Space@Hopkins hosts its second symposium

By JAEMIE BENNETT | May 3, 2018

 

Space@Hopkins held its second annual symposium on Friday, April 27. The Space@Hopkins program widely focuses on bringing the aspects of space-related research at Hopkins to one central location.

The program began when Hopkins put out a call for new initiatives. Director of Space@Hopkins Charles Bennett said that idea for a program centered around space came easily

“A bunch of us thought, the space theme is a no-brainer,” he said.

Hopkins has a long, rich history with space-related research. Henry A. Rowland was a professor at Hopkins, the president of the American Physical Society and also the name-sake of the Hopkins Department of Physics and Astronomy. The New Horizons mission, which took the first close-up pictures of Pluto, was led by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) jointly with the Southwest Research Institute.

Notably, Hopkins is responsible for taking the first photo of Earth from space, predicting the existence of cosmic microwave background radiation and is one of two universities to have its own space flight center. It is also the only university to have a Space Telescope Science Institute, the operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope.

However, despite all the space-related research coming from Hopkins, Bennett said that there was a problem on campus with connecting staff and students who were interested in it. 

“We have a lot of breadth, we have all this capability, yet we didn’t know each other,” he said.

Space@Hopkins fulfills the need for dialogue between the many departments involved in space-related research by providing a platform for them. The Space@Hopkins Symposium brought in diverse speakers from across campus in order to reflect these goals.

Sabine Stanley from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the Applied Physics Laboratory explained her research studying planetary magnetic fields. 

Planets regularly go through magnetic field reversals, and it seems Earth may be starting to reverse its own field. Stanley and her team hope to understand what is driving this change.

Ralph Etienne-Cummings has a background in electrical and computer engineering. 

Etienne-Cummings is developing systems that will work like the tactile sensory system in the human body. He is currently focusing on the recognition of an object’s sharpness, and his findings may be applied to prosthetics or bulky space suits.

Michael Harrower is currently an archaeologist in the Near Eastern Studies department. He is analyzing spectral signatures of various materials which can then be found by satellite, potentially identifying archaeological sites.

Elizabeth Turtle works in the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and spoke about her potential space mission, Dragonfly. The probe will go to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, to extensively analyze its atmosphere. As the only atmosphere in the solar system containing complex organic molecules like Earth, Turtle hopes Titan will give insights into how life began.

Other speakers included Associate Professor of Otolaryngology Mark Shelhamer; APL researcher Nour Raouafi; Catherine Davis, a researcher in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Todd Smith, a scientist at the APL; astrophysicist John Mather; and Nadia Zakamska, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Many speakers were previous recipients of Space@Hopkins seed grants, including Stanley, Etienne-Cummings, Shelhamer and Harrower from 2017 and Davis and Smith from 2016.

A condition of the Space@Hopkins seed grant is that the research must include the help of at least one undergraduate student, as part of an initiative by Space@Hopkins to bring students into the fold of space-related science. 

Both students and faculty come to Space@Hopkins requesting certain types of people or research, and Space@Hopkins ensures they both find what they’re looking for.

“We’re playing a match-maker role between faculty members and between the faculty and the students,” Bennett said. 

So far the seed grants have been very successful. Three of the first-year seed grants have been converted into large external grants. The next deadline to apply for a Space@Hopkins seed grant is on May 18, 2018.

The second annual Space@Hopkins Symposium ended with a panel of commercial space employees, including Scott Lee from Northrup Grumman, Debra Facktor from Ball Aerospace, Christopher Long from Orbital ATK and Bob Vogt from Radiant Solutions.

The discussion largely focused on how current students could find careers in the industry. 

All four panelists spoke about how many job openings were in the market, and how many companies are looking for young people to fill senior titles or come is as juniors to be prepared for higher positions. Facktor also emphasized getting involved early in anyway possible, through networking and summer jobs.

Largely, the consensus was that it is a ripe time to enter the commercial space business. Bennett echoed this sentiment.

“We live in an interdisciplinary world. A lot of problems require interdisciplinary solutions, so it’s essential for us to get to know our colleagues,” Bennett said.

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