Student receives NASA graduate fellowship

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Washington State University graduate student Ian Wells has won a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities fellowship.

The highly competitive fellowship provides students with up to five years of support for early-stage space technology research as well as summer internships at one of NASA’s space centers. He is the fourth graduate student from WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering to receive the fellowship.

“Ever since I visited the NASA Ames Research Center in high school, I’ve wanted to work for NASA,” said Wells. “That is now fully realized in developing optical analysis of liquid hydrogen rocket fuel.”

Closeup of Ian Wells.
Ian Wells

Originally from Boise, Idaho, Wells came to WSU as an undergraduate. Working in the Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research lab, he led a student team that built and demonstrated a prototype to clean lunar dust from spacesuits. With their idea to use a liquid nitrogen spray to clean off the dust, the group won the prestigious Artemis Award at NASA’s Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge.

As part of the project, Wells, who has had a lifelong interest in photography, created images of tiny nitrogen and dust droplets, liquid nitrogen pools, and the movement of the droplets over surfaces. The images were shared widely in the media, including on the BBC and in Smithsonian Magazine.

While Wells’ undergraduate project used boiling liquid nitrogen to clean spacesuits, he wants to better understand the science behind how the nitrogen boils in order to full optimize the moondust-busting technology.

As part of his NASA fellowship, he will use optics to better understand the physics and mechanisms of boiling hydrogen to develop better rocket fuels.

Wells hopes to work at NASA after he completes his studies and continue studying optics, cryogenics, and extraterrestrial systems development.

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