top of page

STUDENTS 2018-2019

The NASA Nebraska Space Grant is proud of our funded students.  The profiles below highlight the excellent research and aerospace workforce development activities being undertaken in Nebraska this year. For 2017-2018 profiles, click here.



Rhonda Plofkin received her B.S. in Atmospheric Science in 2014 from Creighton University. She went on to receive a M.S. in Business Intelligence and Analytics, also from Creighton in May 2018. Rhonda is currently interning at NASA Ames Research Center. She is using Artificial Intelligence to identify stratocumulus clouds off the west coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. She would like to use machine learning to gain a better understanding of atmospheric data in the future.



Aaron Ediger received his B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) in 2017. He is currently pursuing a PhD also at UNL and conducts his research at The Center for Electro-Optics and Functionalized Surfaces (CEFS). At CEFS Aaron uses femtosecond lasers to induce morphological and chemical changes on a wide range of surfaces. Through the Space Grant Aaron is working to create an anti-microbial silver surface for condensing heat exchangers to be used on manned spacecraft.

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 10.58.23


John Mailolo is an undergraduate student at Creighton University, pursuing a major in neuroscience. Through the support of the Nebraska Space Grant he has interned at NASA Ames during the summer of 2018. His research involved the effects of the spaceflight environment on gene expression in bone cells and the effects of a potential countermeasure for use during spaceflight.



Maven Losey is an undergraduate student from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who is now entering his third year as a Mechanical Engineering major. After graduation he plans to become a robotics engineer and design new tools and products for transportation and simple task completion. Through the Space Grant Maven has been able to work with Ryan McCormick, another engineer at JPL originally from UNL, to design and remodel a robotic arm for a miniature rover called the PUFFER which could one day be carried by another rover to explore small spaces on extra terrestrial bodies.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 2.24.33 PM.png


Nathan Jensen was born in Omaha, NE, and moved to Lincoln to attend UNL in the fall of 2014. After co-captaining the university’s high power rocketry team for two years, conducting robotics research in the Mechanical and Materials Engineering Department, and working on an internship at NASA Ames, he graduated in Spring 2018 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. Now enrolled as a graduate student to continue his robotics research, Nathan wishes to enhance his understanding of fluid dynamics and controls in a second internship at NASA Ames before continuing his studies. He hopes to work for NASA after completing his post-graduate education, and wants to design autonomous vehicles for interplanetary exploration.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 2.37.37 PM.png


Sarah Vaughn is a Senior Physics major with an emphasis in computational science at Doane University in Nebraska. In the summer of 2017, she completed an internship at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory where she assisted the scientists and engineers at the 3.5 meter WIYN telescope with the removal and re-coating of the primary mirror and worked with the bench spectrograph and helped perform instrument changes.She also shadowed one of the scientist in an overnight observing run and helped her to collect data for her research then reduced the spectra data that was collected using a program called IRAF.

After earning her undergraduate degree she plans to continue her education through graduate school and pursue a career in Computational Astrophysics.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 2.33.29 PM.png


Mary Radke is a junior in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. With the support of NASA Nebraska Space Grant, she is interning at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. There she is designing end effectors for a robotic arm which could be used in future surface sampling missions in space.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 2.20.57 PM.png


Ben Bradley recently graduated from the University of Nebraska Lincoln with a B.S. in mechanical engineering and a minor in computer science. At the university, he participated extensively in on campus research labs, supporting fundamental physics and robotics research. In UNL's Advanced Surgical Technologies Laboratory he worked extensively with surgical robotic systems. Ben has previously worked with NASA, developing advanced x-ray optics at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Fall 2016 and designing a small robotic satellite manipulator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Summer 2017.



