Nate Stonitsch ‘24, a First-Year Engineering student, presented his research project “Development and Optimization of a Thermal Transfer System for Simulating Lunar Temperatures and Possible Scenarios” during the Spring 2021 Undergraduate Research Conference. His abstract received the top award for the Innovative Technology, Design, and Entrepreneurship category. The Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies selects and provides the awards for the thematic winners. We were able to interview Nate to get an insight into his research and what it was like to prepare for the Conference!
OUR: What did you research and why?
Nate: My research was a part of the resilient extraterrestrial (RETH) institute and my research group goal is to create a cooling dome that is able to be cooled to -50 degrees Celsius which will simulate the temperature that a habitat on the moon would experience under a layer of regolith insulation. We are doing this to create a cyber-physical testbed in collaboration with other research groups within the institute to test our habitat systems in a simulated lunar environment. The cyber-physical part means the habitat will have simulations done computational along with physical aspects such as my group’s cooling dome which will be simulated physically. This research will allow for the development of new habitat technology that will allow for the long-term habitation of the Moon and other extraterrestrial bodies such as Mars.
Our: What have you learned from your research project?
Nate: I have certainly learned a lot about the lunar environment through reading other research papers and books to prepare me to do this research. However, more specifically this research has taught me many valuable skills about how to conduct effective research. Most of my work has been hands-on work setting up our testing platform and choosing our sensors to collect the necessary testing data. So, I have learned things like how to collect and analyze data, how to communicate with companies to inquire about specifications and request quotes, and how to communicate professionally and effectively with my mentors.
OUR: How long have you been conducting this research and how did you get started?
Nate: After attending a presentation by the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) last fall, I saw an application for research with the RETH institute cyber-physical testbed, and the RETH institute is one of the reasons I choose to come to Purdue and I even wrote about it in my application to Purdue because it aligns with my interests perfectly so I knew I had to apply and I was later offered the position.
OUR: Do you think doing research has benefited your college career?
Nate: Yes, I believe doing research has and will continue to benefit my college career as it gives exposure to things I would never have encountered in the classroom.
Being able to collaborate with Purdue faculty and graduate-level students is also an invaluable experience as it allows me to learn from their high level of knowledge on the topic.
OUR: How does research support your future goals?
Nate: This research directly supports my future goals as extra-terrestrial habitats and the idea of long-term habitation of the Moon and Mars is what truly excites me about the future and I hope to pursue a career in this field upon completion of my education. Furthermore, my ultimate life goal is to become an astronaut which is obviously an extremely difficult goal to achieve but I believe that participating in this research is one of the small steps toward the realization of my goal. This research allows me to begin to understand the complexity of maintaining a habitable environment in places like the Moon and Mars where the conditions are extremely harsh for life. Additionally, conducting research is helping prepare me for completing research while pursuing higher-level degrees after I complete my undergraduate degree where I expect to have a larger role and impact in the research.
OUR: Who has mentored you in your research experience?
Nate: My mentors in this research project are Professor Zivani (College of Mechanical Engineering), Jaewon Park (Purdue Masters’ student), and Orkan Kurtulus (Senior Research Associate at the Ray W. Herrick Labs). My mentors helped guide me through the complicated research we are conducting and helped me understand the objectives of the research project and its implications.
OUR: What was it like to present at the Spring Undergraduate Research Conference?
Nate: Presenting at the Spring Undergraduate research conference was a bit nerve-wracking especially given the virtual setting as it was the first time I have been asked to give a presentation outside of a school project. However, I enjoyed the process as it was the first time I was able to present something I truly enjoyed and am passionate about which was a surreal realization.