UW-Platteville hosts review of NASA prototypes

December 8, 2017
students presenting their space prototype
students in lab coats
students presenting their space prototype

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – Prototypes of hardware that may some day end up on the International Space Station recently underwent their first review on the University of Wisconsin-Platteville campus, with the help of UW-Platteville students, faculty and alumni.

UW-Platteville hosted a Preliminary Design Review for the High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program. This NASA program gives high school students the opportunity to design prototypes of hardware that may eventually be use by the International Space Station astronauts to improve life on the space station. The students are provided with a problem and requirements and constraints for various projects – many of them actual necessities that the astronaut crew requested. Students then follow the engineering process to define the problem, research, brainstorm, prototype, test and refine their projects. Students then present their prototypes to a team of expert reviewers at the Preliminary Design Review and then later at a Critical Design Review. The HUNCH program focuses on collaboration, rather than competition; oftentimes NASA will adopt various elements of different teams’ designs to incorporate into a final product.

The recent Preliminary Design Review held at UW-Platteville was attended by approximately 30 students from Platteville High School; East Troy High School, in East Troy, Wisconsin; and Case High School, in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin. The NASA Glenn Research Center mentors students at these schools. Prototypes displayed at the event included a can compactor for astronauts to more easily crush food cans, saving space in the trash; a hygiene caddy that would hold astronauts’ supplies while also allowing them to air wet towels; a location app that would display what country an astronaut is currently flying over; new methods for food preservation; and more. 

“It’s exciting to know that some of your projects may end up in space someday,” said Chancellor Dennis J. Shields, who addressed the students at the event. 

This was one of the first times that the HUNCH Program held a design review this early in the development phase and in conjunction with a university – which presented an opportunity for UW-Platteville faculty, students and alumni to serve on the team of design reviewers, and provide expertise, mentoring and feedback. UW-Platteville faculty included Dr. Jorge Camacho, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Dr. Katie Rabidoux, assistant professor of engineering physics; and Dr. Gokul Gopalakrishnan, assistant professor of engineering physics. Students included mechanical engineering majors Eliott Rand, who was a former participant in the HUNCH program at East Troy High School and is a member of the Rocketry Club at UW-Platteville, and Ravi Patel, who is a member of Society of Automotive Engineers and Engineers without Borders. Several UW-Platteville alumni and current Esterline/Avista employees also served as reviewers.

“I believe having the engineering students and faculty provide feedback to the high school students at this early stage is a great opportunity for both the students and the university,” said Nancy Hall, of the NASA Glenn Research Center. “It allows the high school students to see that what they are doing follows the same process being taught to university students which is also the same process that is done in the real world with engineers at NASA and at other companies.”

This Design and Prototype program is one of five distinct programs within the NASA HUNCH program, the others being Hardware, Softgoods, Video Challenge and Culinary Challenge.

“The College of EMS is delighted to support STEM education in Wisconsin high schools through this activity,” said Dr. Molly M. Gribb, dean of UW-Platteville’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science. “We are also very proud of UW-Platteville alumnus and Platteville High School physics teacher Matt Heer, for providing this unique opportunity for local youth to interact with NASA scientists and engineers and experience the thrill of innovation.”

“One of the hallmarks of our institution is a hands-on education,” said Tammy Salmon-Stephens, director of the College of EMS Student Success Programs and one of the organizers of the event. “These high school students are mimicking the work that UW-Platteville students in the Society of Automotive Engineers or Engineers without Borders are doing, and they are already learning through hands-on education. It gives them a leg up and if they get involved in college, they will perform that much better, develop leadership skills, and improve their job-readiness.”

Salmon-Stephens also commented on the importance of the collaboration as part of the ongoing outreach efforts the College of EMS Student Success Programs offers.

“We have a very established student support initiative in the College of EMS,” said Salmon-Stephens. “We place a priority on outreach, career readiness and retention. Retention starts at recruitment, so this event fits nicely with our student support initiatives.”

College of EMS ambassadors Kylie Greenheck, Quin Rogers and Melody Schultz also assisted at the event.

The event was co-sponsored by the UW-Platteville Office of Admission, which covered the cost of lunch and transportation for the students to travel to campus, and the NASA Glenn Research Center who mentors the students in the HUNCH program within their region. For more information about the HUNCH Design and Prototype program, visit www.hunchdesign.com/.


Written by: Alison Parkins, associate director of public relations, Communications, 608-342-1194, parkinsal@uwplatt.edu


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