Parker Durham will be a senior mechanical engineering major this fall at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has worked as an undergraduate research assistant in the Advanced Surgical Technologies Lab at UNL under Dr. Farritor since May of 2016 and interned at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the summer of 2017 where he worked in a team to design a grasping mechanism for docking a small cube sat with large space debris objects. This summer, Parker will be working on a lunar sample handling carousel for Honeybee robotics. After graduation, Parker plans to either further his education in mechanical engineering or pursue a career in robotics.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 1.56.16 PM.png


Nathan Mann is a senior Mechanical Engineering student at the University of the Nebraska-Lincoln. He has participated in the Aerospace Club for two years as a member of the Rocketry Team and one year as the Outreach Coordinator for the Aerospace Club as a whole. He also has participated in undergraduate research opportunities through Dr. Carl Nelson’s Applied Mechanisms and Design Lab and Dr. Sangjin Ryu’s Bio/Flow Systems Lab. This summer, he is participating in an internship with the NASA Ames Research Center’s Aeromechanics Branch

through the NASA Nebraska Space Grant. After graduation in December 2018, he hopes to begin a career in aerospace engineering.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 2.16.51 PM.png


I am a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in mechanical engineering from Humphrey, Nebraska. Along with bachelors degree, I am also pursuing minor degrees in robotics engineering and international engineering. During my time at UNL, I have been a member of the Aerospace Club, NASA Robotic Mining Competition team, and the NASA Undergraduate Student Instrument Project team. After graduation in December, I am planning on going to grad school. Eventually, I would like to pursue a career in the aerospace industry, especially in the areas of robotics or space structures.



James Pierce is currently a graduate research assistant in the Department of Biomechanics at the University of Nebraska – Omaha. Born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, he successfully completed a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Saint Thomas in 2014, and a master's degree in Exercise Science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2018. Through his career, he has had the privilege to work in various challenging and rewarding industries; aerospace engineering, product development, manufacturing engineering and 3D printing have all helped to shape his experience. Now, his goal is to find new and innovative ways to use advanced manufacturing techniques to improve quality of life. With Dr. Jorge Zuniga as a research mentor, James is pursuing research into the design and production of assistive devices using additive manufacturing. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree, with the eventual dream to teach and mentor future scientists.

chloe_jensen_118_wba (1).jpg


Chloe Jensen is a junior in her 2nd year at the College of Saint Mary. She is duel majoring in Biology and Chemistry and is a Marie Curie Scholarship student at CSM. She plans to complete her degrees in the Spring of 2020. From there she would like to pursue Medical School and specialize in Dermatology. She indulges her time at CSM as being apart of the College of Saint Mary Softball team, the Walk Tall Honors Program, and the Math and Science Club. In the summer of 2018, Chloe participated in research at the University of Nebraska Lincoln where she and a CSM faculty member performed experiments to test different seed treatments with Plant Growth-Promoting Bacteria (PGPB) to see their effects on maize and sorghum. Chloe has also enjoyed tutoring her peers. The College of Saint Mary offers an excellent program for the students to experience a learning opportunity for themselves and young students K-12 called the Outreach Program. The CSM students are welcomed by schools to teach and perform an experiment with the children. Chloe and the students and faculty at CSM agree that this Outreach Program is an admirable way for the STEM fields to be examined and broadened.

IMG_1800 (1).JPG


Drew Dudley is a native of Norfolk, Nebraska. He attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Systems Engineering. Upon graduating from UNL in December of 2016, he began his graduate assistantship for Dr. Zuniga in the Department of Biomechanics at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. With the NASA Space Fellowship Grant, Drew is working on the designing and testing of an inexpensive 3D printed upper limb exoskeleton for stroke patients. The exoskeleton will be customized to each patient and will assist the stroke patient's hand with grasping objects. The simplicity of the design will allow for the users to operate the device in a naturalistic environment rather than a clinical setting. Drew plans to graduate with a Masters degree in Biomechanics and to move into the field of biomedical engineering.

IMG_3813 (1).JPG


Stephanie Vavra is a sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. She is the Reporter of the Aerospace Club and a member of the Aerospace Club’s Rocketry team. Under the supervision of Dr. Sangjin Ryu, Stephanie will be researching gravity-driven two-dimensional (2D) liquid drop formation inspired by a liquid toy timer. With more information on 2D liquid drop formation, a more efficient and compact liquid drop generator can be developed for soil sample collection on other planets.



