TWU design team places third at NASA-sponsored competition

Five students, dressed in black, stand next to one another behind an indoor railing

April 29, 2024 – DENTON –  A team of Texas Woman’s University undergraduate kinesiology students placed third in a statewide NASA-sponsored design competition, continuing the internship program’s string of  successes in a crowded engineering contest.

The TWU seniors also took first in the poster category, second in peer review and fourth in model division at the two-day Texas Space Grant Consortium Design Challenge Showcase held outside of Houston. The competition wrapped up on April 25. Team members Joseph Mallillin (team lead), Jessica Brent, Alyssa Flores, Kenneth Ponitz and Cally Wacaster received scholarships from TSGC for their project.

I am pleased with the teams' efforts this semester,” said Rhett Rigby, a Texas Woman’s associate professor in kinesiology and the design team’s faculty advisor. “We placed well, and I felt the team learned so much this semester, which is what it is all about.”

The third-place finish continues the successful run for the School of Health Promotion and Kinesiology’s internship team. Over the last 12 semesters that Texas Woman’s teams have entered the competition, they’ve finished in the top four 10 times. Four teams have placed first, including the fall 2023 group.

two kinesiology students help man use the exercise device

During the spring 2024 semester, the team designed and tested a lightweight and compact exercise device for astronauts to be used during long-distance spaceflight to prevent muscle atrophy. The TWU team, dubbed Team Atlas, enhanced last semester’s project by adding an upper-body component to address full-body muscle deterioration in microgravity. 

This was one of those projects that was just so solid in all task-related aspects,” Rigby said. “The idea was great, the improvements from last semester were intuitive, the team comradery was excellent, and their motivation was inspiring.”

The TWU team was the only kinesiology department represented at the competition. The majority of the 18 college teams that competed were made up of engineering students.

The TSGC Design Challenge gives students an opportunity to solve a research objective of importance to NASA. For the second straight semester, the TWU team focused on the problem of muscle atrophy that develops during long-distance spaceflight.

To address this atrophy, the TWU team augmented last semester’s prototype by targeting upper body muscles, such as the biceps, deltoids and triceps, as well as the lower-body muscles, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings. The device incorporates pneumatic concepts to create varied resistances for full-body exercises. 

Astronauts could use the Muscle Atrophy Reduction System (MARS+) to work their upper body by performing a chest and row exercise that utilizes a push and pull movement, which creates force that extends and retracts the piston rod. 

This is one of the most diverse teams that I have had the pleasure of mentoring,” Rigby said. “The students really had varied ages, backgrounds and strengths, which was a big advantage. Maturity and real-world experience goes a long way in the successful completion of projects of this nature.” 

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Page last updated 11:33 AM, April 29, 2024