Fullerton College Students Exposed to Interdisciplinary Studies through NASA Challenge

A team of six Fullerton College students has been selected to present their design proposal and prototype to NASA Johnson Space Center May 22 – 25 as part of the Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Team (Micro-g NExT) challenge. The challenge has not only exposed the team to high-tech, hands-on space engineering but also a plethora of other academic disciplines to help successfully design and develop a tool astronauts can use in space.

The Fullerton College team is the only community college team among 24 college and university teams selected. Micro-g NExT challenges students to design, build and test a tool or device that addresses a current space-exploration need.

“Our team developed a camera attachment mount and positioning system that can be used by astronauts aboard the International Space Station,” said computer science student Michelle Yoon.

Yoon, who is also serving as the project manager for the group, said the hands-on learning she and her teammates, Patrick Babb, Ian Castorillo, Nashir Janmohamed, Alexander Miyoshi, and Johnathan Phan, have encountered with this project has been the most rewarding so far.

“The project has exposed us to multiple disciplines. In addition to designing tools, we conducted testing of our tool, simulated and hands-on testing, did outreach, raised funds for the project through crowdsourcing and wrote our technical documents in LaTeX,” she said. “This opportunity has given our team the insight into how the engineering design process is truly broken down. It was exciting and educational to see the intricacies of the process from start to finish.”

The team is made up of two engineering students, two computer science students, one studying physics, and one majoring in cinema and television arts. They’ve been working on the project since last fall and have collaborated with many divisions and departments on campus to research, design, and develop their prototype.

For example, Yoon said they sought out the expertise of Digital Arts Professor Frank Guthrie in the design phase and to help them use digital design and 3D printing for their prototype. They also consulted with Machine Technology Professor George Bonnand for machining and manufacturing elements, and connected with Dean Ken Starkman of Technology and Engineering who arranged for the team to meet with two engineers at Senga Engineering in Santa Ana to provide feedback about their tool.

“Various machining techniques were used to create two parts required for the team’s prototype,” Bonnand said. “Michelle also learned the steps involved in manufacturing and how time consuming it can be.” In addition, the team coordinated with diving faculty for under-water testing of their prototype.

One of the biggest obstacles they faced was coming up with a functional design that would not only work in outer space but be simple enough for them to manufacture and test here at home, Yoon added.

“We spent a substantial amount of time brainstorming ideas and thoroughly picking out parts for our design. We created a decision matrix to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each approach in the areas we deemed important to the function of the final product,” she said. “It’s been such an eye-opening experience into so many different fields.”

She acknowledges Vice President of Instruction Dr. Jose Ramon Nunez for being a big supporter of the team’s project and helping connect them with many of the programs and resources on campus. “We would not have been this successful without the help from Fullerton College and the interdisciplinary guidance of professors Bonnand and Guthrie,” she said.

Up next, the team plans to continue testing their prototype as they prepare for their presentation at NASA Johnson Space Center in May. Per the Micro-g NExT challenge requirements, the team cannot share too much detail online about their tool until after the presentation. To learn more visit https://microgravityuniversity.jsc.nasa.gov/about-micro-g-next.cfm

Author: Fullerton College

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