Elisabeth White is a senior at College of Saint Mary. She is majoring in Biology and minoring in Chemistry and Environmental Sustainability. She will complete her degree in May of 2019 and plans to enter the medical field after graduation. Elisabeth is actively involved in many organizations on campus including Campus Activities Board, Walk Tall Honors Program, and Math and Science Club, as well conducting undergraduate research on Tardigrades and caring for CSM's aquarium fish. She is currently working as a veterinary assistant for Flatwater Veterinary Group, as well as finishing up an Emergency Medical Technician certification to help her pursue her passion in medicine. Elisabeth is excited to lead others in educating future generations about math and science by co-coordinating the CSM Elementary Science Outreach Program. This program provides hands on activities and interactive learning about math and science to elementary students in the Omaha and surrounding areas by CSM students. CSM students work in groups to teach the topic according to Nebraska science standards, as well as incorporating a fun activity to demonstrate and enforce the material. The program works to reach as many students as possible and Elisabeth is honored to take over the coordination of such an important program for the community.

Hill Ethan Head Shot.jpg


Ethan C. Hill received his MS degree in exercise physiology and nutrition from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and BS degree in exercise and sport science from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln where he studies exercise physiology and nutrition. He is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the American Physiological Society. His primary research interests include the evaluation of muscle function and blood flow restriction resistance training.



Mason Rhodes is a junior at Creighton University majoring in physics and math. He will continue his research from 2017 investigating quasar outflow mechanisms using hydrodynamic simulations in Athena software. Mason is attempting to provide a comprehensive understanding of the physical processes that drive these outflows in one of the most extreme regions in the universe. He plans to continue his work in computational physics in graduate school and hopes to work in a NASA research lab or academia.



Jessica Rowshandel is an undergraduate geosciences and mathematics student at Chadron State College. Jessica returned to school in her 30s to pursue a career in planetary science and science writing, with a focus on scientific literacy. She has a BA from John Jay College in forensic psychology and an MSSW in social work from Columbia University. Jessica is also a volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador, which gives her opportunities to provide education to the public about NASA missions and space science. As a NASA Nebraska Space Grant Fellow, she will be researching new analog mapping sites that mimic a variety of Mars settings, which could then be used for testing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) geologic mapping capabilities. She will create a database of these locations ranked by suitability. The purpose of this research is to help ensure the greatest probability of success with UAV-assisted geologic mapping in order to provide over-the-horizon views of potential science targets, sample cache locations, and reconnaissance of safe navigation paths for the first possible UAV-assisted Mars mission (i.e., the Mars Helicopter proposed for the Mars 2020 mission).

Profile Picture.JPG


Keaton Young graduated from the University of Nebraska Kearney with a B.S in Exercise Science and a minor in Health Science. Currently, he is a second year Master’s student in Biomechanics at the University of Nebraska Omaha working to design and develop functional, low-cost 3D prosthetics and orthosis for disabled populations. Keaton looks to advance his understanding of motor control and development by researching the effects of wearing a 3D prosthesis on body symmetry and trunk posture. He would like to continue his education after graduation by pursuing a Master’s of Biomedical Engineering in Prosthetics & Orthotics and continue to develop the next generation of 3D prosthetics and orthotics.



Erica Hedrick is originally from Omaha, NE and completed a bachelor’s degree in Biological Systems Engineering from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in 2017. She is currently a graduate research assistant in the Department of Biomechanics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha working with Dr. Kota Takahashi on foot and ankle biomechanics and prosthesis research. With the NASA Nebraska Space Grant Fellowship, Erica will be using a robotic foot-ankle emulator to identify how key assistive device characteristics (such as mechanical stiffness) influence an individual’s ability to walk efficiently while carrying additional loads. These results can be translated into the design of space suits or for rehabilitation purposes. Erica is planning on continuing her education by pursuing a PhD in Biomechanics after graduating next spring.

Professional Picture.jpg


Dr. Rashelle Hoffman is a physical therapist with a specialty in geriatrics. She is a Ph.D. Student and graduate assistant at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute under Dr. Max J. Kurz. Her research focuses on adults and examines cortical activity alterations between single and dual task conditions utilizing neuroimaging techniques such as functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and magnetoencephaology. A better understanding of how a person dual tasks on the ground will allow us to maximize dual task abilities while a person is in outer space.



Michael Trevarrow obtained his B.S. in neuroscience at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2017. He is now working toward a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Using brain imaging technologies such as electroencephalography and magnetoencephalography, as well as brain stimulation methods such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, he explores sensorimotor functioning and integration in the cortex and spinal cord. His work can be extended to provide information on how physiology is affected while astronauts are in space.



