© 2019 NASA Nebraska Space Grant

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The NASA Nebraska Space Grant is excited to highlight our innovative faculty research projects this year. For 2017 projects, click here.


NASA’s ongoing and future missions rely heavily on robotic capabilities. Robots are used for large-scale manipulation and support during extravehicular activities (spacewalks) on the

International Space Station, surface exploration and scientific operations on lunar and

planetary surfaces, and are envisioned for numerous other future uses. The particular category of parallel robots, in which a moving platform is connected to a fixed base through multiple load-sharing articulated legs, carries the advantages of high stiffness, speed, and precision, which can be beneficial in a variety of tasks in space exploration, but suffers from small workspace. Furthermore, dynamic performance is inhibited in most designs by the use of actuators (piston-cylinder assemblies or rotary motors) mounted on the moving parts of the

robot, increasing inertia. Because of the expanding need for robotic capabilities, it is necessary

to improve the performance characteristics from the state of the art.

In a typical parallel robot, each leg has a single actuator mounted in the leg, and for a robot to

produce all 6 degrees of freedom of motion (3 Cartesian position coordinates and 3 angular

coordinates), 6 legs are needed. This proliferation of mass on the robot can lead to collisions

between the legs at certain points in the workspace (artificially shrinking the available

envelope), and increases inertia (making the robot slower and less precise). In our recent

work, we changed each leg to have two actuators, and mounted these on the fixed base, using

a geared “wrist” mechanism to transmit motion to the legs. In this way, the number of legs is cut in half, removing the collision constraints and increasing workspace volume, while taking most of the mass out of the legs so that the dynamic performance can be increased.

Through building and testing a prototype, we verified improvements in workspace (reachable area) for an arbitrary choice of leg lengths, but have yet to optimize the robot parameters.

Building on this recent advancement, the proposed work consists of optimizing the layout for

performance enhancement, verifying the results through testing an improved prototype, and

deriving more formal kinematic models in order to move towards real-time control in practical


Carl Nelson, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, UNL



NASA scientists and engineers have developed many advanced materials for spacecraft and

satellites used in space exploration, transportation, global positioning and communication. The

most important properties of a material used in space are mechanical properties (e.g., strength, toughness, hardness) and irradiation resistance. When an object is in orbit around the Earth, it is subjected to incredible forces that will tear apart weaker structures. The materials used on the exterior of spacecraft and satellites are also subjected to many space environmental threats that can degrade many materials and components. These threats include solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation, charged particle (ionizing) radiation (mainly electrons and protons), atomic oxygen (AO) erosion, plasma (mainly oxygen ions and free electrons), surface charging and arcing, temperature extremes, thermal cycling, impacts from micrometeoroids and orbital debris (MMOD), and environment‐induced contamination. Aluminum alloys are the dominating metallic materials for aerospace industry in aircraft structures and components because they are lightweight and inexpensive. Other advanced materials being used includes titanium or nickel-based alloys, graphite, carbon fiber reinforced polymers and honeycomb materials.

The research goal of this project is to use novel laser surface engineering techniques to develop high-entropy alloy (HEA) coatings on the surface of metallic structures in spacecraft

and satellites. The HEA coating will be prepared using the laser surface alloying (LSA). The HEA coating can improve the resistance to impacts from micrometeoroids and orbital debris, along with the radiation resistance from charged particle radiation and plasma (mainly oxygen ions and free electrons). The metallic structures with HEA coating will be then processing by laser shock peening (LSP), which can further improve the resistance against micrometeoroids and radiation. These novel laser surface engineering techniques can enhance the reliability and extend the lifetime of the metallic structures in spacecraft and satellites.

Bai Cui, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, UNL



The purpose of this project is to provide funds for students to purchase materials with

in support of a senior design project and also provide them access to the UNL MakerLab, which requires a monthly subscription. The students will be given a project generated from the NASA JPL mentors, relevant to current technology interests of the lab and related to space exploration research. The project is meant to be a research project on a low Technology

Readiness Level topic. The project will be a quality hands on activity in that the students will be expected to build hardware throughout the course of the project.

Products from this project will be presented at E-Week at UNL and possibly rolled into future

technology development work at JPL.

