Florida State University’s High-Performance Materials Institute (HPMI) and the Florida A&M University–Florida State University (FAMU-FSU) College of Engineering are joining a major multi-university project funded by NASA that will focus on developing technologies crucial to human exploration in deep space.

“We are really happy to participate in a project that supports NASA and its future work,” HPMI Director Richard Liang says. Vice President for Research Gary Ostrander adds, “This is a wonderful opportunity for our faculty researchers and students to participate in a project that pushes the boundaries of science and will have a major impact on space travel and exploration. FSU’s High-Performance Materials Institute was designed to explore the possibilities and uses of next-generation materials, and this project will allow them to apply their expertise in an exciting way.”

The work is part of an overall initiative from NASA to create the first-ever Space Technology Research Institutes (STRI), including one on biological engineering in space and one on next-generational materials. Each institute will receive $15 million over a five-year period that will be distributed among the partner universities.

HPMI is a multidisciplinary research institute at Florida State University largely staffed by faculty from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. Both FSU and FAMU will receive funding from the STRI focusing on next-generation materials and manufacturing. The money will help fund multiple graduate students at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and one postdoctoral researcher.

“The High-Performance Materials Institute is a leader in developing advanced nanocomposites and additive manufacturing that will be critical for man’s extended presence in deep space,” FAMU-FSU College of Engineering Dean J. Murray Gibson says. “Because of this grant, our students will have unique opportunities to participate in an exciting future major space program.”

Also a professor at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, Liang will serve as principle investigator at the college and an area leader for the STRI. Six faculty from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering will participate in the project. The STRI will be led by Professor Gregory Odegard at Michigan Technological University.

At HPMI and the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, scientists will specifically work on the development of carbon nanotube-based structural materials that can help create next-generation space vehicles, power systems, and potentially even habitats. “It’s exciting to know that I could have a student who could get experience here on this project and then potentially work on the mission to Mars in the future,” says Tarik Dickens, an assistant professor at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering who is also working on the project.

HPMI’s mission is to develop next-generation materials that can be used in a variety of technologies and industries. It has been designated as an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center by the National Science Foundation and as a Center of Excellence by Florida’s public university governing body, the Florida Board of Governors.

The other universities participating in the project are the University of Utah, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University, University of Colorado, and Virginia Commonwealth University. Industrial partners include Nanocomp Technologies and Solvay, with the U.S. Air Force Research Lab as a collaborator.