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Current PSGC Fellows at Penn State

2006-2008 Space Grant Fellows

  • Stacey Dean, Department of Chemistry
    Stacey Dean plans to develop surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) substrates using current nanoparticle technology. SERS will be used to detect the analytes of interest adsorbed to these nanosensors. The proposed research would be of interest to a national space program due to the different applications that would exist for a nanosensor constructed from the assembly of nanoparticles. Once the production of these sensors has been optimized, the sensor function could be easily altered for optical detection of analytes in space. Examples of applications for these nanosensors include detection of environmental analytes, biological molecules, or even gas molecules.

  • Timothy Fischer, Department of Earth & Mineral Sciences
    Imagine if scientists could make determinations about extra-terrestrial life based on the morphological features of minerals. Research has shown that the ways in which organisms control and induce mineral formation leads to morphologies not associated with inorganic mineral formation. A key to understanding the interplay of biological and mineralogical processes is understanding the kinetics of these processes. My research is focused on looking at biological precipitation and dissolution of minerals using a technique known as time-resolved Synchrotron X-ray diffraction (SXRD). Normally, an X-ray kills a living organism, but by using only the total membrane part of a microorganism, we can simulate the function of a whole cell and look at the biomineralization process in a new way. SXRD provides high-quality diffraction data that can be analyzed to determine the difference in shape, structure, bonding, volume and atom position of mienrals. In addition to the above application, this research is vital in understanding how weathering rates of minerals effect the environment here on Earth. In that sense, its applications are truly universal.
  • Jacob Haqq-Misra, Department of Earth & Mineral Sciences
    The limits of the "habitable zone" around a star--the region where a terrestrial planet could sustain surface liquid water--is of particular interest as new extrasolar planets are discovered. Missions such as NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder aim to detect Earth-like worlds around other stars, and a constraint on the habitable zone would provide important additional information about the detected planet. Previous calculations of the habitable zone have been limited to one-dimensional radiative-convective models. Although these models are useful in obtaining conservative estimates, they are unable to properly represent important feedback mechanisms. The outer edge of the habitable zone is determined by the formation of CO2 clouds, which raise a planet's albedo and lower its convective lapse rate, thereby cooling the surface. However, CO2 clouds also create a scattering greenhouse effect that warms the surface. Jacob is working on a calculation of the outer edge of the habitable zone around main sequence stars using a three-dimensional global climate model. Jacob intends to modify the radiative, convective, and cloud formation algorithms in the GENESIS global climate model to handle a dense CO2 atmosphere. Once developed, this model can also be used to examine the degree to which early Mars could have been kept warm by CO2 clouds. He can also extend the use of this model to explore the contribution atmospheric CO2 buildup may have had in deglaciating from an ice-covered state that may have occurred in Earth's history.
  • Amelia Henry, Interdisciplinary Graduate Program of Ecology & Molecular Plant Physiology
    Amelia Henry's research focuses on plant nutrition in low-fertility soils. She is investigating phosphorus-efficient bean genotypes and their effects on erosion as well as productivity when plants with shallow and deep roots are grown together under nutrient and water stress. These projects are designed to promote sustainable farming methods by minimizing inputs, particularly for developing countries where farmers cannot afford much fertilizer. The exploration of space by humans also requires an extreme amount of efficiency due to cost and cargo limitations. Since plants are adapted to Earth's environment, all plant growth in space, whether on the international space station, on the moon, or on Mars, will require input of most factors necessary for plant growth. Reducing fertilizer inputs also means less pollution from excess nutrients. Through space exploration we will eventually have the opportunity to colonize places other than Earth, and we should never make the same environmental mistakes in our new colonies that we have made here on Earth.
  • Kimberly Herrmann, Department of Astronomy
    Kim is studying planetary nebulae (PNe) in spiral galaxies, specifically M101 and M83 (the Northern and Southern Pinwheel Galaxies) as well as several others. PNe (like the Ring Nebula in our galaxy) are shells of glowing gas around white dwarfs and are a late stage in the life of intermediate to low mass stars, like our Sun. PNe are easy to find in other galaxies because they emit almost entirely at a single wavelength, which also makes it easy to measure their velocities using spectroscopy. Kim is using the brightness of the PNe to determine the distances to the parent galaxies and the velocities of the PNe to study the distribution of mass in the disks of the galaxies. She is testing a hypothesis that is commonly used when astronomers study mysterious dark matter. Kim's research is related to NASA's Space Science initiative.
  • Angela Luis, Interdisciplinary Graduate Program of Ecology
    Angie's research is related to NASA's public health mission to understand how environmental factors, such as weather and climate, affect the occurrence of chronic and infectious diseases. The consensus among the scientific community is that we are entering a period of global climate change, which is expected to bring increased seasonality and altered temperature and precipitation patterns, including increased frequency of extreme events. All of these predicted changes are certain to alter infectious disease dynamics. Angie is examining the role of environmental factors, specifically the roles of seasonality, the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and global climate change, on hantavirus dynamics in its rodent reservoirs in the southwestern United States and consequent risk of hantavirus infection to humans. Using mechanistic mathematical models, Angie is estimating transmission rates and exploring the influence of large-scale climatic forcing on this disease system.
  • Eliza Montgomery, Department of Materials Science & Engineering
    Eliza's research focuses on barrier films, whether corrosion preventative compounds or corrosion inhibiting self-assembled layers, that adsorb onto a metal surface and prevent corrosion of steel and aluminum alloys. The interface between the inhibitor film and the metal is characterized prior to and after exposure to harsh chlorine-containing environments, such as seawater. Surface characterization methods are used to determine which of the corrosion inhibitor molecule's functional groups adsorb to the metal surface and create a barrier film prior to exposure to electrolyte. After immersion in electrolyte and before and after corrosion products form, the metal surfaces are characterized to determine which functional groups remain on the surface and act as a true barrier to chloride ions that cause corrosion. Electrochemical methods will be used to delve deeper into understanding the affect that the inhibitors have on the different corrosion mechanisms, both uniform and localized pitting corrosion.

    As a part of the research, assessment methods that are more specifically tailored to understanding the inhibitor/metal interface, prior to and after exposure to electrolyte, will be determined. These methods can then be used towards NASA's efforts to evaluate various self-assembled mono- and multilayer type corrosion inhibitors. The current research at NASA's Corrosion Technology Laboratory involves sensing corrosion via changes in pH, which triggers the release of corrosion inhibitors in the form of microcapsules to prevent corrosion from continuing at that specific area. Eliza is spending this summer working at NASA on this very project.
  • Jessica Moon, Interdisciplinary Graduate Program of Ecology
    Jessica's research begins to untangle the complex web of interactions between key microbial wetland processes and 'human disturbance' across space and time. This project will yield valuable information for future models of "human-ecosystem-climate" interactions, models that can help NASA achieve its goals of understanding and forecasting Earth System functions. Wetlands are thought to act as efficient stores of both carbon and nitrogen, slowing global warming and eutrophication, respectively. In recent years, however, human-induced changes might be disrupting the sink dynamics of carbon and nitrogen in wetlands on a global scale. Wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate, and those that remain are being altered due to the effects of surrounding land changes. These changes have resulted in a suite of wetland stressors, including hydrologic modification, accelerated sedimentation, nutrient enrichment, and vegetative alteration. It is possible that these changes have altered the microbial communities in wetlands, disrupting their important ecosystem processes. Jessica's objective is to identify ecosystem-level differences in the microbial community and specific microbial processes (e.g., emissions of CH4 and N2O) across wetlands subjected to different levels of disturbance. Microbial community composition and processes, however, are not randomly distributed in these ecosystems. Instead, they exhibit patterns that are highly dependent on environmental factors, intrinsic population processes, and disturbance regimes at various spatial and temporal scales. In light of this, geospatial data will be collected first to quantify the distribution of microhabitat parameters, including plant community composition, labile organic carbon, soil moisture, and microtopography. This information will be used to understand the role human disturbance plays in altering the spatial and temporal variability of wetlands. Furthermore, these spatial and temporal patterns will be used to generate hypotheses about ecosystem-level microbial processes, which will then be examined experimentally.
  • David Morris, Department of Astronomy
    David's research uses data collected with NASA's Swift satellite to study Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs). GRBs are the largest explosions in the universe, created when supermassive stars (10-100 times larger than our Sun) collapse and form black holes at the end of their lives. Due to their extreme brightness, GRBs are among the most distant objects ever seen in the universe, being seen from as far as 12.8 billion light years away. Prior to the launch of the Swift satellite, little was known about the details of GRB explosions and GRBs were generally thought to follow a simple profile; a momentary bright explosion followed by a mostly steady decay of the burst until it faded from view some weeks later. Thanks to Swift's ability to catch the very earliest stages of the GRB explosion, scientists have discovered that GRBs undergo several distinctly different phases during their fading stage and many exhibit bright mini-explosions, or flares, during the fading process. David's work uses Swift data to understand the physical processes causing these mini-explosions and what they can tell us about the nature of GRBs and of the universe at the time when the GRBs exploded. David's research is direct accordance with several major themes outlined in NASA's Science Mission Directorate-Office of Space Science.
  • Sarah Nilson, Interdisciplinary Graduate Program of Ecology & Molecular Plant Physiology
    One hallmark of plant growth and development is phenotypic plasticity, the ability of one genotype to display different phenotypes under different environmental conditions. Little is known about the underlying genetic mechanisms of plasticity, however recent studies have lent credence to the theory that plasticity responses are regulated by specific gene products which can detect environmental changes and initiate intracellular responses. Heterotrimeric G proteins are found in a diverse array of organisms and function in the transduction of numerous types of signals, including hormones. In plants G proteins have been implicated in functioning in ABA responses, a hormone that is associated with drought stress. My research is examining the function of G proteins in phenotypic plasticity responses to drought in the model plant species, Arabidopsis thaliana. Because G proteins mediate aspects of ABA signaling they may play a crucial role in drought tolerance and carbon acquisition. Therefore, understanding G protein contributions to plasticity could ultimately aid in the development of agriculture in the non-optimal environments of outer space.