Shane Farritor, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, UNL



The Design/Build/Fly (DBF) team, a subgroup of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL)

Aerospace Club, has provided a unique chance for engineers to gain real world aerospace

experience since 2008. This project differentiates itself from others at the University in many

ways. One of the most profound differences is in the unique design requirements for each

annual competition. This allows the team the opportunity and challenge to plan and complete

the project starting from a blank slate each year. The unique design requirements are tailored

to simulate real-world aerospace design challenges, which yields in applicable experience

gained from the team. DBF is the only engineering team at UNL to offer the chance to engineer

a plane as well. This is beneficial for aspiring future engineers and other applicable majors

that are interested in the field of aviation.

NASA has vested interests in developing qualified engineers and scientists to participate in programs across the country. DBF gives students a great start towards a career in aerospace, or engineering in general, by arming them with the relevant skills needed to succeed. The design project offers a wealth of opportunities for students to come together and learn, but it would not be possible without the funding and support to make the sketches and models come to life. NASA NE has historically been generous and recognized the value of the DBF team, but additional sources are necessary and have contributed to make the plane a reality. The Mechanical and Materials Engineering department at UNL contributes each year to encourage project participation, as does the Engineering Student Advisory Board. Duncan Aviation has graciously provided funding and Royal Engineered Composites has contributed training and resources for composite molding. Other organizations or groups may provide students a chance to hear from an experienced engineer or learn the theories behind a phenomenon.

Jae Sung Park, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, UNL



The International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC) is a collegiate aerial robotics challenge.

Student teams are tasked with creating aerial robots (AR), specifically unmanned aerial

vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones. These ARs can perform activities not currently known

to be possible by existing government or industry aerial robots. Competition mission requirements are changed as challenges are met to push the capabilities and knowledge

frontier in the AR arena, thus creating opportunities for unique and innovative ideas to be tested and applied. The IARC has been in existence for over thirty years. Due to the interest in

competition goals being “impossible”, it often takes multiple years of competition to complete a

mission, as students push technology to the limit attempting to complete each successive goal

(six missions have been accomplished). The team’s current mission is Mission 8A, which

requires an operator to remotely control a swarm of drones with vocal or gesture commands to complete several tasks. The outcomes of this project are directly useful to NASA for increasing the effectiveness of their own missions by examining the techniques used by competing teams.

The ideas and outcomes of this contest are of interest to NASA, although they are not a direct

sponsor of this competition. The team will look for opportunities to collaborate with NASA.

Aerospace club members have expressed excitement that NASA is considering UAVs for

exploration of other planets, and a former member even participated in research developing

UAVs at NASA Langley in Spring 2016. The team members are hopeful that this will lead to

developing additional connections with NASA, to both find job opportunities for members and

to develop more intriguing outreach programs for children and young adults.

Jae Sung Park, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, UNL


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The objective during the NASA Robotic Mining Competition (RMC) is to design and build a mining robot that can survive and perform in a Martian simulated terrain. The goal is for the

remotely operated robot to mine regolith (Martian sand– similar to talk powder) and an ice

simulant (gravel) and deposit it into a collection bin. The more autonomously the robot operates, and the greater of the regolith mined, while not succumbing to the harsh

environment, the better. This project reflects unique research challenges NASA encounters.

In addition to the actual competition, the team is responsible for developing the robot while

constrained with schedule, cost, and scope expectations while providing report

ing and outreach. This requires managing competing demands, similar to NASA project experiences. The competition is hosted by and is held at the Kennedy Space Center. It is important to NASA because the technology and design concepts developed by the university teams may potentially be used to mine regolith resources on Mars.

The RMC team is committed to building their diversity of women and underrepresented

minorities through direct recruitment (via the Dean’s list), participation in Student Involvement

Fairs, and through relationships with professional organizations serving those students, but

which might not offer similar hands on project experiences (e.g., SWE, SHPE, NSBE). Robotics is also a multidisciplinary activity. We have members of various different majors ranging from computer science, engineering, and mathematics. The diversity shown on our team reflects onto our design work. We are able to encompass many different ideas onto our design and every member has their own unique strength.

