Three CSUN faculty members and more than 30 undergraduate students during the coming four years will work closely with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena to identify and possibly prevent equipment problems that can occur during space missions.
Another important program goal will be to recruit and encourage women and minority students for graduate studies and career options in the space sciences field, where they are underrepresented groups. Through the grant, participating students will be hired to perform research both at CSUN and JPL.
"This is one of the major grants that NASA has awarded. It is very important," said Behzad Bavarian, the CSUN engineering professor who is the principal investigator for the project. "This is a great honor for us and the university to have been selected by NASA.
"Hopefully we can provide a high-quality program for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and a golden opportunity for our students to explore future careers in space-related research," Bavarian added.
The other key faculty on the project will be professor Ruqian Wu of CSUN's Physics and Astronomy Department, the co-principal investigator, and physics professor Nicholas Kioussis, director of CSUN's Materials Science Research Center. The $1,996,688 grant is the largest any of the three have received.
"This support is indispensable to our academic programs," said CSUN Provost Louanne Kennedy. "It is also a wonderful distinction for you and for the university, and I share your pride in this award," the provost said, in congratulating the faculty members on the NASA grant.
CSUN students participating in the project will work 15 to 20 hours per week. Because of JPL's involvement, CSUN students will get tours of the facility and summer internship opportunities there. The goal of the grant project is to have 80 percent of its students pursue graduate studies or gain jobs in the field.
"This is one of the most exciting things about this grant," Wu said. "We are trying to get students, minority students, interested in math, science and physics. People tend to think those subjects are difficult, not exciting. This research is exciting, and I think the students will enjoy it."
The grant project is titled "Failure Analysis, Prevention and Reliability Modeling for Sub-Micron Electronics Technology-A Research Partnership of CSUN with JPL/NASA." The research will focus on microelectronic components widely used in spacecraft such as silicon chips.
The CSUN faculty and students will explore how manufacturing defects and corrosion here on Earth, and conditions in outer space such as radiation and temperature extremes, can impact critical components over time. They also hope to pursue possible approaches to preventing component failures.
"Computers on Earth are sort of in a benign position," Wu said. "But in space, they are exposed to extreme conditions such as harsh heat and cold. Some space missions take years. What's not a problem on Earth can be on a space mission. We need to understand what might happen, so we can prevent it."
"This is a real project with a real mission and objective," Bavarian added. "It will be a very advanced learning vehicle for our students to be exposed to the NASA space program." Nine CSUN students, juniors and seniors, already have been recruited for the 12 positions open during the program's first year.
Taking an interdisciplinary approach, Wu and Kioussis will lead the research from a physics perspective, performing atomic analysis and computer modeling of microelectronic components. Bavarian will lead the materials science component, involving observing defects and performing various physical analyses.