|Lehigh physics graduate student Stacy Snyder (l) shown here with NASA's Stephanie A. Getty, Ph.D., working together at GSFC (r).|
Closer to home, thousands or millions of lightyears away, clues to the origins of stars and planets are concealed in giant clouds of dust where new heavenly bodies continue to take shape.
Human beings have not ceased wondering since first gazing in awe at the nighttime sky: How did the universe come into being? How do stars and galaxies form? Are there other planets in the universe capable of sustaining life?
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will soon take a small step into space to tug at the veil shielding those mysteries.
In 2013, NASA will launch the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) one million miles out into space, four times farther from the earth than the moon, and 2,500 times farther than the Hubble Telescope, which the JWST will replace.
The JWST will be like no telescope before it. A perfectly positioned space laboratory, it will observe the deep universe by blocking out the brighter light of closer objects to capture the faint light of vanishing galaxies.
Designing and operating the JWST is a huge engineering effort involving the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, Northrop Grumman Space Technologies and others. The telescope will be sent into space on an Ariane launch vehicle.
Lehigh is playing a critical role in a system of microshutters (see page 12) that will help the JWST capture selected infrared signals from the edge of the universe and thus observe the most distant galaxies. That project is part of a larger collaboration between Lehigh and NASA that supports research vital to space exploration while seeking to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.
That joint effort, the Lehigh University/Mid- Atlantic Partnership for Nanomaterials, has spawned a dozen research projects involving 14 Lehigh faculty members. In 2006, Lehigh and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Maryland received $4 million from a congressional appropriation. Later, under a cooperative agreement signed by Lehigh and GSFC, NASA pledged to support research in Lehigh's Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology (CAMN), as well as internships and research projects for Lehigh students.
The partnership also grants NASA access to Lehigh's world-class electron microscopes, which will help researchers develop new materials and devices for space exploration.
"We regard the Lehigh-NASA relationship," says GSFC program manager Dan Powell, "as a long-term strategic partnership, and not just a group of highvalue development efforts."
Lehigh and NASA choose research topics that couple NASA's needs with Lehigh's strengths. Lehigh has also obtained grants from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Technology Alliance (PITA), the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium and other agencies to support internships and related research.
Many Lehigh-GSFC projects have interest for other funding agencies, says Gene Lucadamo, Lehigh program manager for the partnership. Carbon nanotube sensors that detect noxious gases in spacecraft, for example, are useful for bioterror prevention efforts by the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Transparent ceramics for tougher spaceship windows can be applied to the armored glass required by military vehicles.
These "cross-links," says Lucadamo, make it possible to leverage funding from other agencies. In addition, the CAMN's Lehigh Nanotechnology Network includes two dozen company members that can design, fabricate or utilize the new materials and devices generated by research projects.
"The structure of our partnership enables us to pursue other research opportunities as they emerge," says Powell. "If we hit barriers in existing projects, we try to be flexible enough to pursue lateral pathways.
"Lehigh has received only a small fraction of the support that some other universities receive, yet we're seeing real results in nanocharacterization and new nanomaterials."
CAMN director Martin Harmer is principal investigator for the partnership. David Williams, former vice provost for research at Lehigh (see page 8), and William Michalerya, associate vice president for government relations, played key roles in establishing the alliance.