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Another STELLAR achievement by the research group

Nathan Olsen, Erik Yost and Noah Krepela (from left) represented STELLAR and Grand Canyon University at the recent conference of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research in Baltimore.

Story of Lana Sweeten-Shults
AVV news office

Houston, we have a problem.

That’s what Erik Yost thought. The president and founder of STELLAR, a platform for Grand Canyon University students to design, test, build, and launch research projects on the International Space Station, thought he might have filled out the forms incorrectly.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my god. This is not good. Maybe we screwed it up. Did I submit everything wrong? ”Yost said of STELLAR’s submission to the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research’s recent annual conference.

STELLAR, founded by Yost (pictured), is a platform for GCU students to design, test, build and launch research projects on the International Space Station.

Yost had flown to Baltimore for the conference with STELLAR co-founder and vice president Nathan Olsen and the team’s lead mechanical engineer, Noah Krepela. They expected to take part in the poster presentation competition with their fellow students to present their team’s research on microbial fuel cell technology.

Microbial fuel cells are a new form of bioelectrochemical technology that aims to generate electricity using electrons derived from biochemical reactions.

For STELLAR – it stands for Space Technology and Engineering for Launching Life Application Research – that means harnessing the power of an electricity-generating bacterium called Shewanella. The team’s microbial fuel cell uses the energy released by the bacteria when they break down waste and converts it into electricity.

The team created and performed several experiments to improve the energy efficiency of its microbial fuel cell.

STELLAR submitted an abstract of its work to be included in the poster presentation of the conference’s bachelor’s degree. But Yost received an email back stating that the group had been allowed to give an oral technical presentation at the same time.

On the day of the event, he went to the competition area and asked the women at the check-in desk, “’Hey, I’m a student. Shall I be here? ‘”

They told him that STELLAR was listed as the lecturer.

“I ask myself: ‘What does that mean?’”, Thought Yost, who studies business administration, biology and Christian studies at the GCU.

It turned out to mean something big. The chairman had handpicked the project from STELLAR for a presentation upgrade.

“We were pulled out of the (poster) competition and moved into the professional field,” said Yost. “We gave our lecture together with many other well-known scientists. … It’s a great honor and basically never been there before.

“My favorite part was presenting and saying that we are undergraduate researchers and hearing, ‘Oh my god! They’re students! ”Our nameplates bore Grand Canyon University. People take photos of it to remember us. “

STELLAR’s performance at the conference is significant.

Krepela, Olsen and Yost (from left) presented their research on microbial fuel cells.

The team took third place with its poster presentation on microbial fuel cells at the Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium of the American Astronautical Society at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in October. Exceptional appearances there, at the ASGSR and then at another competition mean that the group will likely be invited to the International Astronautical Congress in Paris in autumn 2022.

That would be a great achievement for STELLAR, who Yost and Olsen founded in their dormitory just a year ago after Yost, who was part of the International Space Station team at his high school, asked Olsen one night: “Hey! You want to send something into space? “

The team, which now has more than a dozen members, will also send its microbial fuel cell to the International Space Station in May.

In addition to a conference upgrade to the professional technical category at ASGSR, Yost, Olsen and Krepela met DR. Kasthuri VenkateswaranSenior Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. He called the bacteria that power their microbial fuel cells “which is crazy,” said Yost.

“The most exciting part of the conference for me was meeting and engaging with many of the most influential people in the space industry who have literally shaped our vision of space and research,” said Olsen, mechanical engineering major. “The opportunity to present with other researchers instead of a poster competition was an amazing eye-opener for our team, as people recognize the impact and importance of our research and also the very high workload of the STELLAR program. ”

The trio were especially excited at the ASGSR conference to share what is at the heart of STELLAR. The goal is not just to send projects into space; It is also about doing research that helps the people they serve in their missionary work. A microbial fuel cell could not only help astronauts with their space travel, but also supply villages in developing countries with electricity.

“Overall, it was a really good experience to network and effectively communicate our humanitarian focus for our project,” said Yost. “And it was really exciting to be a GCU student and to be able to present our research on such a professional and large platform. It was just a fun experience. “

Lana Sweeten-Shults, senior author of the AVV, can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


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