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SURF: Announcements of Opportunity

Below are Announcements of Opportunity posted by Caltech faculty and JPL technical staff for the SURF program. Additional AOs for the Amgen Scholars program can be found here.

Specific GROWTH projects being offerred for summer 2018 can be found here.

Each AO indicates whether or not it is open to non-Caltech students. If an AO is NOT open to non-Caltech students, please DO NOT contact the mentor.

Announcements of Opportunity are posted as they are received. Please check back regularly for new AO submissions! Remember: This is just one way that you can go about identifying a suitable project and/or mentor.

Announcements for external summer programs are listed here.

Students pursuing opportunities at JPL must be
U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents.

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Project:  Battery chemistry assesment for sterilization/microbial reduction
Disciplines:  Biology/Bioengineering, Microbiology
Mentor:  Ganesh Babu Malli Mohan, (JPL),, Phone: (818) 393-4428
Background:  The icy moons of Jupiter, Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede, may harbor environmental conditions conducive to extraterrestrial life. NASA is embarking on a lander mission to explore the surface of Europa to understanding the hypothesized presence of surface oceans, key chemical elements, and a source of chemical energy. The lander will allow for sampling beneath the radiation-processed uppermost portion of Europa's icy shell, providing insights about its native composition and implications for life. The power source for this lander mission is neither a photovoltaic array nor a nuclear power source (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator), but a single primary battery of ~50 kWh to support the 20-day surface mission. We are planning to utilize the high specific energy lithium-carbon monofluoride batteries for this application. In addition, we will have high rate lithium- carbon fluoride/manganese dioxide hybrid batteries to support the Descent Stage. One of the critical requirements for the Europa Lander spacecraft elements is their bio-sterility, i.e., to meticulously avoid any contamination that might affect the in-situ investigations for bio-signatures. All the components, including the batteries, will need to comply with the stringent planetary protection guidelines. Since the conventional Dry Heat Microbial Reduction (DHMR) method is detrimental to the batteries, we are planning to achieve the required sterility with gamma radiation. To verify and validate this method, we will need to perform extensive testing of the battery internal components and batteries before and after irradiation. Furthermore, the battery proposed for use on Europa Lander exemplifies a poorly understood environment regarding microbial survival. Specifically, it is unknown whether any bacteria can survive within the harsh battery environment (i.e. whether the battery chemicals are an inherent sterilizer) and thus whether additional sterilization techniques must be employed to reduce the initial bioburden. Further more, pre-launch sterilization may damage the battery, which could jeopardize mission success. Thus, the survivability of microorganisms within the battery, a bio-region of interest, will be experimentally assessed.
Description:  The objectives of the proposed project, are to 1) to screen, isolate and characterize existing microbes present in the Europa lander battery using traditional and molecular approaches, 2) to enumerate and determine the microbial survival rate in the battery environment and its components and 3) to establish microbial enrichment growth kinetics rates when exposed to battery environment. The student will join an established group of planetary protection researchers and will be participate and support conducting experiments to understand the microbial burden and ecology diversity in battery environment using gold standard fundamental microbiology and state-of-the art of molecular analysis. It is important to note that as the Europa Lander Project matures and enters Phase-A, priorities for advancing planetary protection knowledge in one or more of the areas described earlier may been to be adjusted changing the scope of this student research project.
Student Requirements:  Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry,
Location / Safety:  Project building and/or room locations: . Student will need special safety training: No.
Programs:  This AO can be done under the following programs:

  Program    Available To
       SURF    both Caltech and non-Caltech students 

Click on a program name for program info and application requirements.

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