UI scientists to expand space-based research on campus through new P3 grant

Iowa Technology Institute

Faculty members from the Iowa Technology Institute, a research arm of the College of Engineering (CoE), are contributing to a new space-based, interdisciplinary research enterprise designed to strengthen the University of Iowa’s competitiveness for NASA funding for space missions and instruments.


Philip Kaaret
Philip Kaaret

Philip Kaaret, professor and department chair of physics and astronomy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is project lead of the 12-member research team combining expertise in physics, astronomy, geographical and sustainability sciences, chemical engineering, industrial engineering, computer and electrical engineering, and geochemistry.

The project was approved for $3.6 million over three years through a competitive, campus-based grant program funded through the university’s public-private partnership (P3) with its utility system.

The effort builds upon the University of Iowa's space-based research success tracing back to James Van Allen’s pioneering discovery of Earth’s radiation belts in 1958.


Jun Wang
Jun Wang

“Via this P3’s strategic investment, and with the support of CoE, we hope to attract students and faculty to the UI to study Earth and climate change and work together toward a sizable NASA Earth Venture science mission grant with a significant hardware role for the UI,” says Jun Wang, the James E. Ashton Professor of Engineering and one of two co-principal investigators for the project.

Wang, a professor in chemical engineering and ITI assistant director, is the project’s Earth-observing mission lead.

The team's combined strengths in Earth observation, space instrumentation, and aircraft operations will enhance the UI’s Earth observation research and education opportunities to include the design, construction, and operation of air- and space-borne instruments. Two faculty are expected to be hired for the project – one each in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

The project also includes a space instrumentation summer program positioning the UI as the destination of choice for students interested in space research.

Tom Mach Schnell portrait
Tom Schnell

Approximately $1.2 million of the grant will be invested through the CoE. Other co-investigators from the CoE include the following faculty.


Tom "Mach" Schnell, the Captain Jim "Max" Gross Chair in Engineering and ITI associate director, and his team at the Operator Performance Lab (OPL) will lead the flight test arm of the project. OPL will design and then fabricate pods that can be carried on OPL aircraft, which include L-29 Delfin jets and Mi-2 helicopters. OPL will offer the pods to external customers for a fee; the customers can build in their experiments, and the OPL team will fly through a specific profile to access and gather data.


Ananya Sen Gupta square photo
Ananya Sen Gupta

Ananya Sen Gupta, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and an ITI faculty affiliate, will help develop new technologies to measure lunar magnetic fields from a mobile rover utilizing deployed sensors to separate geophysical signals from noise caused by rover mechanisms. This work builds on a technology development grant recently funded by the U.S. Air Force. Participation in technology and science case development will provide experiential learning opportunities for a diverse group of students.

Other partners on the project called "Extending Iowa’s Success in Space-Based Research Across Campus" include:

Craig Kletzing, the Donald A. and Marie B. Gurnett Chair, is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Jasper Halekas, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is the Lunar Mission Lead.

Casey DeRoo is assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Allison Jaynes, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is the Space Instrumentation Summer School Co-Lead.

David Miles is assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

David W. Peate is professor of geochemistry and chair of CLAS's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Marc Linderman is associate professor in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences.

Susan Meerdink, assistant professor in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences, is the Space Instrumentation Summer School Co-Lead.

Seven interdisciplinary projects were awarded more than $12 million in year one of the P3 program. Approved projects were selected through a two-stage process from among 45 letters of intent. A full list of projects is available at https://now.uiowa.edu/2021/06/7-collaborative-projects-approved-p3-funding.