Graduate Research Fellows 2018

Portrait of Tasha Adams

Tasha Adams

I am a 5th year PhD student in the College of Optical Science. I have a huge interest in helping young girls see themselves in fields that they are not currently represented in. The best way to do that is through exposure to STEM. This will help them realize STEM is not as scary as it seems. An easy way of introducing them to STEM is through the phone. My project is to design an app where they get to program the whole Mars 2020 mission. Through this app they will be exposed to not only computer science, which is a field that needs more people like them, but the instruments on the rover as well. The app will teach them what the instruments do and the science behind how they work. If time permits, it will also show them what it takes to make the instruments and the rover work.

Portrait of Alyssa Ellsworth with dog

Alyssa Ellsworth

I am a 4th year PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry conducting research under Dr. Loy. My graduate research involves making use of photoreactive small molecules to create and break weak-links in polymers. I collaborate with the College of Optical Sciences to create new inorganic/organic hybrid oligomeric resin materials for use in direct write printing applications for glass creation. My thesis focus is that new organic photoreactive moieties can be incorporated into polymer networks to allow an unprecedented level of control over their solubility, barrier and mechanical properties.

My outreach work through the NASA Space Grant involves working closely with middle school science teachers at Booth-Fickett and Mansfeld. My outreach goal at Booth-Fickett is to increase interest in STEM subjects by incorporating forensic science with a focus in scientific method into their curriculum. I am also working with Mansfeld to help prepare their middle school students to compete in the Division B Science Olympiad. I am helping with all subjects of science by trying to bring in experts from each subject to help in their preparation. I work directly with the middle school teachers to ensure any lesson plans developed align with state standards and all supplemental materials created will made generally accessible online.

Portrait of Emily Finan

Emily Finan

As a graduate student in the PhD program at the College of Optical Sciences, my research focuses on the design, implementation, and testing of optical systems in order to engineer solutions to real-world problems.  Optical Sciences plays a role in many of the emerging technologies transforming our society, and optics will continue to be a topic of interest for future STEM students.  My involvement with outreach activities through Women in Optics (WiO), Student Optics Chapter (SOCk), Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), and the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN) has been in the hopes of inspiring these future innovators.  This NASA Space Grant project will build on these outreach activities to develop an online hub in order to centralize the outreach efforts for the students of the College of Optical Sciences.  The website will provide training for students new to leading demonstrations, emphasize scientific literacy and effective scientific communication, and serve as an accessible resource for STEM classrooms.

Portrait of Timothy Frost

Timothy Frost

I’m a 4th year PhD Student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering working with microfluidic organ-on-a-chip devices. These chips recreate the most critical components of a human organ using only human cells and a plastic chip the size of a house key. These little chips hold an immense potential to change countless things from the way we develop pharmaceuticals to observing the long term effects of space travel on the human body. 
For my project I have partnered with the University of Arizona KEYS Research Internship to develop a program to give high-school students experience using microfluidic devices and understanding their role inside NASA research. My project will build a hands-on workshop series that gives high-school interns at UA the chance to build and use their own simple microfluidic chip. These workshops also help the students to practice public speaking and communicating technical aspects of research to a general audience. Alongside the workshop series, I will work as a supervisor hosting high-school interns to work in our microfluidics lab and teach them how to test a more in depth hypothesis using the microfluidic devices that they have fabricated over the course of the summer. Over the course of the academic year I will be giving lab tours to the public and traveling to Arizona high-schools with the KEYS internship team to give a seminar on the microfluidic organ-on-a-chip research NASA is performing currently aboard the ISS. Overall, our goal is not only to generate momentum for these students to pursue a STEM field but also to help them develop skills to become capable researchers themselves.

Portrait of Trevor McKellar

Trevor McKellar

I am a 2nd year PhD student in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science. For the past few years, I have been working to improve drought monitoring techniques across the southwestern United States by incorporating soil moisture modeling. With the NASA Space Grant, I am taking this project to the next step and developing a Drought Monitoring Guidebook that will aid local rangeland managers by identifying which drought monitoring technique best represents soil moisture conditions on their land, helping them make better informed management decisions. 

The amount of online drought monitoring indices available to local rangeland managers and livestock producers has increased significantly in recent years, complicating interpretation of which index best represents drought stress conditions to the average user. These indices can represent different aspects of hydroclimatic variability within soils and thus objectively identifying the index that best represent drought effects on rangelands remains a significant gap for applying available climate information to land management actions. Developing the Drought Monitoring Guidebook will address this issue by acting as an educational tool that successfully communicates to land managers which index best represents drought stress conditions of their ecosystem, removing the demand on users of needing to make complex interpretations between indices. The Guidebook will incorporate soil moisture modeling, site-level vegetation observations, historical climate data and NASA satellite products into a comprehensive resource that will help rangeland managers make better informed decisions about managing their land. In the complex semi-arid environment of the southwest, this has the potential to be a robust resource for combating future drought impacts related to climate change.

Portrait of Molly Simon

Molly Simon

I am in my 6th (and final) year as a PhD student in the Department of Planetary Sciences (Lunar and Planetary Laboratory). My research interests have always revolved around planet formation, both from a scientific and an educational standpoint. Fortunately, the Planetary Sciences department has allowed me to pursue a “hybrid” dissertation project, where I am able to contribute to the field of planet formation by conducting both science and education research. My current research project is a two-phased, mixed-methods study aimed to analyze college students’ preinstructional ideas about planet formation. For the first phase of the study, I used short answer questions covering a variety of topics pertaining to planet formation (planetary composition, gravity, basic definitions, and planetary motion) to investigate the range and prevalence of students’ ideas, prior to instruction, about these topics. Coding these responses for common themes, categories, and misconceptions aided in the development of the first version of the Planet Formation Concept Inventory (PFCI). A concept inventory is a multiple-choice instrument focused on a specific topic and it is based upon known student misconceptions in addition to instructors’ goals for teaching the material. Concept inventories are extremely useful for assessing students’ pre and post-instructional understanding of a certain topic. In this next year, I will continue to develop and validate the PFCI using feedback from upwards of 1,000 ASTRO 101 students, in additional to performing a statistical analysis of the instrument. The final version of this instrument will allow instructors to evaluate students’ understanding of planet formation before and after instruction. More importantly, instructors will be able to evaluate the efficacy of new pedagogy developed on this topic.