RUSTON, La. - Louisiana Tech University will receive over $1.4 million in grant funding from NASA's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), through an award to the Louisiana Board of Regents, to serve as the lead institution for research that investigates how high doses of space radiation during extended duration space missions will affect astronauts.
Dr. Niel Crews, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in Louisiana Tech's College of Engineering and Science, will lead the research with assistance from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Grambling State University. The project titled, "Genetic Assessment of the Space Environment using MEMS Technologies," is funded at $750,000 by NASA's EPSCoR with a match from the Louisiana Board of Regents.
"I see this award as a powerful recognition of the research caliber of Louisiana Tech University," said Crews. "We were selected for funding, not because of our lofty words, but because of our extensive track record of quality research and high-impact technology development.
"This acclaim extends beyond the project investigators, but to the name of the university, and all the researchers and administrators who have sown the seeds of vision that have borne this recent fruit."
According to the project proposal, the world is pressing toward an extended human presence in space, but the high uncertainty associated with radiation risk to humans is currently prohibitive. Crews and his team will work to develop and test an instrument that automates the extraction and quantification of RNA from living cells in order to focus on the gene expression changes that cascade from irradiated cells in the human body through the surrounding tissue.
Furthermore, the proposed device will implement a non-destructive extraction technique to preserve culture viability, and will yield a spatial resolution of the gene expression map that does not now exist.
"Dr. Crews is one of our outstanding young faculty. He, along with Drs. (Pedro) Derosa and (Lee) Sawyer will be working together and are an excellent example of how our college integrates engineering and science to produce outstanding research," said Dr. Hisham Hegab, interim dean for Louisiana Tech's College of Engineering and Science.
This is the first NASA EPSCoR grant that Louisiana Tech has received as a lead institution.
"We are excited about this new NASA EPSCoR grant, which will support innovative research at three Louisiana universities and provide opportunities for graduate student engagement in aerospace research," said Jim Gershey, executive director of special programs with Louisiana Board of Regents.
NASA awarded a total of $10.5 million to colleges and universities around the nation to conduct research and technology development in areas important to the agency's mission and to develop faculty and support higher education students. Awarded proposals, selected through a merit-based, peer-reviewed competition, came from fourteen states including Alaska, Alabama, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.