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CSU Pueblo students win big at NASA competition
Photo courtesy: Colorado State University at Pueblo

By Ernest Gurulé

It’s great that the country is dotted with amazing institutions nurturing future generations of the best and brightest young minds. But these schools, MIT, Cal Tech, Colorado School of Mines, to name just three, don’t have a lock on every young mind that just might change the future.

Take Colorado State University-Pueblo, for example. It recently sent a four-member team to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and won a national competition for an invention that may one day become an essential public safety tool.

The competition called for students to submit concept papers from multi-disciplinary student teams from across the country. Each was focused on developing new ideas for commercially available inventions. The CSU-Pueblo idea was one focused on what may one day be an indispensable search-and-rescue product.

“It’s a portable wireless signal booster,” said CSU-Pueblo engineering professor, Dr. Jude DePalma. “It’s a special kind of antenna that doesn’t require battery power.” The concept invention “can be woven onto a backpack or a jacket,” said DePalma. The idea is that would boost the signal on your cellphone and conceivably be a life-saving tool in search-and-rescue operation.

The proto-type created by the four-member team has nothing resembling a high-tech look. In fact, to the naked eye, it’s a yard-square blanket with a silver circle in the middle. But what it does is anything but keep you warm---though it can do that, as well.

While the circle may look like nothing more than a design, looks in this case are deceiving. It’s actually a stamped copper Fresnel or compact lens that is stitched between two layers of water-proof fabric. It serves as an antenna that boosts the signal. “Out in remote areas,” said DePalma, “it can boost the signal without any battery.”

The trip was more than a competition for a first-place prize, though that was a plus. The four-member CSU-Pueblo team also got a birds-eye view of things they could only see on YouTube or in books. Their tour put them up close and personal with mock-ups of the International Space Station and Orion crew vehicle. They also got to see NASA’s mammoth indoor pool used in astronaut training. It’s the largest such facility in the world, measuring 40-feet in depth, 200-feet in length and 100-feet in width.

The CSU-Pueblo entourage sat in on lectures and discussions with some of the brightest stars in America’s space program and got face time with some of the men and women calling the shots for the country’s mission in space, people they just might be working with this summer.

Three of the students were also awarded prestigious NASA internships. “Two of them will be going to Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley,” said DePalma. “It’s life-changing for those students.” While only four students actually made the trip, those who remained behind may also win internships. Those announcements are pending. The University’s Kenneth “Kordell” Roberts did nab the competition’s Outstanding Leader Award.

The ten institutions that competed for top prizes along with NASA internships were all part of the country’s Minority Serving Institutions.

MUREP Innovation and Tech Transfer Idea Competition (MITTIC) is a spinoff challenge established to develop new ideas for commercialization by seeking concept papers from multi-disciplinary student teams enrolled at a Minority Serving Institution (MSI).





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