Student-Built, Dime-Sized Instrument Is Venus-bound on NASA’s DAVINCI

DAVINCI Descent Sphere above Venus
DAVINCI will send a meter-diameter probe to brave the high temperatures and pressures near Venus’ surface to explore the atmosphere from above the clouds to near the surface of a terrain that may have been a past continent. During its final kilometers of free-fall descent (artist’s impression shown here), the probe will capture spectacular images and chemistry measurements of the deepest atmosphere on Venus for the first time.
Credits: NASA/GSFC/CI Labs

Venus Oxygen Fugacity (VfOx) is a small, button-sized sensor aboard NASA’s DAVINCI mission to Venus’ atmosphere that will be designed, fabricated, tested, operated, and analyzed by undergraduate and graduate students as the mission’s Student Collaboration Experiment.

Planned for launch in 2029, the DAVINCI mission (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) will send a spacecraft and a probe to Venus to investigate numerous unsolved mysteries of the planet. Prior to dropping its descent probe into the Venus atmosphere, the spacecraft will perform two flybys of the planet, taking measurements of clouds and ultraviolet absorption on the Venusian day side, and taking measurements of heat emanating from the planet’s surface on the night side. Two years after launch, the mission’s probe, called the Descent Sphere, will enter the Venus atmosphere, ingesting and analyzing atmospheric gases and collecting images as it descends to the surface of the planet at the Alpha Regio region.

VfOx will be mounted on the outside of the Descent Sphere, where it will measure the oxygen fugacity – the partial pressure of the oxygen – in the deep atmosphere beneath Venus’ clouds, including the near-surface environment.

By analyzing these ground-breaking VfOx measurements, scientists will, for the first time, seek to identify what minerals are most stable at the surface of Venus in the highlands and link the formation of rocks to their recent modification histories. VfOx will measure the amount of oxygen present near the surface of Venus as a “fingerprint” of the rock-atmosphere reactions that are going on today. The balance of how much oxygen is present in the atmosphere, compared to the amount of oxygen captured in the rocks of Venus, will provide information towards a new understanding of the surface minerals in a mountainous region of Venus (known as “tessera”) that has never been visited by a spacecraft.

Understanding how much oxygen is contained in Venus’ atmosphere will be important in preparation for characterizing Venus-like worlds beyond our solar system with the JWST and future observatories. How much oxygen Venus has in its deepest atmosphere will help scientists studying these remote worlds distinguish between oxygen produced by life, such as what happens on Earth, from oxygen produced solely by abiotic chemical planetary processes, such as what happens on Venus.

The instrument will operate similarly to the oxygen sensor in many automobile engines, which measures the amount of oxygen in the fuel system relative to other components of the fuel. Like all instruments aboard the DAVINCI Descent Sphere, VfOx must be adapted to survive Venus’ inhospitable atmosphere. Even though temperatures at the surface of the planet are hot enough to melt lead, the temperatures in internal combustion car engines are even hotter, so VfOx will operate in a comparatively cooler environment on Venus. Additionally, VfOx will be built out of ceramic, a material that is resistant to temperature changes.

The motivating goal for DAVINCI’s Student Collaboration Experiment is educating and training young scientists and engineers in planetary science and engineering skills and providing a real-world application for those skills. “We are trying to engage and encourage the next generation of planetary scientists and engineers,” says Dr. Noam Izenberg, principal research staff at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and student collaboration lead for VfOx on DAVINCI.

Students will build the VfOx instrument, analyze the data it returns from Venus, and participate in science activities with the DAVINCI science team. Students involved will be advised by faculty at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The excitement of being actively involved with a real space-flight mission as an undergraduate may be one of the best incentives to attract a diverse group of students to this project. “We want to attract more students from all backgrounds, including the less-advantaged and the less-represented,” says Dr. Izenberg. “There will be lots of mentors across the board – on the mission and science side, and the engineering side – where students can find not just mentors of the professions that they might be looking for, but also mentors who look like them, because the DAVINCI team itself is fairly good in its own diversity.”

Johns Hopkins will be working in collaboration with the Applied Physics Lab to plan and implement the student experiment. Johns Hopkins will also work in collaboration with the Maryland Institute College of Arts in Baltimore, which has an extreme arts institute that will be involved with an intersection between science and art. The Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute in Baltimore will help coordinate this project, and Morgan State University in Baltimore is an intended partner.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the principal investigator institution for DAVINCI and will perform project management and scientific leadership for the mission, as well as project systems engineering to develop the probe flight system. Goddard also leads the project science support team and provides two key instruments on the probe.

