Mechanical Engineering Undergrad Lands Space Grant Scholarship

SOCORRO, N.M. September 15, 2011 – Mechanical engineering junior Miquela Trujillo was awarded a competitive scholarship from the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, based on her research proposal.
Miquela Trujillo, mechanical engineering junior from Espanola, earned a N.M. Space Grant Consortium Scholarship, a program that is funded by NASA.

A graduate of McCurdy High School in Espanola, Trujillo is testing a novel material developed by Dr. Ashok Ghosh. She is one of several students who have contributed to the testing of the material, which received a U.S. patent earlier this year.

“This scholarship will help a lot with tuition and cost of living expenses,” Trujillo said. “I’m trying to save money for grad school, so this helps a lot.”

Trujillo, who completed an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory this summer, will run models and test the material for radiation shielding. Other students have tested the material for heat, acoustic and impact shielding. The N.M. Space Grant Consortium is administered by NASA and funds education, outreach and research in high-tech fields related to space.

Dr. Ghosh’s invention is a composite structure that has Kevlar skin with a fluid-filled polyurethane foam core. The material may find applications in a variety of devices – from submarines and space vehicles to military helmets and bullet-proof vests.

One of the material’s key characteristics is its ability to disperse energy – thermal, acoustic, impact and explosive/shockwave energy.

Trujillo will use Stopping and Ranging of Ions in Matter software, or SRIM, to model how the composite material will respond to exposure to radiation.

“We shoot different radioactive ions at the composite and it’ll show you the distribution of the ions in the material,” she said. “We can see if the ions go though or if the material stops them. This program will show me how well the material stops the ions and what thickness we need to stop the ions at a certain velocity.”

The key to dispersing energy is the core layer of the polyurethane foam, Dr. Ghosh said. He said the inner structure of the foam is filled with varying sizes of spherical cells of polyurethane. A cross-section of polyurethane foam reveals larger balls, or cells, in the center, with smaller cells on the outer edges. The foam layer has impermeable faces, allowing the material to be filled with compatible fluid and sealed.

“The core layer is engineered,” Dr. Ghosh said. “The basic materials are procured over-the-counter, but subsequently engineered to do certain things. This is a unique material with unique characteristics.”

Dr. Ghosh and his team of students tested the material for a variety of acoustic energy attenuation characteristics under a grant from the Office of Naval Research. Some tests were performed at New Mexico Tech and the rest at the Air Force Research Lab in Albuquerque, The team tested the material for acoustic loading.

Trujillo expects to graduate in 2013 and then pursue a graduate degree in nuclear engineering or mechanical engineering. Her work with Dr. Ghosh on radiation shielding has spurred her interest in the nuclear field.

Trujillo said Dr. Ghosh has been more than just an instructor; he has been a mentor and an inspiration as well.

“I was not aware of this scholarship and would not have received it without the help of Dr. Ghosh,” Trujillo said. “I am very grateful to be working on this research project with Dr. Ghosh. I am thankful for his encouragement to apply for this scholarship.”

Ghosh said Trujillo is a standout student and worthy of the Space Grant Scholarship. He said Trujillo has shown the initiative to find the references and the experts in the field to guide her toward solutions.

“I’m quite impressed with the work she has done and the motivation she has,” Dr. Ghosh said.

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By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech