Dartmouth’s Partnership with Jet Propulsion Laboratory Thrives

Dartmouth faculty members from the departments of computer science, engineering, and physics and astronomy were recently invited to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) headquarters at the California Institute of Technology to meet with JPL researchers and to explore stronger ties between the institutions and discuss possible research projects for the future.

 Pictured, next to a Mars Rover, on a recent visit to JPL are, from left, Daniel McCleese, JPL chief scientist; Cinzia Zuffada, JPL associate chief scientist; Paula Grunthaner, principal member of the technical staff, JPL University Research Affairs Office; Devin Balkcolm, associate professor of computer science; Mary Hudson, professor of physics and astronomy; Martin Wybourne, vice provost for research; Bryan Chaboyer, professor of physics and astronomy; Robert Caldwell, professor of physics and astronomy. (photo by Carol Lachata, Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

The Dartmouth team included Devin Balkcolm, associate professor of computer science; Robert Caldwell, professor of physics and astronomy; Brian Chaboyer, professor of physics and astronomy; Mary Hudson, professor of physics and astronomy; and Martin Wybourne, Vice Provost for Research.

JPL is the NASA Center of Excellence in Deep Space Systems and the Mission Center for NASA Planetary Science and Exploration Missions. Dartmouth has been partnered with JPL through its Strategic University Research Partnerships (SURP) since 2007.  The focus of SURP is to promote collaboration between institutions of higher education and JPL with an emphasis on research collaboration and exchanges for faculty and students.

“JPL is home to a large number of world-class scientists and engineers, with a wide range of interests and expertise,” says Chaboyer, who originally organized the collaboration. The lab is committed to undergraduate growth at Dartmouth, he notes. “JPL offers a number of paid internships for undergraduates and the Dartmouth-JPL partnership can assist Dartmouth students in obtaining these internships.”

Since the partnership’s formation, JPL has funded major research projects at Dartmouth, including Chaboyer’s SIM PlanetQuest; Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Kristina Lynch’s student-run GreenCube project; Professor of Engineering Laura Ray’s recent work on enhancing the mobility of autonomous robots; Research Associate Professor of Geography Robert Brakenridge's work on San Joaquin and Sacramento flood inundation; and Professor of Earth Sciences Eric Posmentier’s work on the measurement of isotopes in water vapor.

“SURP is an important program that offers faculty and students valuable opportunities to participate in projects that support NASA’s goals for space exploration benefits,” says Wybourne. “Seeing the new Mars Science Laboratory first hand during our visit was truly amazing—I look forward to developing deeper ties with JPL in support of its mission.”