  • Patrick O'Connor, Department of Chemistry
    Patrick is researching gas-phase kinetics using the stochastic direct simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method. Of direct interest is the simulation of detonations using experimental rates to model real kinetic systems such as the hydrogen-oxygen and hydrogen-chlorine reactions. The goal of this work is to study the multi-dimensional characteristics of a detonation front. Previous one-dimensional studies using DSMC yielded new insights into the interaction between the shock and reaction regions within a detonation. Current treatments will study multi-dimensional detonation front instability as well as temperature fluctuations due to both irregularities in shock speed (over the entire shock front) and transverse (counter-propagating) shock waves. This work has immediate applications that parallel current NASA projects including the modeling of pulse detonation engines, supernova explosions and high altitude re-entry events.
  • Jonathan Petters, Department of Meteorology
    Accurately modeling the propagation of radiation through the clouds and air, commonly called atmospheric radiative transfer, in weather prediction and climate models currently takes too much computing power and time. Crude representations of atmospheric radiative transfer generate uncertainties in weather prediction and climate modeling results. Jon is researching how the use of various radiative transfer algorithms, from crude to very accurate, affects the evolution of clouds in models. He will focus on marine stratocumulus clouds. Because these clouds remain in the atmosphere for long periods of time and can cover large areas off the west coasts of continents, they are an important player in the Earth's radiation budget. Jon will model radiation through marine stratocumulus cloud fields retrieved from NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites, investigating the biases introduced into cloud radiative heating rates at the smallest spatial scales resolved by the satellites. He will also determine whether or not small-scale models of marine stratocumulus clouds are significantly affected by different treatments of atmospheric radiative transfer. This research will improve the understanding of radiative transfer through marine stratocumulus clouds, a persistent actor in the Earth's climate.
  • Stephen Redman, Department of Astronomy
    Stephen Redman is part of a team of astronomers and engineers that is designing and building an infrared spectrometer. This instrument will be used to search for Earth-sized planets orbiting "cool" M-type stars. These planets are especially important to the field of astronomy because they exist within the "Habitable Zone" of their parent star, and are thus capable of sustaining liquid water, one of the foundations of life in the Universe as we know it. Though the Earth seems like a large place when one is standing on it, its gravitational pull on the Sun tiny. Thus both the instrument and the procedure used to analyze the resulting data must be extremely accurate. Stephen's role in the project includes the calibration of the instrument, design of the observation procedure, and the analysis of the resulting data.
  • Samuel Ridout, Interdisciplinary Graduate Program of Physiology
    With aging and after exposure to microgravity the capacity to perform exercise is reduced. Sam's research focuses on using the aging human model to determine how much of this decrease in exercise capacity is due to functional changes in the heart, also known as a "central limit" to exercise. These functional changes may limit the capacity for physical exertion by restricting blood flow to working muscles. To investigate this Sam will directly manipulate cardiac function during exercise in aged humans and invasively and noninvasively monitor leg blood flow, relative microvascular perfusion, cardiac output and measures of heart function. Additionally, there are sex-specific changes in heart function with age and during exercise. To investigate the possibility of sex differences in cardiac function during exercise and the relationship between biological sex and a central limitation to activity, Sam will include both aged men and women in this study.
  • Brian Schratz, Department of Electrical Engineering