Jacob Gottberg is a senior Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). He recently completed an internship at Centese, a biomedical engineering start-up in Omaha, Nebraska that is innovating post-operative cardiothoracic drainage. Jacob is currently an undergraduate researcher at UNL’s Bio/Flow Systems Research Laboratory. With the aid of the NASA Nebraska Space grant, Jacob will study the fluid dynamics of the coalescence process of molten metallic powder as it occurs during the selective laser sintering (SLS) method of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D metal printing. He will study this phenomenon by performing a larger scale, two-dimensional experiment with clear fluid in a microchannel flow device, which will be observed under an optical microscope and captured by high-speed videography. Uncovering the fluid dynamics of the coalescence process will allow greater understanding of the origin of the material properties resulting from the SLS process, and how they can be improved.  After graduation, Jacob intends to pursue a doctoral degree in engineering at UNL, and to continue researching fundamental fluid mechanics topics through microfluidic devices.



David Salazar is a current Graduate Assistant at the Biomechanics Research Building pursuing a Master of Science. After graduating from Creighton University with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science and Pre-Health Professions in May of 2017, he began working as a Personal Trainer in his hometown of Chicago assisting primarily Spanish-speaking communities. In the fall he was offered a research position at the University of Nebraska at Omaha helping Dr. Jorge Zuniga to develop low-cost 3D printed prostheses for children with upper limb deficiencies. After gaining knowledge with various 3D printing procedures, he began collaborating with medical professionals at Children’s Hospital and the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha to implement 3D printing as a method of pre-surgical planning for complex procedures. David is currently in his second year of graduate school and is set to graduate in May of 2019. 

NASA web photo.jpg


Joseph Carmicheal received his B.A. in Psychology from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. He is currently a second year graduate student in the biochemistry and molecular biology department as a part of the M.D./Ph.D. dual degree program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Joseph is investigating novel radiation protectants for use during deep space travel with prolonged radiation exposure.



Jourdan Ringenberg grew up in Indiana and completed her B.S. in Animal Science at Purdue University.  After graduating, she worked in laboratory animal research, zoo animal welfare and conservation, and wildlife research in Wisconsin, Michigan, and California, respectively, before moving to Nebraska to work on her M.S. at UNK. Her research interests include investigating environmental impacts to animal behavior and using research findings to better manage land for wildlife conservation.



Daniel Smith is a sophomore at Western Nebraska Community College working towards a B.S. in computer science. His current project is programming a GoPiGo robot “rover” in advanced artificial intelligence and pathfinding. Daniel’s project includes node based pathfinding, obstacle avoidance, as well as navigating in different environments. Additionally his project deals with using satellite positioning to navigate. He hopes to eventually work in robotics or software development



Richard Cassidy, a native Kansan, studies biology at Creighton University where he will complete his B.S. in may of 2019. His previous laboratory experience has primarily focused on colon cancer genetics, drug assessment and development, and colonoid model organ system development at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. As his interest in cellular replication transitions from the context of cancer to that of basic cellular biology and evolution, he has sparked curiosity in the evolutionary development of protein complexes associated with this important aspect of life on earth. His project aims to study the evolution of yeast spindle pole body complexes in the context of two yeast species in order to gain insight into the evolutionary patterns necessary in order to bring about increasingly complex forms of life. 

Alexander Larsen.jpg


Alexander Larsen is a junior at Creighton University working towards majors in Biology and Environmental Science with a minor in Sustainable Energy. He is a student fellow of an interdisciplinary team studying the Nebraska Sandhills, and under the guidance of Dr. Mary Ann Vinton, Alexander is investigating landscape- and precipitation-based changes in vegetation. With the NASA Nebraska Space Grant Fellowship, he is seeking to quantify variation in vegetation between upland and lowland study sites in the Sandhills during both wet and drought years using a variety of tools such as remote sensing via satellite imagery, drone aerial photography, and field-based vegetation analysis to better understand factors influencing the sustainability of this area. In the future, Alexander plans to attend graduate school and work towards the development and implementation of sustainable practices.



Andrew Li is an early entry student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha looking to pursue higher education in mathematics, computer science, and artificial intelligence. With the help of the NASA Nebraska Space Grant, he is furthering his math education and gaining real-world experience in preparation for his future career in STEM fields.