Prototype VfOx instrument
These images of a prototype of the shirt-button-sized VfOx instrument show the disk of the sensor itself. It has a diameter of just under one centimeter (almost 0.4 inches) and will be located on the side of the DAVINCI Descent Sphere.
Credits: Johns Hopkins APL

Brooke Hess
​NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Media Contacts:

Bill Steigerwald
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
[email protected]

This article originally appeared on the NASA website.

Mach Conference celebrates 10th year

The 2022 Mach Conference, held virtually in April, brought together representatives from academia, government and industry to share their work in the field of materials, with an emphasis on advancing the fundamental science and engineering of materials and structures in extreme environments.. The conference’s plenary speakers included Prof. Wei Chen (Northwestern University), Prof. Reuben Kraft (Penn State University), and Prof. Tao Sun (University of Virginia).

Conference-goers attended lectures, presented on research, and socialized with their peers in the discipline. Attendees also participated in the Student/Postdoc poster competition. Winners in each category are listed below.

Judge’s Award: 

High-throughput methods using laser-driven micro-flyers for interrogating spall failure, Presenter: Christopher DiMarco, Johns Hopkins University 

High pressure induced precipitation in Al7075 alloy, Presenter: Abhinav Parakh, Stanford University

People’s Choice Award:

Interaction-Based Damage Model for Heterogeneous Brittle Solids under Uniform High-Rate Loading, Presenter: Sakshi Braroo, Johns Hopkins University

The Mach Conference is held in April each year. For more information, visit

Graduate students advised by HEMI Fellows win poster awards at 2021 SES Conference

Graduate students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering earned poster awards at the 2021 Society of Engineering Science (SES) Annual Conference.  Each student is advised by a HEMI Fellow.

The virtual event was spread over five days in October and each day focused on a theme, which included a fishbowl event, presentation, and poster session.

    • Bibekananda Datta, advised by Vicky Nguyen, won a Best Poster award in the Soft Matter category for his work, “A Swelling and Deswelling Kinetics Driven Thermo-responsive Crawler.”
    • Adyota Gupta, co-advised by Ryan Hurley and KT Ramesh, won the Audience Vote award in the Interactions Matter category for his work, “The Effect of Force-Chain Buckling and Fabric on Bulk Stiffness and Stress Response in Granular Media.”
    • Brett Kuwik, advised by Ryan Hurley, won a Best Poster award in the Interactions Matter category for his work, “Quantification of Breakage During the Compaction of Granular Materials.”
    • Zheliang Wang, advised by Vicky Nguyen, won a Best Poster award in the Frontiers Matter category for his work, “In-situ Measurement of Residue Stresses in Material Extrusion Additive Manufacturing.”

From top left: Bibekananda Datta, Adyota Gupta, Zheliang Wang, Brett Kuwik.

This post originally appeared as a news item on the Department of Mechanical Engineering website.

2021 AEOP Apprentices Showcase Their Gained Knowledge in Extreme Science During Final Presentations

Earlier this month, four students from high schools around the state of Maryland presented the results of their summer Apprenticeship Program  virtually to an audience of  friends, family, mentors, HEMI Fellows, and representatives from the U. S. Army – Dr. Sikhanda Satapathy (Collaborative Alliance Manager for MEDE CRA) and Mr. Brian Leftridge (U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command).

Adesola Adelegan, Nahuel Albayrak, Kathy Ho, and Emma Liu each were paired with a HEMI Fellow and student mentor to complete their six-week project. During the presentations, each student summarized their research experience, answered questions, and were virtually awarded with a certificate of completion.

During the course of the presentations, HEMI Fellow hosts and mentors had a chance to reflect on each student’s accomplishments. Across the board, the students were lauded for their work ethic and ability to grasp high-level concepts.

“I’m ready to offer her a graduate position,” said Jaafar El-Awady, HEMI Fellow and associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, when speaking about his group’s intern, Kathy Ho. “She’s done such great, high-level work.”

Echoing Prof. El-Awady’s sentiments was Mitra Taheri, HEMI Fellow and professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, about her group’s intern, Emma Liu. “Emma is underplaying her role in this project. Her research has moved us forward in the state-of-the-art.”

These apprenticeships, sponsored by the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP), allows students to gain valuable research experience before attending college. With over 40 sites from which to choose, Johns Hopkins ranks as a very competitive location. Johns Hopkins University received 185 applications for four positions this year.

