Kebede Research and Education Group-KREG: Space Science and Condensed Matter Physics Research

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Capacity Building Partnership for Research and Education in Space Science (PRESS)

"Within the science and engineering (S&E) workforce, the over-60 population outnumbers the under-30 population by nearly 3 to 1, and 25 percent of that workforce will be eligible to retire within 5 years

Minorities are poorly represented in the geosciences Hispanic Americans and African-Americans combined made up less than 2% of all PhDs over the past 26 years. (American Geophysical Union, Class of 1999 Survey)

Why space science ?- KREG's Response

The dream of exploring outer space is nature's gift to humanity. Beyond cultures, and language barriers people the beauty and complexity of the skies above them inspire you and old. Before the advent of telescopes thinkers documented the motion of stars and planets, the sun, the moon and the Earth. It is the discovery of Keppler's laws followed by Newton's law of Universal gravitation that led to everything we know about space travel today. Space travel and exploration inspires people to think beyond their immediate locality. They travel through space using their own imagination as their vehicle, always asking the most fundamental question of humanity, "are we alone?" Writers and storytellers capture this imagination in science fictions. This imagination and the desire for knowledge about outer space have been pushing the leading edge discovery in many areas of science. The advent of material science lead to the design of rocket vehicles that withstand stress and adverse conditions. The need for reducing the weight of the space vehicle leads to the design of small but high capacity computers. The development of computational science can be traced to the need to calculate the orbit of man made satellites. The study of human physiology in space leads to the discovery and development of new medicine for existing and potentially devastating diseases. This same study led to a new field of science called remote sensing, which in turn led to the development of powerful diagnostic tools to precisely identify and image human ailments. The use of Global Positioning Satellites made travel by air and sea safe. Through technology transfer space research benefited businesses particularly in aerospace and the environment. The quest for knowledge and the relentless pursuit of space exploration are the driving force that led to the development of the recent privately owned spaceship. Outer space and the technologies associated with the discovery of outer space are found to provide the academic platform to inspire the new generation workforce for space exploration. In a recent document published by NASA Office of Human Resources it is indicated that, 

Within the science and engineering (S&E) workforce, the over-60 population outnumbers the under-30 population by nearly 3 to 1, and 25 percent of that workforce will be eligible to retire within 5 years. The potential departure of these individuals could deprive NASA of a wealth of knowledge, experience, and leadership essential to achieving the AgencyÕs goals and objectives." The document further states that, "As a world-class science and engineering agency, NASA must be able to recruit and retain top-quality scientists and engineers to accomplish its core work and remain world-class. The Agency also must have a highly competent staff to support its technical programs and address its financial, acquisition, and business management responsibilities."

The report identifies several factors contributing to shortage of workforce. These include the shrinking science and engineering pipeline, the increased competition for technical skills in todayÕs market, the perception among many engineering students that the aerospace industry is no longer a "career of choice," and an overall declining interest in government employment among many graduates. 

The NASA competencies that are identified to be at risk include systems engineering, integration engineering, test engineering, mission assurance, mission execution, design and development engineering, program/project management, budgeting management, business IT systems and business management. Recently NASA provided funding to manage a "Science and Technology Scholarship" program to train 250 students in STEM fields within 30 months. These students will be required to sign a binding legal agreement to work for NASA after completion of their studies. The shortage of highly trained workforce at NASA may imply that the same problem exists in other agencies. A lasting solution to this problem is to develop an interdisciplinary, and inspiring space science and technology curriculum. Such curriculum can be used as a vehicle to enhance existing courses with space science content, to recruit highly competent students to join NASA internships and to work with K-12 partners to inspire the next generation university students using NASA resources. 

Since our major goal is to generate a seamless a pipe line that carries students from physics and related sciences directly to graduate programs and to high tech and high paying positions, our space science curriculum allows students to access introductory and advanced courses in Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Earth System Science. It is a template curriculum that it can be used by Agriculture, Engineering and Technology departments to develop their own concentrations in space technology specific to their interests. The design of the curriculum is such that students may take the option of going into specialization tracks related to Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, and Earth System Science programs within the University

The capstone course for the undergraduate program is based on the undergraduate research course, PHYS550. Students are allowed to take this course over several semesters locally or with researchers at NASA centers and major research universities 

There exists a huge interest among students to engage in research. Unfortunately, because of lack of resources and time, students tend not to be part of a research activity during the academic year. This is mostly true at HBCUs. A number of students go to research laboratories during the summer. This is a worthwhile effort but it does not necessarily contribute towards alleviating the shortage of the workforce. CBPRESS conducts an integrated program that combines the academic year and the summer experience. Students of exceptional merit who are enrolled in the space science program are required to participate in a summer research opportunity at a NASA Centers and research intensive institutions. These students will work closely with space scientists and a faculty mentors at NC A&T State University. As part of the internship students are expected to present their work that the undergraduate research experience to present their work in oral or poster format at professional meetings and local undergraduate symposium. Some of the recent works of students include the following topics: 

  • High Resolution X-ray Spectroscopy of AGN Using HETGS on Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center 
  • Comparison of PC Simulations of Large Scale Structure with SDSS Galactic Data at the Undergraduate Astrophysical Research Institute, South Carolina University
  • Visualization and analysis of the accretion streams in polars at the Undergraduate Astrophysical Research Institute, South Carolina lRadio Observations of Brown Dwarfs, at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory
  • In addition through weekly colloquium the following topics were introduced to students and faculty

  • The Universe as Revealed through Gamma-Ray Astronomy
  • New Developments and Future Prospects in Space Science Research
  • Shear Alfven Waves in the Laboratory and Space
  • The origin and nature of the slow solar wind
  • Multi-wavelength Observations of Coronal Activity in Solar-like Stars