Jae Sung Park, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, UNL



The UNL High Power Rocketry Team will be participating in the Intercollegiate Rocketry

Education Competition (IREC), as a part of the Spaceport America Cup 2019; the Midwest High Power Rocketry Competition; or NASA USLI. The specific competition will be decided once the team forms at the beginning of the 2018-2019 academic year. The team will recruit a diverse team to invest in understanding the needed skills to design, build, and test a rocket that exhibit not only the ability to successfully launch, but to also meet competition requirements for performance which are likely to include monitoring, data collection from the rocket’s payload and controls, and retrieve-ability. In addition to technical requirements, the team will perform according to schedule, budget and documentation requirements. The Rocket team supports NASA’s priorities by developing a greater working knowledge of rocket propulsion and design techniques and increasing familiarity with the standards of engineering used in aerospace-

related design, and effectively readying students for tomorrow’s workforce. These skills align with NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, the HEO, the Science Mission Directorate and the Office of Education.

By understanding and applying rocket design concepts, students will be more prepared to

understand design considerations with regards to Human Exploration & Operations. Through

the design development, they will perform research and gain understanding of the science

behind the development and optimization techniques for rocket design. The students, through

this hands-on experience will personally benefit with regard to their education. Rockets are

able to capture the imagination, and for many, the chance to see and understand that this is a

potential career area can draw new students into STEM education and careers. The outreach

projects accomplished by the UNL Rocket team (and Aerospace Club, of which it is a part) will

increase awareness among the university student body and the community regarding the

progress and development of science and technology.

Jae Sung Park, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, UNL



The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has participated in the RockSat program for several years

and previously been selected to participate in the Undergraduate Student Instrument Project

for suborbital research. With aid from NASA Nebraska Space Grant Consortium, UNL has flown a RockSat-C experiment containing an Electro-hydrodynamic Pump (EHD), a RockSat-X payload studying crystallization in microgravity for the 2013-14 and an expansion of the study

in 2014-15, and a RockSat-X payload studying deployable structures for spacecraft. Each year

the Rocket Payload (RP) team has expanded their knowledge and developed and explored

new areas of research, attempting to provide unique information of use to others in the

aerospace field and industries that might benefit from knowledge of materials in microgravity


In order to acquire a spot on the RockSat rocket, the team must submit an “Intent to Fly” form

in late August. The team must then complete a series of design reviews that include a CoDR,

PDR, and CDR to track conceptual development. All of these reviews will be taken into

consideration by Colorado Space Grant when evaluating schools and teams across the country

competing for one of six full payload spots on the rocket. Schools are selected based on

concept development and research value to the scientific community. Even before being

accepted onto the rocket, the team will be busy with designs and analyses, and in some cases

hardware procurement (if parts are estimated to have a long manufacturing process). If

accepted on the rocket, phase two will begin. Phase two consists of construction and testing of

the scientific payload in preparation for integration to the rocket and suborbital flight.

Jae Sung Park, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, UNL


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The ninth annual Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physical Sciences (WoPhyS ’17) brought together 103 outstanding undergraduate researchers in physics, chemistry, and engineering from across the United States, along with UNL students and faculty. Primary goals of the meeting were to provide undergraduate researchers with opportunities to: present their research results to their peers during invited talks and poster sessions; interact with other undergraduate students and share their experiences; meet and talk with faculty from a variety of U.S. universities; and obtain advice and help with career planning. In addition, we highlighted progress in materials science through a series of keynote talks by speakers from six universities, IBM, Argonne National Laboratory, the American Institute of Physics, and NASA. Alexandra Dominguez of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Space Center gave a keynote talk, "To Boldly Go: Building NASA’s New Space Launch System Rocket." This activity aligns with the priorities of the NASA Office of Education by educating research-active undergraduate students in STEM areas about recent progress in nanoscience, and by encouraging women especially to pursue graduate study in STEM fields.

