Record Number of NASA CT Space Consortium Grants for School of Engineering

Record Number of NASA CT Space Consortium Grants for School of Engineering

Dr. Bandara's research explores the effect of stress on memory retrieval in simulated virtual environments.

The School of Engineering secured seven grants in the 2022-23 funding cycle, to advance research on topics ranging from autonomous drone swarm navigation to growing root vegetables in microgravity.

The NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) has awarded Fairfield University School of Engineering with a record number of research grants to fund research and design projects this year. In fall of 2022, John Drazan, PhD (Biomedical Engineering) and Naser Haghbin, PhD (Mechanical Engineering) received grants, and in spring 2023 funding was awarded to the following faculty members: Danushka Bandara, PhD (Computer Science); Djedjiga Belfadel, PhD (Electrical Engineering); Susan Freudzon, PhD (Biomedical Engineering); and Sriharsha Sundarram, PhD (Mechanical Engineering).

Senior engineering students Manjot Singh ’23, James Kueny ’23, and Kyle Hochenberger ’23 have also received NASA grants, and Alexa Fiorica ’23 was awarded an undergraduate scholarship.

“This impressive funding success rate reflects the emphasis we have been placing on research, and in particular undergraduate research, in the last few years in the School of Engineering," said Dean Andres Leonardo Carrano, PhD. "Most of our faculty are research-active and contribute to our standing promise to support all research originated by students. This is one of our differentiators.”   

Dr. Bandara received funding for his research on "Memory Retrieval Under Stress," which explores the effect of stress on memory retrieval in simulated virtual environments. Since astronauts face high-risk situations such as extravehicular activities, they are constantly exposed to stress, affecting their memory retrieval. He will measure the effect of this stress in a simulated 3D environment and will train students on how to conduct human-subject experiments and the analysis of physiological data.

Dr. Belfadel was awarded funding for her research, titled "Autonomous Drone Swarm Navigation in a GPS-Denied Environment," which aims to provide an alternative navigation system to enable a swarm of drones to conduct autonomous missions in environments that lack GPS (Global Positioning System) connection. “Receiving this grant is a tremendous honor, and I'm deeply grateful for the acknowledgment of my research,” she said. “In addition, I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to expand my team by hiring more students, which will not only advance our research but also offer valuable learning experiences for future scientists. Overall, I'm excited to utilize this grant to its fullest potential and make meaningful contributions to my field.”

In his study, "Innovative Thermal Protection Systems for Space Vehicles, Based on Triply Periodic Minimal Surface (TPMS) Polymer Nanocomposite Structures," Dr. Sundarram will use 3D printers to build custom-designed lightweight conformal structures that serve not only as thermal protection systems, but also offer load-bearing capabilities. 

Engineering student Hochenberger received a research grant for "UAV Relative Navigation in a GPS-Denied Environment," a project he began last summer as an undergraduate summer research resident under the guidance of Dr. Belfadel. Since the start of the project, he has conducted a series of simulations with three drones to test the efficacy of his proposed system; results indicate that it can provide reliable navigation information in challenging situations. Having continued his research as part of his senior capstone project, Hochenberger presented his research at this week's Innovated Research Symposium.

Classmate Kueny’s research project, "Using Sensor Fusion to Navigate UAVs in a GPS-Denied Environment," also received grant funding, which he noted will enable him to improve the hardware of his project and allow for more testing.

The NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium is a federally mandated grant, internship, and scholarship program that is funded as a part of NASA Education. The mission of the Consortium is to establish and promote NASA-related research opportunities that draw on the collaborative strength of private, academic, and government sectors, and to support education initiatives that inspire students to pursue STEM careers.

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