First-Time Undergraduate Research Experience

Shantanu Sinha and Nathan Stonitsch were both part of small cohort of 17 students who received a stipend to participate as first-time undergraduate researchers at Purdue University during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Sinha and Stonitsch are members of a NASA-funded research team led by Davide Ziviani, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering, working on one of several projects at Purdue associated with the Resilient Extraterrestrial Habitats Institute (RETHi) 


Single cooling panel (right) that will be one of many used to cover an extraterrestrial habitat prototype and cool it to a temperature simulating the lunar environment.
Single-panel prototype tested inside a psychrometric chamber and low-temperature chiller to verify thermal and control aspects.

The team is working to build a structure that can be cooled to -50 degrees Celsius in order to simulate the temperature that lunar habitat would experience under a layer of regolith insulation. This will ultimately be a cyber-physical testbed where multiple research groups in RETHi can test habitat systems in a simulated lunar environment, but physically and through simulations.

The initial testing was conducted with a stand-alone cooling panel to determine how many pipe loops would be required to maintain a uniform temperature profile, what material the panel should be made from and the total costs, while addressing any issues during testing, The success of the single-panel testing led to team to start production of a full multi-panel cooling dome during the Summer of 2021.

Concept design of the cyber-physical test bed.

These students received financial support for their work from an Indiana Space Grant Consortium grant, given to the Engineering Undergraduate Research Office (EURO), in support first-time undergraduate researchers with a mission of building a diverse workforce in Engineering.  A first-time researcher is any student who is brand new to research regardless of their academic standing. EURO had a callout for PIs with research aligned with NASA technical directorates such as Aeronautics Research, Human Exploration Operations, Science, Space Technology.

Selected first-time researchers received a $1000 stipend award to engage in research (3 credit hour worth of time commitment) labs in the 2021 Spring semester. All first-time researcher awardees presented their work at the Purdue Undergraduate Research Conference held every Spring. Stonitsch presentation on “Development and Optimization of a Thermal Transfer System for Simulating Lunar Temperatures and Possible Scenarios” was selected as a top abstract for Innovative Technology/ Entrepreneurship/ Design by the Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies.

EURO will continue to offer first-time researchers financial awards through various grants. New opportunities will be posted at the beginning of the Fall semester on the EURO website's Undergraduate Research Opportunities page.