Grad student named NASA Space Technology Research Fellow

08/18/2016
 
MechSE PhD candidate Peter Knapp has had his eyes on the stars for many years. He was involved with NASA as an undergraduate student at Northwestern, and he will resume his research there thanks to a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF). 
 
The fellowship, which sponsors students to perform innovative space technology research, will be instrumental in aiding Knapp’s continued work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in developing strain sensors out of crumpled graphene. 
 
Strain sensors monitor the structural health of an object under various conditions. When applied to a spacecraft or another orbital vehicle, they can provide real-time assessment of the amount of damage the vehicle is experiencing and where the damage is taking place. 
 
The innovative aspect of Knapp’s work with these strain sensors is that they are based on crumpled graphene, a two-dimensional material with intrinsic properties that may be able to sustain the tremendous strain on a vehicle in or outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.  
 
“The unique thing about crumpled graphene is that it’s super stretchable,” Knapp said. “It is also resilient, radiation hard, and has really good electrical properties. So when the vehicle is in space and there are cosmic rays coming from the sun, the strain sensor is less likely to be damaged. It’s just a really durable material. It’s really light, really thin, and really easy to seamlessly integrate into existing systems.”  
 
The NSTRF also supports Knapp’s research on campus in Assistant Professor SungWoo Nam’s lab. His work on graphene and other crumpled 2D materials provides a natural transition to his work with NASA.
 
“Peter has demonstrated excellence in research in his recent, co-authored paper on the cover of Advanced Materials, and he continues to have an impact in the field of crumpled two-dimensional materials-based sensors. I am confident that NASA's NSTRF will allow him to make connections at NASA centers and carry out collaborative research on these unique and exciting directions,” said Nam.
 
Knapp arrived at MechSE after completing his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and integrated science at Northwestern University. As an undergraduate, he had a summer internship at Glenn Research Center analyzing alloys for NASA—and as a graduate student at Illinois he spent a summer working at the Goddard Spaceflight Center researching graphene-based chemical sensors.