All Systems Go
A group of UNC Physics students and graduates traveled to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on July 21 to witness the launch of a rocket carrying their experiment into space. As it fell toward Earth, the capsule the students spent a year designing, engineering and building collected atmospheric density data that was transmitted to a radio receiver still in the rocket. The project was made possible through the NASA-funded Colorado Space Grant Consortium, which helps NASA develop scientists who will play key roles in future space exploration, with additional support from the Physics program.
(View videos and photos of the project, launch and capsule in space)
Pictured: Physics majors, from left, Jordan Aken, Robert Shiley, Maurice Woods and Aaron Adamson pose in a NASA lab with the rocket that served as the vessel for their experiment. Casey Kuhns and Motoaki Honda (BS-11) also played key roles in developing the project. Woods says their work included machining the capsule’s aluminum parts and ejection system to exacting standards, modifying and incorporating electronics into the capsule, programming those electronics to accomplish their intended tasks and providing required progress reports to NASA. “It took more than a few sessions of working 48 hours straight,” he says. “We’re proud of what we accomplished, and it was all worth it. I can’t believe how much we learned.”
Undergraduate Research Gains Support
The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) was established within the Center for Honors, Scholars and Leadership. The office supports undergraduate students and faculty with ongoing projects and research initiatives through research opportunities, funding and recognition. In May, the office awarded four $1,000 and one $250 faculty-judged research stipends so students could continue their research over the summer. OUR is currently coordinating an undergraduate research symposium that will pay for the two students with the best faculty-judged presentations to attend the National Conference on Undergraduate Research March 29–31 in Ogden, Utah.
Collaborative Research Investigates Timing of Supercontinent Breakup
Geology Professor Graham Baird and graduate student Sean Figg are studying the age of Sweden’s Caledonides mountain range to support evidence that some of the rocks in this region are older than geologists previously thought, and that by extension, the Appalachian Mountains are also older than suspected.
Some rocks in the Caledonides were believed to be around 608 million years old; Baird’s research suggests the rocks may be more than 642 million years old.
The Caledonides were connected to the Appalachians as part of the supercontinent Pangea 300 million years ago. The UNC team’s research is directed at identifying when Rodinia, the supercontinent that existed prior to Pangea, broke apart. By determining the age of rocks in the area, the team will also be able to better understand how mountain ranges are formed through plate tectonic collisions.
Baird presented his research at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting Oct. 9–12 in Minneapolis.
Pictured: Graduate student Sean Figg, at right holding pennant, and Geology Professor Graham Baird conduct field work in the Swedish Caledonides. Their research provides evidence that some of the rocks are older than previously thought.
Professors’ Research Could Lead to Better Prosthetics
A grant totaling $348,436 from the National Science Foundation and the university will be used by Sport and Exercise Science faculty Jeremy Smith (principal investigator), Gary Heise, David Hydcock and Carole Schneider for research that could result in the better design of prosthetic devices and more effective rehabilitation programs for users of the devices.
In addition, Smith and his colleagues will examine the benefits of exercise on mitigating side effects of cancer treatments in survivors struggling with balance.
The NSF Major Research Instrumentation Program grant covers 70 percent of the project’s total cost and will help researchers purchase a high-speed motion analysis system that includes a force-measuring treadmill and a metabolic measurement system.
The equipment will further research the team conducts in the Biomechanics Lab in Gunter Hall and at UNC’s Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute.
Associate Professor Continues Research on Schizophrenia
Associate Professor Mark Thomas this fall received a $349,406 grant from a division of the National Institutes of Health to continue his research on schizophrenia seeking more effective treatments for the debilitating mental disorder that affects about 3 million Americans. The National Institute of Mental Health award is his second national grant this year to fund work to identify how dopamine is regulated in the brain. Disruptions in dopamine have been linked to schizophrenia.
$1.8 Million Grant Awarded for Improving Instruction
A proposal developed by faculty members, from left, Elizabeth Franklin (Hispanic Studies), Jenni Harding-Dekam (Teacher Education), Teresa Higgins (Biological Sciences), Lori Reinsvold (Mathematics and Science Teaching Institute) and Youngjin Song (Chemistry and Biochemistry) received a grant expected to total $1,804,412 over five years from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant supports a national professional development program aimed at improving instruction for students with limited English proficiency and at providing resources to educators who work with them.