Space Grants Set Trajectory of Students’ Learning Experiences

Missionary Innovative Robust (M.I.R.) Lunar NASA 2020 BIG Idea Challenge
The Missionary Innovative Robust (M.I.R.) Lunar Team poses for a group photo prior to submitting their proposal to the NASA 2020 BIG Idea Challenge in fall 2019. Four team members won scholarships this month from the Illinois Space Grant Consortium: mechatronics majors Di’Quan Ishmon and Caeden Keith, and mechanical engineering majors Alexander Torres Soto and Kaylen Platt.

NIU students will have the chance to have some out of this world experiences this academic year, thanks to two professors from NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET) who were granted research seed money of more than $20,000 by the NASA Illinois Space Grant Consortium (ISGC). The ISGC also awarded four CEET students with $3,000 scholarships.

The ISGC’s 14 member institutions include 11 Illinois colleges and universities along with NASA, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and the Discovery Center Museum in Rockford. The consortium supports students from elementary school through college and beyond in the “pursuit of space sciences and aerospace engineering careers.”

“These grants and scholarships are tremendous opportunities for our students to gain hands-on experience in the exciting and emerging fields of aerospace engineering,” said Dean Donald Peterson, Ph.D. of NIU’s CEET.

Yueh-Jaw Lin, Ph.D., CEET professor and director of the mechatronics program was awarded $10,656 to develop a de-icing system for space vehicles. Kyu T. Cho, Ph.D, assistant professor of mechanical engineering was awarded $10,112 to develop a water treatment system that can withstand long space missions and the harsh conditions of outer space. Both grants will be matched by funds from NIU to support the research.

NIU joined the ISGC in 2018 to expand its universe of offerings to CEET students. Joining required a comprehensive application process to demonstrate that the college possesses the skills, resources, and knowledge to support NASA’s research. Since joining, NIU’s CEET has been awarded more than $100,000 in grants and scholarships from ISCG, of which more than $86,000 has been matched by NIU for research projects.

“As a member of the ISGC, we hope to not only continue to ignite student interest in pursuing careers that support NASA’s workforce objectives but also promote individual student excellence, ingenuity, and success,” said John Shelton, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at CEET and affiliate director of the ISGC program at NIU.

Yueh-Jaw Lin, Ph.D., mechatronics professor and director of the mechatronics program

De-icing space vehicles

Lin’s mechatronics de-icing system project “A Mechatronics De-Icing System with Minimal Power Requirements – A Proof of Concept” will work to discover and test the feasibility of a way to remove ice from an aerospace vehicle. Currently, ice is removed using thermal or electrical currents, and these methods require heavy equipment and significant amounts of fuel to operate. In addition to being lightweight and more fuel-efficient, the system will meet the stringent constraints of spacecraft structural design. “This system can be readily extended to cover de-icing needs in wintery conditions for massive antenna dishes, wind energy turbines, solar panels, icy road and highway pavements, to name just a few,” said Lin.

Students will be over the moon as this project offers opportunities to be involved. An undergraduate student and a graduate student will be selected to conduct the mechatronics engineering research work under Lin’s supervision and a senior design project team will assist with the prototype of some components. In addition, Lin has developed a mechatronics course called MCTR 498 Special Topic – Mechatronics Structural Health Monitoring that will be offered as a technical elective for engineering students during the two-year project period.

Kyu T. Cho, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering

Space mission water treatment system

Kyu Taek Cho’s project “Feasibility Study of a Novel Wastewater Treatment Technology for Space Missions of NASA” will involve developing an advanced wastewater treatment system called “electrocoagulation” to provide clean water for NASA space missions. The technology currently being used is based on a biological treatment system that treats small amounts of wastewater for short space missions. Cho’s system would be more effective in the harsh conditions of outer space on longer space missions.

CEET students will have a chance to contribute to this project, as well. “It will give them a good opportunity not only to learn this new system but also to make contributions to advance technology for the NASA space mission,” said Cho.

An education and career trajectory into outer space

In addition to the research seed grants, four students were awarded scholarships: mechatronics majors Di’Quan Ishmon of Rochelle, Ill. and Caeden Keith of Cortland, Ill.; and mechanical engineering majors Alexander Torres Soto of Aurora, Ill. and Kaylen Platt of Fox Lake, Ill. Each of the students was involved with the NASA BIG Idea project last fall and submitted a proposal to build a moon rover for NASA’s Artemis mission in 2024. They expressed their enthusiasm and excitement for the opportunity to explore a career in the aerospace industry.

“My aspirations to do more with NASA in my future after graduation is to work with the Aerospace and Robotic Industry and SpaceX on additive manufacturing and metal 3D printing,” said Ishmon.

“This award helps me to showcase my academic competence as well as my interest/pursuit for the possibility of a career within the space/aviation industry,” said Platt.

“Working for NASA would be a dream come true post-graduation,” said Keith. “I have been starstruck by NASA and their accomplishments and their sheer role in inventing things we use in our everyday lives without even realizing it since I was little. My education at NIU helped prepare me for this scholarship by giving me good academic writing foundations as well as improving my understanding of mechanical structures as well as their designs. My skills in CAD, CAM programs have improved tenfold. NIU has also granted me many contacts in the professional sector that I may consider using in the future.”

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About NIU

Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Oregon, and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 courses of study while serving a diverse and international student body.

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