UConn student team as finalists for NASA competition

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The NASA Big Idea Challenge is a challenge which pits teams against each other this year to build lunar rovers that can explore lunar terrain in a number of unique, useful ways. A team of UConn students, lead by Theresa Nosel, are finalists in the competition. Photo courtesy of NASA via Big Idea Challenge website.

A team of University of Connecticut undergraduate students are finalists in NASA’s BIG Idea Challenge. 

The team of UConn students submitted their idea last semester to the 2022 competition and have since been designing a lunar rover model.  

“They’re spending the rest of this semester, the summer, and into the fall designing and building their prototype for a lunar rover, then testing its ability to navigate extreme terrain and harsh conditions similar to the moon’s south pole,” the press release said. “Their work is being supported by $150,000 in project funding from NASA.” 

Every year participants are asked to develop a different prototype. This year’s competition was focused on developing new modalities for rovers which could be used to navigate the varying terrains on the moon, the press release said.  

Seventh-semester chemical engineering and material sciences and engineering major Theresa Nosel has been UConn’s team leader for this year’s competition.  

Nosel, along with 26 other students, are part of this year’s UConn team for the NASA BIG Idea Challenge. She spoke on what the challenge is in more detail and how she and her fellow students got involved. 

“It is a national competition, hosted by NASA, to spark innovative ideas in students which help catalyze revolutionary technologies in space exploration,” Nosel said in an email interview.  

“It is a national competition, hosted by NASA, to spark innovative ideas in students which help catalyze revolutionary technologies in space exploration.”

Theresa Nosel, team leader for the competition and seventh-semester chemical engineering and material sciences and engineering major.

Nosel spoke on how many participating groups there are each year and the rewards, both in terms of the funding and learning that the NASA BIG Idea Challenge grants. 

“Between seven to ten universities are accepted as finalists and given up to $180,000 in funding,” Nosel said “It is an opportunity for us to step out into the unknown, explore the fascinating worlds of engineering and technology that exist outside the classroom, and challenge ourselves to go beyond what’s already been done.” 

The press release highlighted that this year’s team is not only the first to compete in the challenge, but the first time a UConn team has been funded through their idea for NASA’s BIG Idea Challenge.  

The idea for which this UConn team earned a finalist position was a device which granted morphing modality on the moon and possible other planets or atmospheres. 

“We proposed a morphing modality that involves four appendages capable of functioning in ‘quadruped mode’ allowing for a walking motion, in ‘tank mode’ allowing for tank-like movement, and in ‘combination mode’ allowing for any combination of appendages to conform to either a leg or a tank,” Nosel said.  

“We proposed a morphing modality that involves four appendages capable of functioning in ‘quadruped mode’ allowing for a walking motion, in ‘tank mode’ allowing for tank-like movement, and in ‘combination mode’ allowing for any combination of appendages to conform to either a leg or a tank.”  

Theresa Nosel, team leader for the competition and seventh-semester chemical engineering and material sciences and engineering major.

The UConn team began with 15 members and grew to the current 27 after the initial proposal for the project was submitted, Nosel said.  

“This concept formed over several months and is the result of a great deal of collaboration of the team,” Nosel said. “We are continuing to adapt the details of the design as we continue through the building and testing phase.” 

With extensive hours, collaboration and work put into the project, Nosel emphasized how it was all worth it. She hopes their rover will inspire their peers to appreciate the extensive work NASA does and how the organization may be part of your own future, in a press release.   

Being finalists in the NASA BIG Idea challenge opens up numerous opportunities for participating students. 

“This competition opens up opportunities for students on campus to work with NASA in a multidisciplinary, student led environment,” Nosel said. “We are learning to manage and lead a team while building a robot and learning the concepts/science behind it. We are stepping out of our comfort zones and pushing ourselves with technical skill sets, working on a team, and promoting ourselves and our concepts to NASA.” 

While the students on this UConn team have done most of their work outside of UConn’s assistance, Nosel said professors, deans and the university have applauded the team and continue to do so.  

“UConn has been cheering on this team since we first announced we were entering this challenge,” Nosel said. 

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