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Launch Points: Idea, Invention, and Implementation

AUTHOR: Nina Welding

PUBLISHED: May 12, 2016

Contrary to popular belief, the powdered orange drink Tang® was not invented by NASA for spaceflight. Tang became a national commodity when John Glenn and his colleagues drank it on the Mercury Friendship 7. However, there are many new products and technologies created specifically for space exploration that have traveled from outer space back to Mother Earth, greatly impacting daily life. Light-emitting diodes, artificial limbs, anti-icing systems, freeze drying technology, temper foam, and better software for large-scale data management — all of these are the results of space technology, making the space program the proverbial, if not the actual, launch point for many products benefitting society. Christine Joseph, a senior graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering may one day be adding to the list.

Last summer Joseph interned at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in the Wearable Electronics Applications Research (WEAR) laboratory.  For a recap of her time in the WEAR Lab, click here.

When she returned to Notre Dame this past fall, she continued the research she started at NASA, working to create a prototype for a wearable interface that could measure the effects of micro-gravity on gross motor skills. Joseph had heard of an experiment on the International Space Station to measure fine motor skills and was inspired to find a way to utilize wearable technology to measure how gross motor skills were affected by living in space.

While her project is still in the prototype phase, Joseph has created a standardized interface that can interact with any computer platform and, in essence, be applied to applications beyond space, such as in concussion studies or as a muscle movement sensor during physical therapy. Fellow students Steven Waller, Racine Hansen, and Kara Vitale have helped her develop a web based user interface and design the wearable housing for the prototype through 3D printing. Scott Howard, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Notre Dame alum, served as the project advisor.

Joseph’s fascination with NASA and spaceflight is not new one. She participated in the Texas Aerospace Scholars program while in high school and initially planned on pursuing a degree in aerospace engineering. “I was hooked by all the amazing and diverse things NASA did, and I knew I wanted to work there one day as an engineer,” she said. “Instead of aerospace engineering though, I decided on electrical engineering because of how important it is in almost every technical field.”

Photo courtesy of NASA's Johnson Space Center.
Her time in the WEAR lab didn’t end after her summer internship. Funded by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Notre Dame’s Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement, Joseph traveled back to Houston in late April. While there she participated in the lab’s Wearable Technology Student Symposium at the Johnson Space Center where she demonstrated her prototype to other students and NASA engineers.

The next step toward her goal and one day working at NASA is already mapped out. She will begin her studies toward a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall.