NASA has awarded FIU $3 million for research that will address some of the most important challenges of exploring the “final frontier” – creating materials that can withstand the extreme environment of space.
Daniela Radu, associate professor of mechanical and materials engineering in FIU’s College of Engineering & Computing, will lead the Center for Research and Education in 2D Optoelectronics (CRE2DO). CRE2DO researchers will explore novel two-dimensional (2D) functional materials, which consist of a single or few layers of atoms. These nanomaterials are both extremely strong and have high flexibility and conductivity as well as a tremendous energy storage capacity, which makes them ideal for space.
CRE2DO’s primary goal is to develop cutting-edge technologies that integrate 2D materials in space-resilient infrastructure materials, communication devices, and small satellite technology. The nanomaterials enhance reliability of mechanical and electrical components in spaceship devices and wearable electronics. The superconductor materials developed by CRE2DO aim to eliminate the need for battery power, while the material composites could be used in the infrastructure for spaceship components destined for Mars, and on wearable electronics placed inside space suits to enable high-speed communication by astronauts back to the space station.
The award was granted through NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO). MUREP supports training and development of students and faculty involved in STEM fields at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). MIRO was established to strengthen and develop the research capacity and infrastructure of MSIs in areas of strategic importance and value to NASA’s mission and national priorities.
“CRE2DO will provide exciting opportunities for many students, including women and underrepresented minorities in STEM, to engage in revolutionary research and change the face of space exploration,” Radu said. “The projects they’ll be working on will help other scientists and engineers as they work on the Artemis program, the NASA initiative to put the first woman and the next man on the moon.”
Radu is a diversity mentor professor at FIU, an initiative begun by the FIU Office to Advance Women, Equity & Diversity that recruits STEM faculty with strong research programs who have a history of and commitment to the mentorship of women and underrepresented minority students in STEM. She has previously been co-investigator on a grant funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence program, dedicated to building campus awareness about diversity and inclusion. Radu holds numerous publications and patents in her field.
CRE2DO will collaborate with the Penn State 2D Crystal Consortium, a national user facility focused on advancing the synthesis and development of 2D materials, led by Joan Redwing.
The grant’s partnerships with NASA’s Glenn Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will include internships and curricular development opportunities for students from FIU and Broward College. The project will focus on three research areas: 2D nanomaterials, led by Professor Cheng-Yu Lai, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering; composites, led by Professor Arvind Agarwal, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering; and cube satellites (CubeSats), led by FIU College of Engineering & Computing Dean John Volakis. The grant’s education and outreach components will be led by Laird Kramer, director of the FIU STEM Transformation Institute in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, and Andres Tremante, director of the Center for Diversity and Student Success in the College of Engineering & Computing.