Alyssa Anderson is attending her second year at College of Saint Mary, while pursuing majors in Biology and Chemistry. Alyssa is also a Marie Curie Scholar at CSM. She plans to graduate in 2021, with hopes to attend medical school. Alyssa participates in numerous activities at College of Saint Mary such as the College of Saint Mary Golf Team, Walk Tall Honors Program, Math and Science Club, and the Elementary Science Outreach Program. Through the support of the NASA Space Grant, Alyssa will be studying the plant pathogen, Pythium, and its correlation to root rot during the 2018-2019 school year. Environmental factors, such as temperature, will be tested to study its impact on the pathogen's virulence.



Farrah Soll, a current fourth-year student at the College of Saint Mary, is a Pre-Physician Assistant major with plans of completing her Bachelors of Science in Human Biology in May of 2020. With the assistance of the NASA space grant, Farrah alongside peers will work to develop a robust and more soluble synergistic formulation of phytochemicals curcumin, and quercetin, while maintaining their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer agents. The results of the research will further the ability to produce a safe and effective drug delivery system for the treatment of various diseases induced by oxidative stress compounded by space travel.



Anne Marie Backer is an undergraduate at Creighton University studying Biology on the Pre-Med track. Anne Marie is a student researcher in Dr. Shibata’s lab at Creighton. Her project involves reducing inflammation in the brain that results from space travel. She intends to target the microglia with specialized nanoparticles paired with a small interfering RNA previously proven by Dr. Shibata’s lab to reduce the inflammatory state in microglia. Anne Marie hopes to attend medical school and become involved with the advancement of women’s health. She also hopes to continue to do research throughout her career.



Nicole Fiore graduated from Truman State University (Kirksville, MO) in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in astronomy. She is currently a second year doctoral student in the Weber Microbial Biogeochemistry and Geomicrobiology lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she studies the microbiology of alkaline and saline continental aquatic systems. Nicole’s fellowship work investigates the electrosynthetic conversion of calcium carbonate to methane by a novel microbial consortium isolated from a saline wetland in Nebraska. The process could be utilized on Earth or in space for the storage of wind and solar energy.



Hudson Hooper is attending courses at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He worked this past summer as a research intern with Dr. Thomas Wong at Creighton University in the Haddix STEM Corridor Program working on a project in quantum physics. He worked with another student to benchmark and compare two promising quantum computing platforms. He plans to further his education in computer science and electrical engineering with a minor in mathematics.



Sarah McCarty is a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science. With the support of Dr. Griff Elder, she is working on studying advanced mathematics in abstract algebra and Lie algebra groups. These courses support future mathematics research. Lie algebra groups are used to rotate graphics in three dimensions.  



Jason Finnegan is an undergraduate student at Hastings College in Hastings, NE. Jason is entering his senior year as he pursues a bachelor degree in Physics with a minor in Mathematics. After graduation in May, 2019, he plans to pursue a Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering. In the summer of 2018, Jason participated in research at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He was in a Computer Science and Engineering Laboratory that specialized in robotics. Here, he worked with a pair of graduate students and a faculty member to conduct research on the collection of atmospheric data with the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Jason is going to continue this work with the application of unmanned systems as he plans to use the NASA Space Fellowship grant to design and build a drone with a broad variety of uses. He will then look into the use of feedback from sensors to allow for autonomous flight based on certain parameters which the drone will be programmed to follow. This technology and knowledge will provide a good foundation into the further applications of drones and autonomous flight. 

Space Grant Picture.jpg


Ashton Oakman is a native of Deshler, Nebraska. Ashton attends Hastings College in Hastings, NE. He is currently a senior majoring in physics and will graduate with his Bachelors of Science degree in May 2019. Ashton currently works at Flowserve in Hastings as an engineering intern. At Flowserve he works with the test lab engineer helping to ensure that customers receive water pumps that meet their specs and expectations. With the NASA Space Fellowship Grant, Ashton is going to study the efficiency of electric motors and energy generators by converting a 1996 Kawasaki KX125 dirt bike over to electric. Ashton plans to graduate in May 2019 and then attend graduate school to pursue his Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering.



