NASA grant funds research at W&J

Created: December 1, 2017  |  Last Updated: July 17, 2020  |  Category:   |  Tagged:

WASHINGTON, PA (Dec. 1, 2017)—Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) physics students are preparing for lift off, and are inviting students from other campus departments to join them.

Under the guidance of Assistant Professor of Physics Dimitris Vassiliadis, Ph.D., six students are participating in RockSat, an annual flight project held by NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. W&J’s RockSat team will build and program simple experiments for flight and test them in a lab. Once they are ready, they’ll deliver the experiments to the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, which is responsible for flying them to space. Their experiments will launch into Earth’s ionosphere on June 21, 2018.

“Designing and building experiments that will fly in space is obviously fraught with risk, but is in many ways a rewarding endeavor,” Dr. Vassiliadis said. “When taking place in an educational setting with capped resources it may be even more challenging, but without a doubt it is a sign of our times—and the times to come in 21st century education.”

The project is supported by W&J’s Department of Physics and the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium, an education and outreach arm of NASA.

Currently working on the project are Julia M. Angotti ’19, a communications major and project communication and outreach lead; Garrett French ’18, a physics major and team leader; and physics majors Patrick Fullerton ’19, Theo Kioussis ’19, Akira Yamashita ’19, and Jiaoyi Yang ’19.

W&J students are developing experiments that examine electrical currents flowing in the ionosphere; and measure the height and thickness of the sodium layer, a thin veneer of dust deposited in our atmosphere by small meteorites constantly bombarding it. The project has also developed an outreach activity with students at Trinity Area School District in Washington, Pa. who will send their own experiment up on the rocket.

“Hopefully for some of these students, this…will inspire them to be interested in science, space, communications, art, or anything positive they’d like to develop,” Dr. Vassiliadis said. “Who knows? Maybe one or more of them will be interested in becoming educators, researchers or above all science-minded good citizens. At any rate, the technical and human skills that dedicated students develop here will pay dividends in other contexts later.”

The study is in progress, but the team is looking for more participants in a variety of disciplines. In addition to science majors, Vassiliadis invites students in the Computing and Information Studies (CIS) major to practice programming skills in the project, as well as communications, English, or education majors to participate in outreach and communications with Trinity High School, RockSat management and the Wallops Flight Facility.

Interested students can email Dr. Vassiliadis or stop by Swanson Science Center to talk to him or any member of the team about the project. Regular meetings are held Mondays at 6 p.m.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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