Faculty awarded $500,000 grant from NASA

Robert Burkett

Beginning this summer, faculty and students will be exploring space to find answers for simple life on earth.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently approved a grant proposal from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Washburn. The grant gives a half-million dollars to Brian Thomas, assistant professor in the physics and astronomy department for a study that will take place over the course of three years.

Thomas will be the lead researcher on the project and will collaborate with colleagues at both the University of Kansas and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. The project will study the effects of astrological events on the life and survival of phytoplankton in earth’s oceans. Phytoplankton is one of the building blocks of food chains in most marine habitats on earth and is responsible for production of almost 50 percent of the world’s oxygen production.

“We want to see what effects things like exploding stars and solar flares have on the production of phytoplankton in our oceans,” said Thomas.

The grant also provides opportunities for prospective science major students to get involved and learn more.

“We’re going to be recruiting some students to help with the research soon,” said Thomas.

Included in the opportunities were the possibility of paid research positions, according to Thomas. Research for the grant program will begin sometime in July of this year and run through 2012.