Denton, TX, August 30, 2023 – When Americans next land on the moon, the researchers and students from Texas Woman’s University (TWU) and the University of North Texas (UNT) will have played a vital role in ensuring their safe journey. NASA has awarded a three-year, $900,000 grant to the two universities, as part of a larger $14 million program that involves 19 colleges and universities nationwide. The program aims to advance critical spaceflight research and groom a new generation of students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
The grant comes as a result of close 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. According to Beatty, “Richard contacted me earlier this year and asked if we wanted to be part of it. I said, yeah, we’ll help out wherever we can.”
A Leap in Lunar Exploration
The project, titled “Protective Thermal Electro-Chromic Coatings (ProTECC) for Lunar Exploration,” will focus on developing and analyzing protective coatings for spacecraft and equipment. These coatings aim to shield against lunar dust, radiation, and extreme temperature fluctuations that range from more than 400 degrees Fahrenheit to -300 degrees Fahrenheit.
“On Earth, we’re protected by our atmosphere,” said Beatty. “In space, especially on the moon, you have virtually no protection except the equipment that’s around you.”
The grant will not only push the boundaries of space exploration but also open up multiple avenues for students interested in STEM fields. Internships at the Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers will be funded, along with the establishment of an introductory engineering experience targeted at female students at TWU, a university without a formal engineering program.
“At least one, possibly more, students will intern at Johnson Space Center or Kennedy Space Center for a full summer. It will pay their stipend, room, board, and travel,” added Beatty.
Beatty, whose PhD work is in thin films and surface chemistry, considers the project an extension of his expertise. “I worked with Dr. Kelber at UNT, so he contacted me and said, hey, you might be interested in this. That may lead to future grants for the university,” he said.
TWU’s Historical Connection with Space Research
Interestingly, this isn’t TWU’s first foray into space research. In the 1960s, the university was involved in studies examining how being in space affected human nutrient absorption. “Once we put the word out that, hey, we might be involved with NASA, we’ll get more interest,” said Beatty, looking forward to an enthusiastic response from the student community.
The collaboration not only boosts the scope of research at both universities but also places them at the forefront of pioneering efforts that could change the future of lunar exploration and STEM education.