USU student wins contest award for satellite work

By Kim Burgess , staff writer
The Herald Journal
September 22, 2008

A Utah State University graduate student won a $10,000 scholarship in an annual contest held during the school’s Small Satellite Conference.

Ryan Hoffmann is only the second Aggie to earn the top prize in the Frank J. Redd Student Scholarship competition’s 16-year history. He tied for first with Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Daniel Kwon, who also took home $10,000 at the Aug. 11 to 14 conference.

The duo beat out 40 undergraduate and graduate students from around the world.

“Competition was intense and our judges were very impressed by the high quality of the student papers and presentations,” said Jaimie Kandler, conference administrator at USU’s Space Dynamics Laboratory, host of the event.

Hoffmann, a physics student, discussed his paper “Low-Fluence Electron Yields of Highly Insulating Materials,” which focuses on tests of various materials to predict their ability to withstand harsh conditions in space.

In the lab, Hoffmann and colleagues use a vacuum chamber to blast a variety of samples — including ceramics and metals — with specific light frequencies. They measure the resulting current from electrons emitted by each material.

“When you scuff your feet across the carpet, you charge up,” Hoffmann said. “In a similar way, spacecraft travel through a big soup of charged particles that can cause them to charge up and malfunction.”

His research, funded by NASA, could help determine materials that will be used in the James Webb Space Telescope, the planned successor to the Hubble.

Karen Wolfe, an SDL spokesperson, said she is impressed with the caliber of young scientists studying at Utah State.

“Hoffmann’s first-place win along with other recent wins, such as the student rocket launch team, illustrate that Utah State University — coupled with the strength of its research laboratories — is producing world-class scientists and engineers,” Wolfe said.

© 2008 The Herald Journal