WPI/Goddard Program Takes Flight

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass.-Twelve WPI students in four teams will inaugurate a Major Qualifying Projects Program at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in late August. "We're excited about this opportunity to work with one of NASA's premier centers," says electrical and computer engineering Professor Fred J. Looft, III, program director. "This site, a world-renowned research facility for unmanned space-flight, was a natural choice for this initiative-an off-campus MQP program that recognizes the breadth and depth of engineering projects done at Goddard."

The multidisciplinary MQP program will provide an opportunity for WPI students to satisfy their project requirement during one term of intensive and focused team project work in a professional, technical environment, says Looft. The Major Qualifying Project, a degree requirement, is one of three projects all undergraduates undertake as part of the innovative WPI Plan, a flexible, exciting and academically challenging program introduced in 1971. Through the MQP, students solve real-life problems in their major field of study. The goals of the MQP include the development of creativity and self-confidence, and the ability to communicate ideas.

"Establishing this program at GSFC will provide an opportunity never available before," says Looft. "NASA administrators are looking forward to the high level of science and engineering expertise the WPI students will bring to the center's ongoing projects." WPI has a Project Center in Washington, D.C. These students will reside in the same hotel that previous teams of students have lived in and will travel daily to the Goddard center in nearby Greenbelt, Md. Each of the inaugural teams completed a Preliminary Qualifying Project (PQP) this spring to provide background research for their MQPs.

Goddard administrators have worked with WPI to identify projects for the student teams. Looft and NASA mentor Douglas Leviton, an optical physicist in the Optical Component Test and Development Group, will serve as faculty advisors to two projects that will be conducted with that group: "Automation of Vacuum Chamber at GSFC Diffraction-Grating Evaluation Facility" and "Demonstration of an Absolute Rotary Encoder Disc by Dynamic Optical Lithographic Means." "Computer System Load Balancing" will be advised by computer science Professor David Finkel and NASA mentor James Poland, head of the Fabrication and Development Section; the fourth project, "Development of a Catalytically Deposited Low Residual Stress Nickel Plating for Beryllium Optics," will be advised by chemical engineering Professor Karen Rutledge and NASA mentor Joel Mitchell, a chemist/aerospace technologist in the Plating and Composites Engineering Section.

Looft will be the primary advisor and will be in-residence for four weeks of the program; Finkel and Rutledge will spend one or more weeks in Washington as well. Additional details on this project site may be found at http://ece.wpi.edu/~fjlooft/gsfc/

A list of the MQP teams and topics follows:

"Vacuum Chamber Instrumentation": electrical and computer engineering majors Ryan

Abraham '98 of Rochester, Mass., Damian Dobric '98 of Owls Head, Maine, and Michael Hills of Salem, Ore., who will graduate in February 1998.

"Optical Rotational Sensor": electrical and computer engineering majors Brandon Hallen of Holden, Mass., Michael Kowalchik of Virginia Beach, Va., who will graduate in February 1998, and Paul Yeaman '98 of Uxbridge, Mass.

"Computer System Loan Balancing": computer science majors Jill Baryza '98 of

Courtlandt Manor, N.Y., and Paul English '98 of Lincoln, R.I., and chemistry major Jeffrey Moyer '99 of Dover, Del.

"Nickel Plating for Beryllium Optics": chemical engineering majors Sherry Ashby '98 of Barre, Mass., Lisa Giassi '98 of Auburn, Mass., and Kerri O'Connor '98 of Worcester, Mass.