UTEP Grad Makes NASA List of Space Technology Research Fellows

Mechanical engineering graduate student Sergio Cordova is part of the NASA 2017 class of Space Technology Research Fellows. The prestigious award is the most competitive NASA fellowship with an estimated value of $74,000 annually.

Cordova is a master’s student graduating in May and will start his doctoral work, supported by this fellowship, in UTEP’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in the fall. His accomplishment marks a first for UTEP.

“I have always been interested in space research and I hope my work can make an impact on the future of space travel,” Cordova said.

This seventh class of Space Technology Research Fellows will conduct research relevant to agency technology challenges aligned with NASA’s space technology roadmaps, while pursuing degrees in related disciplines at their respective institutions.

“One of the most important challenges to our continued leadership and advancement of space technology is the assurance that we harness the innovation and technology capabilities from our American universities,” said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These grants provide one vehicle to tap into the enormous talents of graduate students working at universities to advance the development of future space technologies.”

Sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, the fellowships are improving America’s technological competitiveness by providing the nation with a pipeline for innovative space technologies.

The fellows conduct innovative space technology research on their respective campuses, at NASA centers, and at nonprofit U.S. research and development laboratories.

Evgeny Shafirovich, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering and Cordova’s mentor, said the opportunity is invaluable and a great accomplishment.

“I am very excited,” Shafirovich said. “This fellowship includes summer work for the student at one of NASA’s centers and exposes him to the NASA environment and some of the nation’s top researchers. I believe that the selection of our student for this award and his choice of UTEP for NASA-supported doctoral studies clearly demonstrate our progress and competitiveness with top universities of the nation.”

Cordova’s research titled “Combustion Synthesis of Thermoelectric Materials for Deep Space Exploration” addresses an important challenge – the lack of radioactive materials for radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) used by NASA as a power source in space exploration missions. The proposed approach to the fabrication of promising thermoelectric materials will enable the development of RTGs with superior performance characteristics. Also, these materials will be useful for thermoelectric conversion in nuclear fission reactors for space applications.

Cordova’s previous research on combustion synthesis has resulted in two published peer-reviewed journal articles. He has been involved with NASA research before. In 2014, he was the leader of a student team that developed a lunar dust-cleaning device and tested it aboard a reduced-gravity aircraft at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The fellowship awards are made initially for one year, and may be renewed for up to three additional years.