Engineering Undergraduates Offered Work on Space Weather Projects

September 3, 2009

The National Science Foundation has awarded the Configurable Space Microsystems Innovations and Applications Center (COSMIAC) a $474,000 grant for the Research for Engineering Undergraduates (REU) program. The Center is part of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at UNM and Professor Christos Christodoulou is the Chief Research Officer.

During the next several weeks the center will be hiring electrical and computer engineering majors to work at the Center’s office near the South Campus. The research/work opportunity involves analyzing and building components for satellite systems designed to monitor elements of space weather.

COSMIAC Deputy Director Craig J. Kief says, “This offers undergraduates an opportunity to follow an unusual career path. The Air Force Research Laboratory is moving the Hanscom Space Weather Directorate to Kirtland Air Force Base, and they will need employees with expertise in the field. By the time these students graduate, they will have a firm background in the instruments that will drive the information coming from the satellites.” 

A major industrial use for the computer chips the students will work with is in Global Positioning Systems. The measurements of the far atmosphere will provide scientists with information about the effect of the Ionosphere on radio waves.

Research at the center is driven by the changes in satellite technology. Geospacial satellites today are large, roughly the size of a car, but a new generation of satellites, called Cubesats, are becoming the new launch standard. They measure 12” by 4” by 4” and can be launched for about $30,000. Kief says that paradigm shift is going to mean much greater interest from industry and there will be battles to hire engineers who can design and analyze the chips that allow the satellites to function.

The chips the students will work with can actually be reprogrammed remotely so that a satellite already in space can change its function as research needs alter. COSMIAC Director and UNM Electrical and Computer Engineering Research Professor Steve Suddarth says they will begin hiring students as soon as the NSF releases the grant money. 

UNM students will not be the only group eligible for the grant opportunity. COSMIAC works with NMSU, NM Tech, SIPI, CNM and a number of community colleges throughout the Southwest. COSMIAC is also a component of the Air Force Research Laboratories Phillips Technology Institute.

Students interested in the program should contact Craig Keif at (505) 934-1861 or craig.keif@cosmiac.org.