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2013-2014 Funded Research

University of Nebraska at Omaha



Christine CutucacheNE STEM 4U: After School STEM Outreach in OPS
Christine E. Cutucache, Ph.D., Biology Department, University of Nebraska at Omaha

The public education system in the state of Nebraska has continually been outranked in academic performance in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Currently, only 69% of Nebraska students are proficient in STEM education and students from low socioeconomic households and those of migratory families show proficiencies of only 13%. To address these issues, we created an after school time program entitled NE STEM 4U at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). Specifically, NE STEM 4U is a program that provides after school STEM instruction to youth on free and reduced lunches in the OPS district. These issues are of high priority to NASA to ensure a talented workforce in future years. We aim to bridge the opportunity gap to provide quality, educational after school activities focused on STEM in OPS. An added benefit to the educational component is a mentorship role for which UNO NE STEM 4U students serve to OPS students through this program. This program is very unique in that it provides an added leadership and training opportunity for UNO students as they plan experiments, teach K-12 students, and subsequently develop their own communication and critical thinking skills. Therefore, not only are K-12 students benefitting from outside instruction in STEM, but UNO undergraduate students gain an added leadership opportunity and the opportunity to participate in a learning experience outside of the classroom that also makes an impact on their community.


Sanjukta BhowmickMultilevel Analysis of Streaming Heterogeneous Data
Sanjukta Bhowmick, Computer Science, University of Nebraska at Omaha

 Our project concerns developing algorithms for analyzing homogeneous data collected over multiple time steps. Our long-term goal is to develop algorithms that can assimilate information from a variety of sources (satellite images, geographical data, social networks) and integrate them to provide a comprehensive view of the changing ecology, geography and demography of the earth and also help in identifying key factors responsible for these changes. To achieve this, we will create models of multilevel networks that can integrate different types of networks based on common features of the entities and develop algorithms to analyze these multilevel networks as they evolve over time.


Aim for The Stars CampInspiring Children to Aim for the Stars
Constance O'Brien, Physics Department, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Aim for the Stars Astronomy camps engage students in engineeringAim for the Stars Camp and building using physics, mathematics, and chemistry. Campers will learn about planets, stars and moons in the Mallory Kountze Planetarium.  Some will discover how gravity binds solar systems together or tears them apart.  Others will learn about telescopes and lens.  Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) drive the enthusiasm of our campers.  Nebraska and Nebraskans will benefit from this STEM attitude in the future as these children grow to be lifelong learners and advance into careers that use science and math.  Through partnerships and area school districts, Aim for the Stars Outreach takes an active interest in the underrepresented and disadvantaged students in our area.  Nebraska EPSCoR is valuable in assisting Aim for the Stars reach our goal of including all children in inspirational informal science and math enrichment opportunities.


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University of Nebraska - Lincoln



Sina BalkirDevelopment of a Single Chip Smart Camera System for Affordable Space Science and Exploration Missions
Dr. Sina Balkir, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The goal of this project is to develop, design, implement, and test a prototype single-chip CMOS smart camera that can ultimately detect, identify and track objects at variable frame rates and resolution. The paradigm is based on executing successive program instructions within a neighborhood of CMOS digital pixel sensors (typically 8 x 8) that are embedded within a processing core on the same focal plane. Thus, the program executions are carried out in parallel on a two-dimensional array of pixel neighborhood processing cores which house these pixel elements. For instance, a 128 x 128 resolution test imager would house 16 x 16 neighborhood processors (each processor only serving its 8x8 pixel neighborhood) that will execute in parallel. The motivations for the proposed approach are twofold: i) The development of massively parallel image processors which support very high frame rates. Thus, the solution developed will scale without regard to overall imager size and resolution, ii) The digital processors will allow highly flexible processing choices with random access to different functions and real-time changes in imager functions. This opens up potential frontiers for executing a variety of image processing tasks with potentially high frame rates and/or varying resolution.


