An interdisciplinary team with researchers from Oklahoma State University’s Tulsa and Stillwater campuses was recently awarded a $750,000 grant from NASA for a project to develop a composite material that will protect astronauts from radiation on space missions.
The project, “Radiation Smart Structures and Materials with H-rich Nanostructured Multifunctional Materials,” was one of 15 selected for funding through the NASA Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).
“OSU is a leader in the development of innovative engineering and aerospace technology,” said OSU-Tulsa President Howard Barnett. “The collaborative project demonstrates how research at the Helmerich Research Center in Tulsa is having an impact on industries across the nation.”
The project leaders include Dr. Ranji Vaidyanathan, Varnadow Chair and OSU-Tulsa professor of materials science and engineering, Dr. Raman Singh, OSU-Tulsa Helmerich Research Center director, C.F. Colcord Chair and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Dr. Eric Benton, OSU associate professor of physics. Dr. Victoria Duca Snowden at the Space Grant Program at the University of Oklahoma will administer the project, assisted by Dr. Madeline Baugher at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
Researchers are developing a material that will shield astronauts from ionizing radiation during missions to asteroids near Earth, the moon and Mars. The material could also be used in the creation of Lunar and Martian habitats.
“The grant will also provide undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct research that could be utilized in a NASA project,” said Vaidyanathan. “These students are exposed to projects they normally would be involved with as graduate researchers, gain invaluable real-world experience and prepare them for future research in materials science, aerospace engineering and physics.”
The grant will also fund summer research internships for Oklahoma college students in OSU’s materials science and radiation physics laboratories. The internship programs will target students from minority populations through a partnership with the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.
The project will have a significant impact on the state’s economy as researchers are working with several regional companies to develop the material, including CleanNG LLC, the NORDAM Group of Tulsa and ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City.
The team will collaborate with scientists at NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to find additional applications of the material.
The NASA EPSCoR program establishes partnerships with government, higher education and industry leaders to foster aerospace research opportunities across the country. EPSCoR provides seed money to develop long-term enterprises that will contribute to the country’s economic wellbeing and advance the aerospace industry.