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Boise State Team Again Selected for NASA Challenge

By: Kathleen Tuck   Published 10:57 am / December 12, 2016

Microgravity team photo at the B Plaza

A Boise State University team has once again been selected for NASA’s Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Team (Micro-g NExT) program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This is the ninth year a Boise State team has participated in the prestigious program. Micro-g NExT is part of NASA’s Microgravity University.

The program challenges undergraduate students to design, build and test a tool or device that addresses one of several authentic, current space exploration challenges. Boise State’s proposal, titled “The Universal Lithologic Intra-Planetesimal Sampler (TULIPS),” addresses the subsurface sampling device challenge.

TULIPS is designed to collect, in microgravity, core samples from solid rock and unconsolidated rocky material from the surface of a celestial body while maintaining the order of the layers and avoiding cross contamination. The tool will be tested at the beginning of summer at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston.

This year’s team comprises students from a variety of disciplines, led by returning students Alondra Perez and Philip Belzeski. Other team members are Lawrence Kimsey (also returning), and André Boliou, Arvin Cunningham, AJ Lawrence, Travis Leach, Addie Lupercio, Marcus Marosvari, Olivia Maryon, Nicolette Guerin, Katrina Pietromica, Luke Schumacher, Taylor Smith, Barb Ward and Kahlil Williams. Faculty advisors are Steve Swanson, retired NASA astronaut and current distinguished educator in residence; Christine Chang Gillespie from the Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives; and faculty members Gus Engstrom and Gunes Uzer from the Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering.

“NASA’s Microgravity University is a fantastic opportunity for students to work on a real-world NASA project,” said Swanson. “This project allows the students to apply the knowledge they have learned so far, and obtain new knowledge such as writing a proposal, creating a test plan and learning what it takes to be a good team member.”

Swanson also noted that the knowledge and experience the students gain from working on a multidisciplinary team to meet NASA’s challenge helps them in their careers at Boise State as well as after they graduate.

The team’s project includes an educational outreach component. So far they have been part of four outreach events at schools including Garfield Elementary, Highlands Elementary and Boise State University. Apart from their engineering and outreach work, they also received a private tour at Gerhard Borbonus Landscaping to research the different rock drilling methods used in industry.

“Being a part of the team is about contributing to future NASA research and finding a niche of friends — including mentors — whom you can bounce ideas off of,” said Perez. “It is about going out and promoting STEM to different age groups of students. Most importantly, it is about inspiring future generations of STEM majors and inspiring ourselves.”