Dennis AlexanderEnhancement and Optimization of Bubble Production During Nucleate Boiling Using Multi-scale Structures Fabricated by Femtosecond Laser Surface Processing: Experiments
Dennis Alexander, Electrical Engineering, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Our research involves the use of femtosecond lasers to functionalized metallic surfaces, depending on the two scale (nano/micro) surface structures produced, these self-organized black surface can either exhibit superhydrophilic or superhydrophobic properties. Our research has shown that these metallic superhydrophilic/ superhydrophobic properties have the ability to drastically affect such things as heat transfer, mass transfer, wetting, wicking and radiation properties. For example, we have shown that we can increase the heat transfer coefficient by over 5 times for stainless steel surfaces and we can shift the Leidenfrost temperature by over 175 oC. Because we fabricate the structured surfaces from the base material there is no coating applied and thus these surfaces are more permanent. Permanency has been a major problem to be solved in producing useful superhydrophilic or superhydrophobic surfaces for practical applications, especially those of high temperature.


DBF TeamDesign Build Fly Team at UNL
Kevin Cole, Mechanical & Materials Engineering, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics competes in several student designDBF Design groups each year.  One of these is the Design, Build, Fly (DBF) competition, which is an annual event that takes place in April.  Each year, teams must design, construct and test a small-scale RC plane to compete in various missions.  This year's missions involve rough-field taxiing and flight missions involving wood blocks as the cargo to simulate a bush plane. Teams are scored based on the performance of the plane in four missions and also on a design report detailing the plane's specifications and manufacturing. This marks UNL's fifth year in this competition.


Jeff HawksInvestigating the Relationship Between Ocular Blood Flow and ICP Towards Non-Invasive ICP Management
Dr. Jeff Hawks and Dr. Greg Bashford, Mechanical & Materials Engineering, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Long duration space missions have shown the remarkable extent of adaptation of the human body to microgravity environments. Many of these adaptations are not fully understood, including vision impairments experienced by astronauts during spaceflight. In addition to decreases in visual acuity, long term changes to the ocular structure have been observed. These include optic nerve sheath distention and globe flattening. It is suspected that elevated intracranial pressure Greg Bashford(ICP) induced by microgravity and spaceflight conditions is a significant factor in these changes. Discrepancies between astronaut symptoms and terrestrial cases of elevated ICP suggest a more complicated issue, however. A lack of in-flight ICP monitoring techniques has made it difficult to observe ICP levels throughout space missions can offer valuable insight towards understanding the effects and physiological adaptations of the body in microgravity, which is crucial as we look to send astronauts on longer missions. A proposed technique to correlate changes in characteristics of ophthalmic blood flow velocity in response to an applied force under different ICP levels has shown promise. By applying small forces to the front of the eye with a controlled actuator, we can observe changes in the blood flow velocity through the ophthalmic artery using Doppler ultrasonography. Increased force increased the flow velocity until a critical inflection point before velocity decreases up to occlusion of the artery. Changes in ICP affect the material properties surrounding the artery and the force required to reach this inflection point. Charting changes in this force value allows the degree of ICP change to be determined. Testing of this method utilizing silicone models of the ocular structure has shown that less than 2.5 lbs of force applied to the eye is sufficient to generate noticeable changes in flow velocity through an internal vessel. Preliminary results have also shown that the strain rate of the applied force also relates to the amount of force needed to alter blood flow velocity. Data collection on human subjects, and the testing of swine subjects with elevated ICP is needed to validate the accuracy and reliability of this methodology for noninvasive ICP monitoring.


