Telescope Picture

Valparaiso University students will turn their attention to issues among the stars as the University has been named recipient of Indiana Space Grant Consortium (ISGC) funding for six separate projects — 100 percent of the projects Valpo professors proposed. The funding totals $102,520 and will primarily go towards giving student researchers from a variety of disciplines the chance to use their knowledge in real-world projects. 

“These grants support our core mission of developing leaders in research because they provide our faculty and students the opportunity to perform impactful experiences in NASA-related research areas,” said Eric Johnson ’87 Ph.D., provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “Many of the students who participate in the INSGC grants will go on to further their education in graduate school.”

The majority of the funding from all ISGC-related projects will go towards paying the stipends of student researchers. Several of these projects — including those led by Professors Nakamoto, Pruet and Orozco-Nunnelly — include students from Ivy Tech Community College as well as Valpo students. All of the students involved receive invaluable experience in real-world research methods and lab work that they can carry into their future careers, and many have the opportunity to have their names attached to published materials: a significant benefit to undergraduates looking to move forward in their field. 

One new project headed by Masaru Nakamoto M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, is titled “Effects of Extraterrestrial Environment on Vertebrate Brain Development.” The research will investigate the effects of simulated microgravity and altered light-night cycles on development of brain structures that are involved in maintenance of body balance and in the circadian cycle, respectively, by using chick embryos as a model system. The project will begin in the summer and is funded through Spring of 2025. 

Several projects being entirely or partially funded by the ISGC are ongoing, including studies examining the fungus candida albicans being facilitated by Patrice Bouyer, Ph.D., associate professor of biology and the impact of environmental factors on fungus by Michael Watters, Ph.D., professor of biology. Both fall under the purview of the ISGC due to the potential impact harmful fungus could have in the enclosed environment of the International Space Station. 

Neils Science

Another ongoing project working, in part, towards keeping astronauts healthy is the work being done by a team led by Jeffrey Pruet Ph.D. associate professor of chemistry and Danielle Orozco-Nunnelly Ph.D., associate professor of biology. This research project examines the antibacterial properties of plants used in indigenous and folk healing practices, including Argemone Mexicana, and involves close collaboration between the biology and chemistry departments. 

In direct space-related research, Stan Zygmunt Ph.D., professor of physics and astronomy, Todd Hillwig Ph.D., professor of physics and astronomy and Haiying He Ph.D., associate professor of physics and astronomy, have received funding to continue their project titled “Planetary Nebulae as Ideal Astrophysical Laboratories,” which revolves around unidentified bands of infrared light emanating from space that suggest the possibility of complex, gaseous molecules among the stars. Professor Hillwig has also received grant money to pay the University’s dues in the Southeastern Association of Researchers in Astronomy Telescope Consortium. All student-involved research at Valparaiso University speaks to the commitment to fostering an ideal learning environment. The University seeks to enable our students to lead through experiential learning opportunities as described in the University’s five-year plan: Uplift Valpo, Our Beacon for the Journey Forward.