TWU joining race to return to the moon

the moon

Aug. 30, 2023 – DENTON – The next time an American sets foot on the moon, Texas Woman's University will play a role in the journey.

NASA has awarded TWU and the University of North Texas a three-year, $900,000 grant, part of a $14 million program with 19 colleges and universities "to participate in critical spaceflight research and prepare a new generation of diverse students for careers in the nation's science, technology, engineering, and math workforce," NASA explained.

The grant is the result of collaboration between Richard Zhang, PhD, from UNT’s Mechanical Engineering department, Jeffry Kelber, PhD, in UNT’s Chemistry department, and John Beatty, PhD, of TWU's Chemistry and Biochemistry department.

"Richard contacted me earlier this year and asked if we wanted to be part of it," Beatty said. "I said, yeah, we'll help out wherever we can. And I think we submitted the proposal in April."

The title of the TWU-UNT project is "Protective Thermal Electro-Chromic Coatings (ProTECC) for Lunar Exploration." TWU will assist UNT in developing and analyzing coatings for vehicles and equipment to protect from dust, radiation, and the lethal temperature swings in space, which can range from more than 400 degrees Fahrenheit to -300 degrees.

"On Earth, we're protected by our atmosphere," Beatty said. "With the moon and in space, you have virtually no protection except the equipment that's around you."

The grant will also fund training of students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), internships at the Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers, and establish an introductory engineering experience for mostly female students in a university without a formal engineering program.

"If we can move into a relationship with NASA, that would be awesome," Beatty said. "It's a great opportunity for our students. At least one, possibly more, will intern at Johnson Space Center or Kennedy Space Center for a full summer. It will pay their stipend and room, board and travel."

TWU students will also train on and work with the specialized equipment in Kelber’s lab at UNT and Zhang’s mechanical engineering lab at Discovery Park.

"UNT is going to be depositing the films for the project, and we're going to do some analysis and provide students to help," Beatty said.

The partnership between Kelber and Beatty was a natural extension of Beatty's expertise and background.

"My PhD work is in thin films and surface chemistry," Beatty said. "I worked with Dr. Kelber at UNT, so he contacted me and said, hey, you might be interested in this. I thought, yes, we can get inroads to NASA. That may lead to future grants for the university."

It won't be TWU's first taste of space research. In the early days of the manned space program in the 1960s, TWU was involved in analyzing if being in space affected how humans absorbed nutrients.

And Beatty expects an enthusiastic response from current and future generations of TWU students.

"Once we put the word out that, hey, we might be involved with NASA, we'll get more interest."

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Page last updated 8:24 AM, August 30, 2023