Five engineering graduate students awarded 2022 NASA Space Grant Fellowships

June 30, 2022

By David Blehi

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Penn State News and features five graduate students from the College of Engineering.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Five College of Engineering graduate students have received 2022 NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant awards and been named graduate fellows. In addition to the five engineering students, 12 other Penn State graduate students were selected for the award. 

The National Space Grant College and Fellowship Project — better known as Space Grant — was founded in 1989. A network of more than 850 affiliates from academia, industry, museums, science centers and state and local agencies, the program works to expand opportunities for U.S. citizens to understand and participate in NASA’s aeronautics and space projects. It does this by supporting and enhancing science and engineering education, research and public outreach efforts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

The one-year fellowship consists of $5,000 to assist the student’s progress toward a master’s or doctoral degree in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and in the humanities related to NASA research and development.

The following students are this year’s recipients:

College of Engineering

  • Joseph Molnar, Department of Mechanical Engineering
    Adviser: Samuel Grauer, assistant professor of mechanical engineering
    “My research is focused on making reliable measurements of complex thermo-fluid systems and thereby enabling progress in aviation, armament and chemical process research and development. Specifically, I utilize machine learning and data assimilation techniques to improve flow field reconstructions from experimental measurements," Molnar said.
  • Masen Nartatez, Department of Mechanical Engineering
    Adviser: Karen Thole, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering
    “My research focuses on analyzing turbine cooling methods to create more efficient gas turbines and promote sustainable aviation," Nartatez said.
  • Claire Rodman, Department of Mechanical Engineering
    Adviser: Anne Martin, Martin W. Trethewey Early Career Professor, assistant professor
    “My research focuses on an intersection of biomechanics and robotics, studying human walking with exoskeleton assistance. Specifically, I am developing a predictive model of a human-exoskeleton system to better understand how people react and adjust to different environments and exoskeleton assistance strategies," Rodman said.
  • Jessica Sacco, Department of Chemical Engineering
    Adviser: Esther Gomez, associate professor of chemical engineering
    “I am studying how mechanical signals from the cellular microenvironment control cell behavior and signaling during disease progression," Sacco said.
  • William Searight, Department of Nuclear Engineering
    Adviser: Leigh Winfrey, associate professor of nuclear engineering
    “My work is focused on high-temperature furnace testing of structural composites and alloys for space nuclear power and propulsion systems to provide experimental confirmation of long-term endurance against heat and corrosion from hydrogen gas mixtures. Material samples are analyzed for changes in mechanical, thermal and microstructural changes post-exposure using various instruments provided by Penn State's Materials Research Institute in the Materials Characterization Laboratory," Searight said.

College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

  • Zachary Goldberg, Department of Geography
    Adviser: Karl Zimmerman, E. Willard and Ruby S. Miller Professor of Geography
    “I research solar energy development on farmland in Pennsylvania and Maryland, understanding social and ecological outcomes of initial development that occurred over the last 10 years," Goldberg said.
  • Tara Mazurczyk, Department of Geography
    Adviser: Trevor Birkenholtz, associate professor of geography
    “I am interested in examining the impact of invasive plant species in wetland systems by evaluating the patterns and processes underlying their establishment and facilitation," Mazurczyk said. "I interpret the interactions of different plant species and their environments, and the consequences of these interactions related to population, community and ecosystem dynamics using a mixture of observational and modeling methods to assess field data as well as remote sensing data.”
  • Kate Meyers, Department of Geosciences
    Adviser: Miquela Ingalls, assistant professor of geosciences
    “My research seeks to determine the phosphate absorption capacity of carbonate under high phosphorus concentration fluxes and determine the mode of phosphorus incorporation into carbonate minerals by synchrotron-based phase identification. This research will be applied to modern wastewater remediation practices in the Florida Keys and to paleoclimate reconstructions," Meyers said.
  • Nolan Roth, Department of Geosciences
    Adviser: Tieyuan Zhu, assistant professor of geophysics
    “I am working to understand thunderquakes — ground vibrations caused by lightning strikes. Thunderquakes might be a new, invaluable source for us to use when studying the subsurface," Roth said.
  • Aaral Yarber, Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science
    Adviser: Gregory Jenkins, professor of meteorology and atmospheric science, geography, and African studies
    “My research seeks to quantify levels, sources and chemical composition of particulate pollution in West African cities using observational data and the Weather Research and Forecasting Model coupled with chemistry," Yarber said.

Eberly College of Science

  • Macy Huston, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics
    Adviser: Jason Wright, professor of astronomy and astrophysics
    “I search for planets and life beyond our solar system," Huston said.
  • Rebecca Katz, Department of Chemistry
    Adviser: Ray Schaak, DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry; and Zhiqiang Mao, professor of physics, material science and engineering, and chemistry
    “I synthesis and characterize materials for clean energy generation and storage," Katz said.
  • Nathaniel Sturniolo, Department of Chemistry
    Adviser: Lauren Zarzar, assistant professor of chemistry
    “I computationally model and characterize a new class of colorful iridescent structures and investigate their utility for various applications ranging from security and anti-counterfeiting measures to remote sensing and monitoring capabilities," Sturniolo said.
  • Jessica Thompson, Department of Chemistry
    Adviser: Danielle R. Hickey, professor of chemistry, and materials science and engineering
    “I study vitrified biological systems using a focused ion beam method that allows for electron tomography," Thompson said.
  • Gabriel Vasquez-Lizardi, Department of Chemistry
    Adviser: Danielle R. Hickey, professor of chemistry, and materials science and engineering
    “My research focuses on investigating structural transformations of metallic nanocrystals via in situ Translation Electron Microscopy, including their plasmonic properties, reactivity and stability for heterogeneous catalysis," Vasquez-Lizardi said.

College of Health and Human Development

  • Amrita Arcot, Department of Nutritional Sciences
    Adviser: Alison D. Gernand, associate professor of nutritional sciences
    “I am currently examining vitamin B12 status during pregnancy. I have a special interest in B12 and its role in placental development," Arcot said.

College of the Liberal Arts

  • Margarita Hernandez, Department of Anthropology
    Advisers: George Perry, associate professor of anthropology and biology; and Mary Shenk, associate professor of anthropology, demography, and Asian studies
    “My research focuses on breaking down the misconception that Latinx folks are a monolith by investigating variation in genomic ancestry and health outcomes among waves of Cuban migrants to the United States. Additionally, I am investigating which factors may be influencing these differences in health outcomes among migration waves, including differential lived experiences, instances of racism and discrimination and social support," Hernandez said.

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