Kyle WattersStudying the Pulsar Initial Spin Period Distribution
Dr. Kyle Watters, Physics Department, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

It is known that neutron stars follow a complex evolution process from their birth in a supernova as an active young pulsar, emitting radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to gamma rays, to their eventual slow cooling, emitting nothing more than thermal blackbody radiation. Many questions about this process persist, including questions surrounding the “starting point” of neutron star evolution – the initial pulsar parameters at birth.  This project aims to investigate the birth properties of neutron stars through analysis of data from the Large Area Telescope on board the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. This project will focus on one pulsar birth parameter in particular, the initial spin period. We know from individual objects that pulsars may be born with spin periods on the order of 30 ms (the Crab pulsar) or even less (J0537-6910), yet at the same time we observe objects with periods an order of magnitude longer (J1413-6141). The initial spin of a pulsar is a huge factor in determining the energy output of the star; the brightest gamma-ray pulsars are almost always the fastest spinning ones. Pulsars born spinning too slow will not be bright gamma-ray emitters, or may not even emit gamma rays at all. By using the Fermi LAT data to observe the growing population of young gamma-ray emitting pulsars, we will be able to constrain the distribution of initial pulsar spin periods. This is done by creating a galactic simulation of pulsars, assuming some initial spin period distribution. That simulated galaxy can be compared against the now sizeable population of young pulsars discovered by Fermi, and a best fit can be determined.


Intestine biomechanics simulator with mounted synthetic intestineDevelopment of a Bench-Top Gastrointestinal Simulator for Microgravity Testing and Validation of Swallowable Sensing Systems
Benjamin Terry, Mechanical & Materials Engineering, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Robotic Capsule Endoscopes (RCEs) are pill shaped devices used for non-invasive imaging, chemical sensing, performing simple surgical procedures, and active locomotion through the bowel lumen. Currently, there is no accurate in vitro method for testing RCEs during development and thus they are prematurely tested in vivo at a cost of about $1400 per non-survivable swine test. The purpose of this research is to develop an in vitro method of testing RCEs to reduce the need for repetitive and costly animal experimentation.

Caption for photo: Intestine biomechanics simulator with mounted synthetic intestine

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Chadron State College

Chadron State College


Nothing as Amazing as Science, Absolutely!
Linda Brown, Education, Chadron State College

Chadron State College STEM faculty is partnering with the Education department to provide tutoring to our pre-service elementary teachers. Often elementary teacher candidates have little confidence in their knowledge and ability to successfully teach science. This project will partner successful STEM students with a group of elementary teacher candidates for a weekly activity rich science lesson for eight weeks. At the end of the eight week tutoring sessions, the students will host a "Science Activities" night at a local school. Students in elementary and middle school will be invited to attend and rotate through the eight different work stations activities. 

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Metropolitan Community College

Metropolitan Community College

MCC High Altitude BallooningMCC High-Altitude Ballooning
Kendra Sibbernsen, Math and Natural Science, Metropolitan Community College

This project allows MCC students to participate in the development of a research project related to high-altitude ballooning, launch and retrieve equipment, and analyze the data, come to conclusions, and share their results. One successful MCC launch took place in November 2013, where new pieces of equipment to be flown were used to gather data. These pieces of equipment included a spectrometer, a pyranometer for measuring brightness, and a modified GoPro2 camera to take infrared images of the landscape. All of these new instruments functioned well. Another launch is planned for the spring term. You can read the story of this launch at:


Cosmic Ray Muon Radiography Research
Kendra Sibbernsen, Math and Natural Science, Metropolitan Community College

This project involves offering early undergraduate research for MCC students in the field of high-energy particle physics to determine the best materials and design to build an array capable of cosmic ray muon radiography. This technique could image the different densities in large structures, similar to taking an X-ray, but using naturally occurring cosmic radiation from space. This builds on work that was started with the Cosmic Ray Observatory Project in collaboration with the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.

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York Middle School

Pam PetersenPam Petersen, an 8th grade Science teacher at York Middle School, will be presenting at the Nebraska Association for the Gifted conference in Omaha on February 20 & 21, 2014.  She has received funds to provide training for High Ability Educators from across the state  through a  NASA Nebraska Space Grant.  The emphasis of the conference this year is “Powered by S.T.E.A.M.:  Igniting High Ability Learners with Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math”.  The conference will be geared to providing twenty-first century skill sets that include creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration.  Pam is a charter member of the Nebraska Education Space Ambassadors program.