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JPL Takes Lead in Two NASA-Funded Projects to Diversify STEM

Published on Friday, February 9, 2024 | 5:48 am

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena is at the forefront of two innovative projects funded by NASA’s inaugural grants aimed at supporting emerging research institutions. The grants, totaling $3.7 million, have been awarded to 11 teams across the United States, with JPL playing a key role in two of these collaborations.

The first project, “Diversifying Student Pipelines in STEM: Environmental Pollution Reduction Inspired by Planetary Science,” is a partnership between California State University, Los Angeles, JPL, and California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. The project leverages insights from planetary science to tackle environmental pollution.

The second project, “The HALOQUEST: Halobacterium Astrobiological Laboratory for Observing and Questioning Extraterrestrial Signatures and Traits Project,” is a collaboration between California State University, Northridge, and JPL. The project will study Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 grown under simulated stressful environmental conditions, potentially shedding light on the possibilities for life on other planets.

These collaborations are part of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Bridge Program, which aims to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the science and engineering communities. The program provides seed funding for research projects that build strong, long-lasting relationships with NASA and offer hands-on training and mentorship for students.

NASA senior advisor for engagement, Shahra Lambert, said, “As the agency continues to build relationships with under-resourced institutions through initiatives like the bridge program, we are intentionally increasing equitable access to NASA for the best and brightest talents in our nation.”

The teams leading these projects represent new collaborations for NASA, including Hispanic-serving institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions, and primarily undergraduate institutions. The research projects connect these institutions to seven NASA centers and could impact more than 100 students.

Michael New, Science Mission Directorate deputy associate administrator for research at NASA Headquarters, applauded the inaugural cohort of grant recipients for their innovative research projects. He said, “These awards are a first and important step for the SMD Bridge Program in supporting long-term relationships toward creating a more diverse and robust STEM workforce.”

There is an additional opportunity to apply for seed funding through the SMD Bridge Program. Applications are open until Friday, March 29.

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