Chance Adolf is an undergraduate student at Chadron State College pursuing a major in geoscience and a minor in water resource management. As a NASA Nebraska fellowship recipient, he will be conducting research involving the development of quantitative mapping standards for robotically generated maps that can be used to assess both quality and accuracy. With geologic mapping now possible on Mars because of NASA’s rover program, geologists need some objective measures with which to judge map accuracy. Standards developed in this research could potentially offer conventional guidelines for robotic (rover) assisted geologic mapping on Mars with the goal that the maps be as good as maps generated by human geologists.



Anne Wilson is a student at College of Saint Mary, in Omaha Nebraska, studying to be a Physician Assistant. Her research with the NASA Grant Fellowship involves the use of Curcumin and Piperine as antioxidant to combat oxidative stress. Astronauts are susceptible to the greater levels of oxidative stress the longer they are in space. Oxidative stress is linked to many types of cancer and various other diseases. Through the grant, she will select a cell line and design a study to determine if Curcumin and Piperine can be used as an antioxidant in future studies, including animal and human studies.

NASA Photo Danny McAndrew.jpg


Danny McAndrew is in his second year at Creighton University’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy program. He graduated from Truman State University in 2016 with his B.S. in Exercise Science. In the upcoming year, Danny will be researching the effect of auditory cues on running biomechanics in individuals with knee pain. Music has a specific beat frequency and is often listened to while running.  The effect of running to music, at a specific beat frequency, on knee pain has not been investigated and has strong potential to improve patient outcomes.  



Rachel Spooner completed her bachelor’s degree in Biology at Central College in Pella, IA. Currently, she is completing her third year as a Neuroscience Ph.D. student in Dr. Tony Wilson’s lab at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Her research aims to optimally tune neural codes serving movement using frequency-specific targeting of motor cortical oscillations. Using non-invasive brain imaging and stimulation techniques including magnetoencephalography and transcranial alternating current stimulation, she hopes to create a causal link between motor cortical oscillations and motor function, which is critical to the aerospace field as it directly affects the reaction time, precision and performance of all personnel involved in space flight. 



Emma Turner is a sophomore at the College of Saint Mary in Omaha studying Biology and Chemistry. As a recipient of the 2017 Marie Curie scholarship, Emma embraces the academic opportunities to conduct research projects with strong deliverables and positive outcomes. In addition to a strong interest in scientific research, Emma swims for the College of Saint Mary Swim Team, qualifying for the NAIA National Meet. In her time off, Emma enjoys spending time with her family and friends enjoying the mountains near her home in Loveland, Colorado.

Copeland, Christopher.jpg


Chris Copeland is a first year Biomechanics Master’s Student and Graduate Assistant at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Prior, he received his B.S. in Biomechanics in May of 2018. He assists with research under Dr. Jorge Zuniga developing 3D printed prosthetic and assistive devices. Additionally, he is currently the teaching assistant for UNO’s anatomy and physiology lab. With the NASA Space Fellowship Grant, he is investigating how to remotely 3D print anti-bacterial wrist orthotic devices for injured crewmembers. The orthoses will be customized to each patient and can be deployed within the day of injury. He plans to continue his research in prosthetic devices and aid in their development after graduating.



Kaitlin Goettsch is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Biomedical Informatics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). She is grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved with numerous research experiences during her undergraduate time at UNO including the NE-INBRE Program, the UNO Bioinformatics Core Lab, and the UNO Zhong Chemistry Lab. Her NASA project will involve testing the feasibility of plant-based medicines against detrimental muscle atrophy experienced by astronauts in microgravity. These plants will be grown in a portable, controlled environment called a Personal Food Computer, originally designed by scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Kaitlin hopes to combine biological research, data science, and computational engineering work as she moves forward in her career. 



Hunter Nelson is 19 years old from Erie, Colorado. He attends Western Nebraska Community College in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He is studying Pre-Engineering there, and he also is on the baseball team. After he finishes at WNCC, he plans on transferring to Colorado State University to study Civil Engineering. In his free time, he enjoys spending time in the outdoors, fishing, spending time with family and friends, or listening to music. For his project, he is spending time working with different software’s and programs for the Pre-Engineering classes at WNCC. In the Fall of 2018 he will be working with Arduino, and Ansys simulation software and will develop assignments and activities for the Introduction to Engineering students to do. These programs are very useful and are very similar to things that will be done in the workforce, so it will give the students a good look at what they might expect to be doing as an engineer.

