HIGH POINT, N.C., Aug. 24, 2015 – Many physicists dream of having their work used by NASA. Some High Point University physics majors had that dream come true recently after building a device for astronauts and having NASA invite them to test it at Johnson Space Center.
It’s called the “Chip n Ship.” It was built by physics majors Jacob Brooks, Michael Cantor, Matthew Iczkowski, Simeon Simeonides and Hallie Stidham. They visited the space center in Houston earlier this month, along with Dr. Brad Barlow, assistant professor astrophysics, serving as their faculty advisor, to test a device they built for astronauts to chip off samples of an asteroid while they’re exploring its surface. Dr. Aaron Titus, chair of the Department of Physics, and HPU alumni Eric Scarlett and Jeremy Allen contributed to the project as well.
Through NASA’s Micro-g Next program, the students and Barlow submitted the proposal for the “Chip n Ship” and NASA accepted it in February. Other universities that had proposals accepted and devices tested by NASA were Yale, Cal Poly Pomona, Duke and others.
“I am ecstatic that our students were able to participate in the Micro-g NExT program, as they gained many experiences valuable to their future careers,” says Barlow. “I am very proud of what they have accomplished.”
While in Houston, the students went through four days of testing with NASA engineers and divers in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), otherwise known as the world’s largest indoor pool, to see if the device was able to chip off and collect samples from four different mock-asteroid surfaces submerged in the NBL. The divers put forward a few recommendations to improve its collection capabilities, but altogether the “Chip n Ship” was deemed a success, with the divers referring to it as “cleverly designed.”
“From the beginning, the team wrote and submitted a proposal, designed a spacewalking tour, built the device, put together a presentation for a NASA safety board and walked NASA divers through a rigorous testing of their device,” says Barlow. “Through the entire process, they grew as scientists, communicators, engineers and professionals.”
“The experience in Houston was one of the most rewarding opportunities I’ve had during my time at HPU,” says Brooks. “Being able to brief the divers on our tool and its operation really placed me and my teammates in a truly professional position, and we rose to the occasion.”
The students will now submit a final report to NASA discussing their journey building the device. Parts of their design may make their way into future NASA devices used on asteroid missions.