    Brian's research centers on spacecraft design and instrumentation. His thesis work specifically focuses on the development of a energetic particle detector that will be used to study gamma ray bursts that will, among other things, help us understand the early formulation of the universe.

    In addition to thesis work, Brian manages the Student Space Programs Lab on campus where his efforts are concentrated on developing systems engineering and project management standards for student satellite and rocket projects. Through collaboration between the Space Grant and the Jet Propulsion Lab, some of Brian's efforts were spent managing a team of students at JPL to develop a mission concept for the first student payload to explore Mars.

2007-2009 Space Grant Fellows

  • Karen Bussard, Department of Veterinary Science
    Pathobiology Graduate Degree Program
    Karen's research is focused on understanding the mechanisms behind preferred breast cancer metastasis to the bone. It is likely that the bone provides a hospitable environment that both attracts breast cancer cells and allows them to colonize and grow. From recent laboratory observations, Karen proposes that metastatic breast cancer cells are attracted to inflammatory cytokines naturally produced by osteoblasts. Once in the bone microenvironment, the metastatic breast cancer cells induce the osteoblasts to undergo a stress response, increasing osteoblast production of inflammatory cytokines. Karen's research directly relates to NASA interests through the deteriorating effects of microgravity on the bones of astronauts, which includes significant bone loss resulting in an increased risk of bone fractures as well as renal stone formation due to calcium immobilization from bone, in prolonged space travel. Breast cancer cells adversely affect osteoblasts much like microgravity in the form of altered osteoblast function, suppressed differentiation, and increased apoptosis leading to enhanced bone loss. Findings from this research may be directly applied to developing countermeasures to bone loss in a microgravity environment.
  • Timothy Gookin, Intercollege Degree Program in Plant Biology
    The ability to sense the environment and respond appropriately is a crucial factor for organism survival and one of the primary sensing mechanisms used by metazoans involves G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling cascades. In fact over half of all pharmaceutical research is aimed at finding drugs that target GPCRs (think: heart disease, asthma, allergies, etc). Tim is using a variety of bioinformatic tools and wet-bench experiments to identify novel GPCR signaling proteins in plants since plants possess the same, but less complex, signaling mechanism. Through his computational analyses, Tim was able to identify candidate GPCRs in plants that have some similarity to mammalian GPCRs that function in disease. Through studying these plant proteins, the function of thes plant signaling receptors and their homologous mammalian receptors may be further elucidated, thereby improving the chances of both plants and humans to survive the critical demands of life in space.
  • Francelys Medina, Department of Material Science and Engineering
    Francelys's research is concerned with the determination of the degree to which electrical measurements can provide a basis for interpreting structural characteristics of second phases and alteration in the structure in a binary silica-titania glass (Corning Incorporated ULE® glass). ULE® glass was originally developed for the space industry to maintain the critical performance of optical systems at the extreme temperatures to which a space mission is exposed. Since then, ULE® glass has been the material of choice for large ground-based, astronomical telescope mirrors and space satellite systems, mainly due to a variety of unique properties of this material. Properties such as essentially zero thermal expansion, low density, dimensional stability and mechanical integrity combine to provide the precision optical performance demanded by today's leading edge astronomers, over the expected lifetime of an optical system. The well known Hubble space telescope and the 8.1-m diameter Gemini telescope were both manufactured with ULE® glass. Francelys's studies are expected to allow for the determination of the temperature range in which ULE® glass could be used continuously without degradation.
  • Sarah Pabian , Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
    Sarah's research is focused on the effects of acid deposition on forest birds. Birds require a large amount of calcium to make reproduce. Acid deposition can reduce the amount of calcium available to birds by leaching calcium from the soil. Different areas are differentially affected by acid deposition depending on the buffering capacity of the soil. The objective of my research is to determine the relationship between the bird communities and soils, in order to better understand how acid deposition has and will affect birds. Specifically, I will compare bird abundance, territory size, reproductive output, eggshell thickness, and snail abundance (an important source of calcium for reproducing birds) across a range of areas with soils of different buffering capacities. This will allow us to pinpoint the most vulnerable areas where birds are most susceptible to the effects of acidic deposition. This research is related to NASA's Earth Science Enterprise by examining the consequences of atmospheric changes caused by human pollution.
