molecular gas. We will combine archival ALMA data with new Gaia data that provide precise stellar distances to measure dynamical masses of gas-bearing debris disk host stars. We will compare the dynamical masses that we derive with stellar evolution models to test our understanding of these isolated young stars.

Cassidy Soloff
Wesleyan University
A Transit Survey of Bright, Hot Star

Radial velocity and transit surveys have dramatically expanded the number of exoplanets detected, but this sample of exoplanets is shaped by the technological biases of these techniques. Wide field-of-view transit surveys expose for dimmer stars while the radial velocity technique is less effective at making detections around hotter stars because they lack spectral features. With the arrival of Wesleyan University’s new 24-inch automated research telescope, we can conduct a transit survey targeting bright, hot stars to search for exoplanets missed by other radial velocity and transit surveys. For non-detections, we can calculate the probability that no transiting planet exists.

Jillian Ulibarri
University of New Haven
Determining the Role of KHSRP on mRNA Stability in the Vertebrate Embryo

NASA aims to understand the effects spaceflight has on human physiology. During spaceflight, humans experience oxidative stress, which can alter the function of AU-rich element binding proteins (ARE-BPs), which are important regulators of gene activity and human physiology. I propose to 1) identify potential mRNA targets of ARE-BPs that display instability during embryonic development, 2) use CRISPR/Cas13 to determine whether they are regulated by KHSRP, a highly expressed ARE-BP and 3) assess how oxidative stress impacts the function of KHSRP. Doing this work will provide insights into the effects of KHSRP on maternal mRNA stability and oxidative stress impacts.

Student Project Grant

David Holtman
Central Connecticut State University
Designing and Manufacturing Forward Swept Tip Helicopter Blades

The proposed project is to increase the lift force of a preexisting intermeshing rotor helicopter and repair the ground test stand used to measure the lift of said helicopter. The proposed method to increase the lift force includes the manufacturing of forward swept tip blades. Swept tip blades provide greater lift at large Mach numbers and greater efficiency. The design and manufacturing of the proposed project requires the use of CAD, FEA, and CFD software, as well as CNC machining and 3D printing. The total cost of the project amounts to $567 and will take 288 days to complete.

Janae Annabeth Kellarakos
University of Hartford
Horn Antenna Design and Construction for Preparation of Metasurface Beam-Steering Implementation for 21cm Neutral Hydrogen Detection

For this project we will design and construct a radio horn telescope using three different horn materials that can be used to detect and evaluate the presence of neutral hydrogen in interstellar clouds within our Milky Way galaxy. This project is a preliminary and necessary step for future design and fabrication of metasurface beam-steering lenses that can be used to improve resolution and control of desired frequency ranges in radio astronomy. This will promote NASA-related research and establish a collaborative relationship with the University of Hartford’s multiscale electromagnetic research group.

Nishita Mirchandani
University of Hartford
MINK Aero: Active Aero Rear Wing

Aerodynamics packages enhance overall vehicle performance in track related driving. The Active aero rear wing project seeks to automate and manufacture a rear wing of a Formula Society of Automotive Engineering (FSAE) vehicle to maximize the overall vehicle handling performance while minimizing drag. FSAE is a global collegiate competition that test students’ ability to design and build a functional race car. Throughout the development of our group, MINK (Mirchandani-Iacuone-Noval-Kral) Aero’s project, multiple electronic controlled wing designs will be analyzed through computational fluid dynamic simulations, Finite element analysis, testbench analysis, as well as physical model testing in a wind-tunnel.

Sarah Pentzke
Yale University
Yale Space Station

The Yale Space Station will be the name for the semi-permanent installation of a ham radio tower on the roof of Yale University’s Environmental Science Center. The first experiment that will be done will be an Earth-Moon-Earth moonbounce experiment, using the moon and radio waves’ unique qualities to complete a calculation of the speed of light. The YSS is also planned to serve as a tool for activities such as contacting astronauts in the International Space Station through NASA’s ARISS program and to aid the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association (YUAA) in communicating with their cube satellite in orbit.

Derik Scott Walter
Central Connecticut University
Wind Turbine Guard

A guard for a wind turbine will be designed and tested to increase the effectiveness of the turbine. The guard will orient itself to the direction of the wind through smooth mechanical motion. CFD software will be used to test each design. Data analysis will determine a final design. Once a guard design has been chosen, a prototype will be built to test the design in application. Modifications will be made as needed to address any issues the guard encounters. A final report will be written and presented to display the accomplishments and effectiveness of the guard design.

Undergraduate Scholarships

Joshua Grajales
Wesleyan University

Brenna Hoar
Trinity College

Alisa Levin
Trinity College

Ava Nederlander
Wesleyan University

Clare Staib-Kaufman
Yale University

Guilmar Valle
University of Connecticut

Keduse Worku
Yale University

Transfer Scholarships

Alberto Labrada
University of Bridgeport

Stephanie Tripodi
Central Connecticut State University

Community College Scholarships

Steven Duncan
Capital Community College

Derlyn Hernandez
Naugatuck Valley Community College

Lindsey Japa
Naugatuck Valley Community College

Kishan Kunver
Capital Community College

Ryan Marquis
Naugatuck Valley Community College

Steison Ruiz
Naugatuck Valley Community College