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Friday, October 16, 2009

Engineering major Ken Schnautz is NASA intern

Contact for more information:
Betty Vawter
Senior Editor, News & Information Services
Kenneth W. Schnautz, a junior engineering major at the University of Southern Indiana, is completing an internship during fall semester at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Schnautz's project is related to soil mechanics and granular physics.

He performs much of his work in the SLOPE (Simulated Lunar Operations) facility, which contains simulated lunar soil (called GRC3) in large "sandboxes."

"My main task is to determine a method of characterizing a 2 meter by 6 meter soil bin filled with GRC3. It's a very cohesive sand-silt mixture with high silica content, so I use a respirator when performing excavations in the soil," he said.

Schnautz is the first person to use the NASA facility's new $8,000 electrical density gauge. "My task right now is to calibrate the unit so we can determine the densities of any given sample of GRC3," he said.

During the internship, Schnautz also will work on a project involving cone penetrometry. A cone penetrometer is a long rod with a pointed tip that measures various soil properties as it is pushed into the ground.

"I love working at NASA," Schnautz said. "While it's not directly related to my studies at USI, it allows me to use the problem-solving skills we have learned in every science class since eighth grade."

The 15-week internship began August 31. Schnautz will complete a paper and a poster presentation at the conclusion of the program.

His internship is funded by the District of Columbia Space Grant Consortium, one of 52 members of a national network involving universities and organizations in every state. Schnautz receives a $6,000 stipend. Ten other students from universities in seven states and Puerto Rico are completing internships at Glenn this semester through NASA's Undergraduate Student Research Program.

Schnautz is a recipient this year of the Biagi Chance Cummins London Titzer Endowed Engineering Scholarship for engineering majors with strong academic ability. He was a 2008-09 recipient of an Indiana Space Grant Consortium Undergraduate Scholarship. He is president of the USI chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, an organization that he helped organize.

During the summer, Schnautz participated with Dr. Glen Kissel, assistant professor of engineering, and other USI engineering students in the Indiana Space Grant Consortium's "Indiana Space Travels" exhibit at the Indiana State Fair. They demonstrated Lego robotics and showed video and slides of the engineering program's high altitude balloon flights.

Schnautz was the chief organizer of USI's first Lego Robotics Competition which attracted 20 teams in 2008. He has been involved in many robotics competitions over the past eight years, including the IVY Tech Lego Robotics Challenge and the VEX Robotics Competition in Bloomington, Indiana. He has coached teams and instructed robotics classes at Cynthia Heights Elementary School, St. Joseph Catholic School, Helfrich Park Middle School, and IVY Tech Community College.

Schnautz is a 2007 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville.

He is the third USI engineering major to be awarded a NASA internship. His brother Alex Schnautz completed an internship in spring 2009 at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Katie Funke interned in summer 2008 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

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