Riquier Photo.jpeg


Originally from Chaplin, Connecticut, Andrew Riquier received his B.S. in Psychology at Nebraska Wesleyan University and earned his M.A. in Psychology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Andrew is currently pursuing his PhD with Dr. Suzanne Sollars, where he studies immune cells of the brain in a variety of contexts. Andrew’s NASA Nebraska Space Grant project examines the long-term effects of caloric restriction on neuroimmune cell function, mirroring the diets of astronauts on the space station. 

Auston Photo.jpg


Auston Viotto is a junior at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln studying mechanical engineering.  He is an Engineering Ambassadors and a lead for the Aerospace Club’s sounding rocket team. The NASA Nebraska space grant will assist with the research of a new electromechanical optical systems for use in creating volumetric images.  These images will be created by scanning volumetric pixels or voxels in space to produce 3-D images without the use of medians or special glasses.  His aim is to benefit medical teams before critical surgery, military and emergency service’s use of topographical maps, NASA and other engineering teams by allowing them to create 3-D representations of their plans that are more effective than 2-D plans and diagrams.  After Auston graduates, he plans on pursuing a career in the aerospace industry with a passion for shaping the future of space travel.



Isaac has lived the majority of his life in McCook NE. Here he graduated from McCook High School and went on to study chemistry at Chadron State College. Being from rural Nebraska ground water quality has always been a prominent concern among the farmers, ranchers, and “city folk”. The most prominent concern is aquifer contamination with nitrates due to nitrogen supplementation of crops.

At Chadron Isaac began reading about the Crow Butte Uranium Mine, located in Crawford Nebraska, attempting to understand both the mining process as well discovering just how the rock surrounding and aquifer can impact the dissolved solutes within the water.

From these two different yet related areas of interest the current experiment was developed. Through water testing using induction coupled mass spectrometry, the aquifers will be tested for the current uranium concentration. The nitrate concentrations will also be measured in an attempt to draw a correlation between uranium and nitrate concentrations.



Walker Arce is an undergraduate in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  He works in the Biomechanics Research Building (BRB) under Dr. Zuniga developing and testing electronic control systems for their 3D printed upper limb prosthetics.  In addition, he spent a year teaching educational robotics at local elementary schools and technology centers. 

Claudia Cortes-Reyes


Claudia Cortes Reyes is a Senior Biomechanics student at the University of Nebraska-- Omaha. She currently works as a student worker, under the direction of Dr. Jorge Zuniga in the Department of Biomechanics. With the NASA Space Fellowship grant Claudia will work on design improvements on a low-cost partial finger prosthetic. The purpose of this research is the integration of low-cost alternative methods in adaptive manufacturing and optimization of remote fitting techniques.  The improvement of the designs will be customized to each patient to enable pinching functionality in the residual limb. The dynamic integration of research and multimodal treatment plan approaches will aid Claudia in her future career goals as she prepares to continue her education as a physical therapy student.



Xzavier Herbert is a native of Omaha, NE.  He is currently enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Xzavier has a passion for learning and especially enjoys studying math. Since his freshman year of high school, he has taken several collegiate math courses. He enjoys helping others learn math and serves as a tutor of middle school to college-aged students. A gifted musician, Xzavier composes, arranges, and plays music. His love of music has afforded him opportunities as a violinist to play in the Omaha Symphony annual Christmas show, the Omaha Area Youth Orchestra concerts, and  the Nebraska Music Educators Association Convention. His musical experiences also include being a skilled percussionist. In his free time, Xzavier has played competitive baseball, swimming, track, and cross country; his favorite being baseball. When not studying or playing sports, Xzavier can be found volunteering at his church or spending time with his family.



Ethen Kuether is a sophomore at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Ethen is working on his BS in electrical engineering and a BS in mathematics. Ethen is currently going to school full time, and with the help of the NASA Nebraska Space Grant is taking several advanced mathematics courses. Ethen is using advanced classes to accelerate his learning curve, so he can contribute to work places earlier than normal. 



Grant Moles is a junior Electrical Engineering and Mathematics student at UNO. He is a peer tutor at the Math-Science Learning Center and serves as a high school Academic Decathlon coach at Johnson County Central. His project involves learning Abstract Algebra with his faculty mentor, Dr. Griff Elder, as well as engaging in an elementary topology class. Later, he plans to assist Dr. Elder with further research and pursue further education in mathematics.