  • Christopher Scott, Department of Aerospace Engineering
    My research involves the application of concepts in dynamic systems theory to the motion of spacecraft and celestial bodies within our solar system. Large regions of our solar system have been shown to be chaotic. In particular, chaotic regions within the asteroid belt have been demonstrated to be suppliers of near Earth asteroids. A numerical indicator used to detect chaoticity, known as the fast Lyapunov indicator, will be used to map and identify structures analogous to invariant manifolds in space that are responsible for the delivery of asteroids into and out of these regions and ultimately to the near Earth region. Regions bounded by invariant structures along with set oriented techniques will be used to infer a theoretical distribution of near Earth asteroids. Ultimately this information will aid astronomers with the daunting task of cataloging near Earth objects. Regions in space where objects would have the highest probability of impacting Earth are of particular interest. Other regions, which receive attention from the astrodynamics community, are those among Jupiter and its moons. Just as information pertaining to the motion and transport of asteroids can be inferred using the aforementioned techniques, so can information regarding the motion of a spacecraft moving under the influence of Jupiter and its moons. In this manner, highly efficient low-cost trajectories can be identified as well as highly stable parking orbits. These highly stable orbits lie on invariant tori in phase space that are predicted by KAM theory.
  • Jori Sharda, Integrated Biosciences Program in Plant Biology
    Jori studies the relationship between symbiotic arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and plant roots and how this is regulated by soil phosphorus availability. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi increase plant phosphorus availability, and receive reduced carbon from the plant. Overfertilization of agricultural fields often results in lower degrees of mycorrhizal colonization of, presumably because when phosphorus is readily available to the plant, it is more beneficial to retain their carbon rather than giving it to the fungi. Many previous studies have examined mechanisms hypothesized to be responsible for this restriction of colonization, and it is known that root exudation, root soluble carbohydrates, and genomic changes all play a part in this process. The mechanism is still not fully understood, and one gap in that knowledge is understanding how gross root anatomy changes in response to phosphorus availability and whether these changes may mediate mycorrhizal colonization. Jori is testing several hypotheses regarding root anatomical traits that may influence mycorrhizal colonization.
  • Laurie Shuman, Integrated Biosciences Program in Immunobiology
    Breast cancer frequently metastasizes to bone resulting in the formation of painful osteolytic lesions. Normally osteoclasts and osteoblasts work together to remodel bone, but when metastatic breast cancer cells invade, the osteoblasts do not function normally to replenish the bone. We have found that metastatic breast cancer cells prevent osteoblasts from undergoing differentiation. In addition to blocking osteoblast differentiation, the breast cancer cells cause the osteoblasts to increase production of imflammatory cytokines, which can activate osteoclasts resulting in increased bone degradation. Determining the pathway(s) that promote osteoblast inhibition, while inducing production of inflammatory cytokines, will aid in designing more specific therapeutic drugs in order to return the bone microenvironment to a normal status, devoid of painful lesions. This research would also benefit those suffering from bone loss due to osteoporosis or space travel. One detrimental side effect of extended space travel is the weakening of bones due to loss of bone mass. In fact, extended space travel can result in up to a 39% loss in spongy, or cancellous, bone, making this an imperative aspect of research for NASA. In addition, the lost bone mass increases calcium levels leading to an increased chance of developing kidney stones. Our research is focused on the pathways within osteoblasts, the cells responsible for maintaining bone mass. It is important to determine how the osteoblasts function in a stressed environment, making this research applicable to breast cancer metastasis, radiation treatment for cancer patients, osteoporosis, and space travel.
  • Christopher Thode, Department of Chemistry
    Chris Thode's research focuses on the functionalization, reactivity, and directed transport of magnetic nanoparticles. These materials have applications in sensors, catalysis and as cargo delivery agents. Concentrated solutions of these particles are known as ferrofluids and one of their many unique properties is to move toward local magnetic field gradients, carrying their solvent with them. By developing methods of performing chemical reactions on the surface of these particles, we learn about the nature and limitations of chemical reactivity in magnetic fluids. This research is of interest to NASA because it may one day provide a means to perform simple chemical tasks in microgravity environments by magnetically manipulating chemical reactants contained within ferrofluids.

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Last Updated: March 14, 2007