Rebecca Lai, Department of Chemistry, UNL


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This proposal will focus on ranking tasks (hereafter RTs), a classic tool for getting students engaged with science concepts that are primarily used for formative assessment. Typically, an

RT consists of about six icons that students are asked to order based on given criteria. For

example, a physics RT involving collisions might give different masses, initial velocities, and

final velocities for several projectiles and ask the student to place them in increasing order of

the change in kinetic energy. Thus, students are asked to make comparative judgments about

variations on a particular physical situation. RTs are well-known for eliciting students’ natural

ideas about the behavior of a given physical system (rather than a memorized response)

and helping students correct misconceptions by promoting metacognition. Many RTs are variations of the same question and when students realize that they responded differently to the same question, they are encouraged to contemplate their responses and identify the

response in which they believe most strongly.

Kevin Lee, Department of Physics and Astronomy, UNL



Current flight experiment data indicates alterations in microbial virulence and astronaut immune function during spaceflight indicating the potential for increased risk of infectious disease during spaceflight missions. Astronauts experienced an altered immune response during long space mission aboard the International Space Station.  This altered immune behavior may be linked to radiation, microbes, stress, microgravity, altered sleep cycles and isolation. In a prolonged space mission, these factors could cause increased susceptibility to illness and, in turn, limitations to human space exploration. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that the methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus strain demonstrated enhanced antibiotic resistance in microgravity-analogue conditions suggesting potential alterations in antibiotic efficacy during long-duration spaceflights missions. Given that medical conditions will occur during human spaceflight missions, there is a possibility that adverse health outcomes may decrease crew’s performance during these missions. The current proposal has the potential to contribute to reducing NASA’s “Risk of Adverse Health Outcomes & Decrements in Performance due to Inflight Medical Conditions” for deep space journeys and long-durations spaceflight missions.

In collaboration with our industry partner, Copper 3D Inc, the current proposal seeks to develop and validate new antimicrobial 3D printing materials for the development of medical devices to serve as a preventive countermeasure to mitigate microbial risks during long-durations spaceflight missions. To accomplish this purpose, we have developed two specific aims:

Aim 1: Perform antimicrobial effectiveness and longevity assessments of new antimicrobial 3D printing polymer and copolymer containing a copper-based nanocomposite.

Aim 2: Post-extrusion assessment of antimicrobial properties of 3D printed medical devices including a basic surgical kit, a finger orthosis, and a flexible wound care dressing.

Jorge Zuniga, Department of Biomechanics, UNO



NASA uses a variety of methods to control and reduce microbial contamination for planetary protection. Future long duration missions to Mars will bring new challenges to the health and well-being of astronauts (i.e., orthopedic needs, skin disorders, and emergency wound closure). The use of antibacterial 3D printed filament has promising potential applications for the development of medical devices associated to bacterial development, such as postoperative prostheses, wound dressing, and surgical equipment.

The purpose of the current investigation was threefold: i) described the development of 3D printed prostheses using antibacterial filament, ii) verify the antibacterial properties of the 3D printed prostheses, and iii) Develop a remote fitting methodology and determine patient satisfaction after using a 3D printed antibacterial finger prosthesis. 3D printed finger prostheses will be manufactured using PLACTIVETM  antibacterial 3D printing filament (PLACTIVETM 1% Antibacterial Nanoparticles composite, Copper3D, Santiago, Chile). Individuals with finger amputations will be fitted with a customized 3D printed finger prosthesis manufactured with antibacterial filament. Bacterial analysis of the 3D printed prostheses will be performed by two independent laboratories against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli (ISO 22196). Manual gross dexterity will be assessed during the Box & Block Test. Patient satisfaction will be assessed using the Quebec User Evaluation of Satisfaction with assistive Technology (QUEST 2.0).

Jorge Zuniga, Department of Biomechanics, UNO



During spaceflight and return to earth, astronauts experience significant alterations to their biomechanical and cardiovascular function. These changes may inhibit an astronaut’s ability to regulate foot temperature, which is an important indicator of soft tissue health. In this project, we will develop a novel methodology for the acquisition and analysis of thermography images of the foot. A human locomotion experiment, designed to test temperature increases in the feet of healthy individuals during walking, will be used to validate both lab and software components of the methodology. Completion of this project will facilitate investigation of the relationship between plantar temperature, biomechanics, and blood flow during walking. This is particularly important for populations which are potentially at-risk, including: astronauts following return to earth, people with diabetes, and people with peripheral artery disease.

