Initiating Clinic Projects
One way for parents to initiate HMC Clinic projects is to write a proposal to federal funding sources such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to support an engineering task centered on HMC student work.
One of NASA's prime interests is the development of novel instruments to search for life beneath the surface of Mars, the ice moons of the outer planets, and terrestrial exoplanets. These instruments are tested in extreme environments on Earth such as the dry valleys of Antarctica, Death Valley, and highly alkaline Mono Lake high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains a few hours from campus.
A decade ago, the HMC Engineering Clinic successfully produced a robotic boat to search for microbial life surviving in arsenic-laced, corrosive, alkaline, Mono Lake. Now a Mudd parent involved in that original project has asked NASA to fund an HMC Clinic to develop a small camera that would identify the spinning polarization signals characteristic of life. The camera uses a trick perfected by crustaceans and insects to covertly identify friend and foe, and by Hollywood to produce 3-D movies: look for differences in left-handed and right-handed light.
Light is composed of waves that spin either clockwise or counterclockwise. Certain colors of light preferentially spin in a specific direction if the light bounces off molecules like proteins, DNA, or the pigments of photosynthetic planets and microorganisms. The light spins differently if it bounces off rocks, soil, and ice.
The camera, to be developed in a collaborative effort between HMC Clinic and the Kinohi Institute, will capture those differences.
NASA has been asked to fund the project as the first step in a multi-year effort to build a mission-ready optical survey system capable of searching for life hidden within the subsurface ice of the North and South poles of Mars. The camera can be easily modified for use in medical diagnostics, counter-bioterrorism, and planetary protection efforts.
Federal agencies such NASA and the National Science Foundation annually publish requests for research and technology development. Lists of current proposals, deadlines, and application instructions are available at www.grants.gov or NASA's NSPIRES site.
— Michael Storrie-Lombardi P13