Gage Hoefer is an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha pursuing a double major in Mathematics and Computer Science. With the support provided by the NASA Nebraska Space Grant and the help Dr. Elder, his project involves studying topics from abstract algebra and Lie algebras, along with basic topology, at an advanced pace. These courses will lead to mathematical research down the line, as he plans on continuing his mathematical education through graduate studies. 

Z.Motz .jpg


Zachary Motz is a Doctoral Research Assistant at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, with a research focus of motor control and motor learning. His research interests include how humans entrain their movements with external stimuli as well as how people coordinate their legs in order to walk.  He received his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry with a minor in Chemistry at the University of Nebraska; Lincoln and received his Master of Science degree in Exercise Science with an emphasis in Biomechanics from UNO.  As part of his Fellowship, Zachary will investigate inter-limb coordination in adults walking at a preferred speed.   



Michael Thompson is a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha studying Biomechanics and working as an Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Biomechanics Research Building. Michael works as a member of Dr. Zuniga's research team producing custom, low cost 3D printed prosthetics, orthotics, and assistive devices. As part of a NASA research grant, Michael will be interning at Made In Space in Jacksonville, FL during the 2019 Summer. This internship will include testing new 3D printing materials and manufacturing medical devices using the NASA/Made In Space Zero-G technology 3D printers. Michael plans to continue researching the spaceflight applications of 3D printing after graduating with a B.S. in Biomechanics. 

Sam Harre


Sam Harre is a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studies mechanical engineering.  He is a Regent Scholar, and is currently an intern at Honeybee Robotics in Pasadena, CA.  Sam has participated in the Aerospace and Robotics Clubs on campus.  He has also been a member of the Cornhusker Marching Band for two years and will serve as a rank leader for the trumpet section this upcoming season.  Sam is a 2017 graduate of Kearney High School, where he was president of the SkillsUSA club and member of the KHS Robotics team.  In his spare time, Sam utilizes the laser cutter and 3-D printers at Innovation Studio on the UNL campus for numerous design projects.   

At Honeybee Robotics, Sam is working on projects involving engineering design, breadboarding, and testing.  His main focus for the summer is working to create a pneumatic sampler for the Martian Moon Explorer mission (MMX).  This mission will travel to Phobos to collect a sample of its surface.  Sam will be helping to tune the sampler by adjusting flow rates, pressures, and nozzle position/orientation, developing concepts for releasing a bio-barrier prior to sampling, and developing concepts for releasing the sample canisters. Another project Sam is involved with is to upgrade Honeybee’s largest thermal vacuum chamber, dubbed the “Mars Chamber.” This chamber can currently simulate the atmosphere on Mars and will be upgraded to simulate pressures and temperatures close to the hard vacuum of space. 

Space in Jacksonville, FL during the 2019 Summer. This internship will include testing new 3D printing materials and manufacturing medical devices using the NASA/Made In Space Zero-G technology 3D printers. Michael plans to continue researching the spaceflight applications of 3D printing after graduating with a B.S. in Biomechanics. 

Logan Pettit


Logan Pettit is a senior Mechanical Engineering major at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, and is originally from Bellevue, Nebraska. He has participated in the Aerospace Club for one year as a member of the Project 100K rocket team. This summer he will be interning at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center where he will be working on mechanical design and computational analysis for rocket propulsion test programs, and on analytically modeling test facility propellant systems. After graduation, Logan plans to further his education in either aerospace or energy.

Stephanie Vavra


Stephanie Vavra is a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and majoring in mechanical engineering. With the NASA Nebraska Space Grant, Stephanie will be interning at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory this summer where she will be working on robotic manipulators for NASA’s RoboSimian project, miniature robotic arms, and lander/rover sized robotic arms for the moon. Beginning in 2018, Stephanie has been conducting undergraduate research with the NASA Nebraska Space Grant. Her research involves gravity-driven two-dimensional (2D) liquid drop formation in Dr. Sangjin Ryu’s Bio/Flow Systems Lab.  Stephanie previously served as the Reporter of the UNL Aerospace club and this year, she will serve as the club’s Outreach Coordinator as well as a Lead of the club’s Rocketry design team. Within the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Engineering, she gives tours of the college to incoming students to share her passion for engineering. 

bottom of page