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Engineering students spend their summer working on NASA Space Grant


While some people spent Fourth of July weekend taking in fireworks displays, overindulging on hot dogs, and trying to beat the heat, TCNJ biomedical engineering students helped to plan for NASA’s first manned-mission to Mars as part of the college’s Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience (MUSE) program.

Working under the tutelage of assistant professor of biomedical engineering Anthony Lau as part of a NASA-funded Space Grant, Danielle Howe ’17, Steven Ayala ’17, Alexander Borg ’17, Dale Johnson ’18 and Phillip Binaco ’18 took a whirlwind tour of research facilities down the eastern seaboard as part of their study of the effects of solar flares on the bone and kidney functioning of astronauts.

Space travel has always been an ambitious enterprise, but as astronauts voyage farther and remain in orbit longer, the stakes are higher. Solar flares—energy bursts from the sun’s surface that emit high-levels of radiation—are among the risks encountered by intergalactic passengers. By modeling the effects of comparable exposure to radiation on rats, Lau and his MUSE students stand to influence the future of space exploration.

During their holiday weekend excursion, the students visited with colleagues at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, with whom they are collaborating on the Space Grant, and took advantage of a high-resolution bone scanner at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The trip wasn’t all work, though. A stop at the National Institutes of Health was equal parts show-and-tell, given the cornucopia of cutting-edge research equipment, and career development, since each is interested in post-graduate study and a career in biomedical engineering.

“This summer was a great experience both in the lab doing research as well as visiting other schools, meeting other researchers, and expanding my professional network,” says Howe. “This experience made me to want to continue my education and research, and had a big influence on my decision to apply to PhD programs at graduate schools for next year.”

Tom Beaver, Head Media Relations Officer