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  • The Complete Undergraduate Research Experience Inspired by NASA’s Microgravity University

    Paper number



    Dr. Timothy M. Ritter, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, United States



    In a typical undergraduate research experience the student is assigned a small portion of a more comprehensive endeavor.  While they may complete their portion of the project, the larger investigation is one that was active prior to the student’s arrival in the lab and will continue once the student has left.  An alternative approach is for the student to be a part of the entire research process, from idea stage to final report writing.  Such an opportunity exists for students who participate in NASA’s highly competitive Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program (RGSFOP).  Over the past six years two constituent universities within the University of North Carolina (UNC) system have annually joined together to form a team of undergraduate students to participate in the RGSFOP.  The year long process begins with the students choosing a topic they wish to investigate in microgravity.  Then, unlike most undergraduate research experiences, the students submit a full proposal to NASA.  The proposal not only includes a description of their experiment but also a budget for the entire project and a companion outreach program.  In requiring such an extensive proposal, the student teams must consider realistic financial limitations on their project as well as how the work impacts society and the space program.  If accepted for flight, the team has only a few months to design and build equipment, perform ground based measurements, and prepare an extensive technical document for NASA engineers to review.  After the flight, the data and flight samples are returned to the home universities for analysis and comparison to ground truth samples.  And finally, the students must synthesize their results in the form of a final written report for submission to NASA.  Our own program is not only unique because of its affiliation with the RGSFOP.  Rather, we further enhance our program, and stimulate team work, by including students from other disciplines, tapping into the skills that non-technical students possess.  Over the years we have incorporated students from the departments of Mass Communications, Business Administration, Native American Studies, Education, and a Public Relations major from yet a third UNC campus.  We believe our program, because of its unique features and affiliation with NASA, provides the student with a much broader, more comprehensive, and more stimulating undergraduate research experience than the traditional program.
    Abstract document


    Manuscript document