Andrew Kern, Department of Biomechanics, UNO



The main goal of the project is the development of collaboration and strategic alignment of the research interests with NASA scientists with the intent to capture future funding from NASA and other agencies. Our laboratory currently focuses on the impact of increased CO2 and ozone levels on vascular function in humans, with special attention to vascular endothelial function and redox balance. Greater ozone and CO2 levels during spaceflight appear to negatively influence vascular function, specifically, vascular endothelial function and free radical production. Therefore, it is critical to minimize and/or reverse the attenuated endothelial function during spaceflight to prevent the future possible manifestation of cardiovascular diseases induced by space travel. By developing collaborations, we can integrate our expertise in vascular endothelial function and its treatment with the needs of NASA, thereby, allowing a more efficient translation from the lab to the end user. By leveraging this interdisciplinary approach, developing a strong collaboration, and by understanding the needs of NASA, we can work to develop competitive proposals that could result in funding from the National Institutes of Health and The Department of Defense demonstrating the potential for broad reaching impacts in terms of generating external funding.

Song-Young Park, Department of Health and Kinesiology, UNO


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The research is the first phase of a larger research endeavor to develop a Women in Aviation Workforce report. The proposed research will focus on women in the aviation workforce with a goal of determining a baseline number of women in a variety of fields in the aerospace industry. This will allow for the identification of areas in the industry that are underrepresented. A survey targeted towards women in those fields will be developed to identify the criteria and experiences that contributed to their decision to join the aviation workforce. The results can be utilized to begin to identify strategies for outreach to recruit additional women into the aviation workforce. 

Rebecca Lutte, Aviation Institute, UNO


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The project seeks to identify strong students (from Highschool through Masters level), and accelerate these students through introductory courses into more advanced courses on fundamental topics in mathematics. In this way, this mentorship program develops a strong pool of students capable of doing undergraduate research on theoretical mathematics, and capable of entering nationally competitive graduate programs.

Griff Elder, Department of Mathematics, UNO


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Launched in 2013, CodeCrush has grown to be the largest iSTEM immersion experience for girls and their teachers in the Midwest. CodeCrush is an initiative of the University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Information Science and Technology’s Women in IT Initiative, a community-run task force built to increase the number of women entering the IT workforce. We know diversity helps teams be better. When all voices are at the table, teams are more innovative, ask more questions, and produce better products that answer these questions. CodeCrush is more than helping girls find their place in IT, it’s ensuring that IT works to be the most innovative industry it can while empowering an entire community to be advocates for comprehensive computer science education in their classrooms. Through building a community of students, teachers, mentors and role models, CodeCrush works to bring more diversity to the IT landscape and empower every to close the IT gender gap.

Deepak Khazanchi, College of Information Science and Technology, UNO


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Community Outreach is the major goal of this project and to inspire the youth and community at large to observe and preserve our night sky. These activities will hopefully inspire youth to

affect the other NASA areas of ARMD, HEO, Office of the Chief Technologist, SMD, and NASA

Office of Education in the future. All events, activities, and training will have the three major

educational goals in mind; strengthening NASA and the Nation’s future workforce, attracting and retaining students in STEM disciplines and engaging Americans in NASA’s mission.

Krista Testin, Department of Physics, UNO



Our Environmental Monitoring Through Native Prairie Restoration research project has a yearly management application each year. Applications will be applied in a four-year rotation around the end of April of each year. Year one we seeded, year two we mowed, year three we will graze and year four we will burn. It is at this time that we will need the seeder we are asking for to plant more native species into the mix. With the burnt biomass, seeding shOuld be easy. The overall goal is to develop diversity within our native prairie and see how successional changes happen to this environmental setting with our replication of natural management events. It is important for us to understand how we influence our environments; on earth or other planets.

Hank Miller, Department of Math & Science, NICC



By incorporating Virtual Technologies into our existing class curriculums, we will be able to not

only expose our students to the latest and greatest, but also connect with younger students

who already utilize this technology for their recreational activities. Incorporating the wow factor into education will spark interest and engagement in the STEM classes. I will also expose our students to this technology that is being utilized on many cutting edge fronts of STEM research.

Hank Miller, Department of Math & Science, NICC