Wichita State professor and student earn NASA grant to explore harmful cosmic radiation

As humanity begins to return to the moon and farther beyond, new technologies will need to be invented to assist in sustainable, long-term human-helmed missions. To help develop this technology, NASA has awarded a $133,342 grant to Wichita State University to research a more cost-effective detector for harmful radiation  from space.

The grant is part of a nearly $1.5 million program that is funding 24 projects across 21 organizations and institutions. Awardees will also work with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama as part of the grant.

The one-year study from WSU, conducted by Dr. Nick Solomey, professor of physics, and graduate student Tyler Nolan, in the Master of Science in physics program, will explore the use of a new detector of harmful cosmic radiation, including an ionization detector of charged particles; a gamma detector for X-rays and gamma rays; and a neutron detector.

Currently, detectors for each of these types of radiation are their own bulky machinery that take up space and consume their own power. The researchers hope to develop a single detector that not only takes less power and occupies less space but is an even more accurate detector than what is currently used.

“Every time you put something into space, it’s $10,000 per pound in fuel,” Solomey said. “So if you’re putting three bulky things up, and you make it into one, that’s three times less mass and three times less fuel to go up.”

Research began with computer simulations, which showed promising results for the new detector. The next step of the research, including what the grant will fund, is controlled testing of the detector here on Earth to demonstrate the detector’s effectiveness.

If the experiments are successful, next steps can include another grant for a study of the detector on the International Space Station, next to the current separate detectors, to further test its capabilities and potential deployment on future moon/Mars missions, though Nolan looks forward to seeing whatever the results show.

“Regardless of what you do in science, whether it fails or succeeds, there’s always a lesson that you learn,” said Nolan.

This is one of three grants from NASA that Solomey is currently working on, one of which includes a $2 million grant for a neutrino detector for the sun, which used similar technology and served as a jumping off point for the latest research.

About Wichita State University

Wichita State University is Kansas' only urban public research university, enrolling more than 23,000 students between its main campus and WSU Tech, including students from every state in the U.S. and more than 100 countries. Wichita State and WSU Tech are recognized for being student centered and innovation driven.

Located in the largest city in the state with one of the highest concentrations in the United States of jobs involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Wichita State University provides uniquely distinctive and innovative pathways of applied learning, applied research and career opportunities for all of our students.

The Innovation Campus, which is a physical extension of the Wichita State University main campus, is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing research/innovation parks, encompassing over 120 acres and is home to a number of global companies and organizations.

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