HEMI Graduate Student Suhas Eswarappa Prameela Publishes Article in Nature about Importance of Collaboration

Suhas Eswarappa Prameela, a graduate student in HEMI, has been published in Nature‘s “Why It Matters” section with a paper about the benefits of collaboration for young scholars.

In the paper, Prameela emphasizes the importance of collaboration, especially for graduate students and postdocs. Multi-PI (principal investigator) grants have seen an increase in funding as opposed to grants for single principal investigators. He highlights the Center for Materials in Extreme Dynamic Environments (CMEDE), a collaborative research alliance led by Johns Hopkins University and the Army Research Laboratory, as an example.

Prameela underscores the importance of being a part of a multi-PI project for students. From having the opportunity to work cohesively with others to engaging with a variety of scientists to exchange ideas, collaboration is crucial – and inter-university collaboration allows each student to enhance their professional network beyond their home university. He writes, “Large collaborative efforts like consortia can develop a workforce that sees the big picture and works across disciplines. These grand views can be very beneficial to students, helping to motivate collaborative efforts.”

The article was co-authored by K. T. Ramesh (HEMI Director, Alonzo G. Decker, Jr. Professor of Science and Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, with joint appointments in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering) and Tim Weihs (HEMI Fellow, Director of the MSEE URA, and professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering).

Nature’s “Why It Matters” section features articles that discuss the applications of science, with topics ranging from the intersection of science and politics to mental health in research culture.

Click here to read the full article.

HEMI Graduate Student Suhas Eswarappa Prameela Receives 2020 Diversity Recognition Award

Congratulations to HEMI graduate student Suhas Eswarappa Prameela (Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering) on being named a 2020 Diversity Recognition Award recipient!

This award, bestowed by the Johns Hopkins Diversity Leadership Council, acknowledges outstanding accomplishments of faculty, staff and students whose demonstrable efforts advance diversity and inclusion at Hopkins. Suhas was chosen as a result of his work towards fostering inclusion within the Whiting School of Engineering and within surrounding communities, particularly his work as co-chair of Homewood Council on Inclusive Excellence (HCIE)’s Climate, Culture, and Campus Experience (C3E) committee.

Through his work on the C3E subcommittee, Suhas leads to partner with Center for Educational Resources to develop for resources/practices that enhance inclusive teaching through the Technology fellowships. Suhas contributes to diversity beyond his formal involvement with the HCIE, he brings his passion for social justice to all facets of his role at JHU; during Alternative Spring Break Suhas developed a lecture of Center for Social Concern (CSC) students on the importance of minorities in STEM fields, he mentors LGBTQ+ undergraduate in his department, and invites diverse speakers to his class- recently facilitating a discussion about gender diverse experiences.  By encouraging students to challenge their own biases and grow their perspectives Suhas not only contributes to immediate discussion around diversity, but ensures that these conversations will continue beyond the classroom.

Learn more about the other awardees here.

HEMI Research Shows New Method of Obtaining Mechanical Properties of Cells in 3D Microenvironment

A paper recently published in Biophysical Journal showcases how HEMI researchers have created a new method to probe the mechanical properties of cells in 3D polymer scaffolds at various strain rates. This new method will be helpful, as some cell types (such as astrocytes in the brain) can exhibit very different morphologies and phenotypes when grown in 2D instead of 3D.

Dr. Amy Dagro worked with HEMI Fellows Prof. Sung Hoon Kang and Prof. KT Ramesh to apply a technique called optical trapping to perform indentation to individual brain cells.  Most previous methods for probing the mechanical properties of cells are limited to either: A) testing cells grown on flat surfaces (2D) or B) measuring the properties of intracellular contents of cells in 3D (i.e. only measuring the inside of the cell).  Her experimental setup is unique in that users will be able to measure the overall mechanical properties of cellular compartments while they exist in a more favorable 3D environment.

To view the article in full, visit

2019 Research Engineering Apprenticeship Program (REAP) Summer Interns Showcase Work for U.S. Army Personnel

Earlier this month, HEMI’s four Research Engineering Apprenticeship Program (REAP) interns culminated their experience with a presentation and award ceremony. In attendance were friends, family, mentors, HEMI Fellows, and representatives from the U. S. Army – Dr. Sikhanda Satapathy (Cooperative Agreement Manager for MEDE CRA) and Brian Leftridge (U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command).

Each student summarized her research experience, answered questions, and were then awarded with a certificate of completion.

REAP is a summer STEM program that places talented high school students, from groups historically underserved in STEM, in research apprenticeships at area colleges and universities. REAP apprentices work under the direct supervision of a mentor on a hands-on research project. REAP apprentices are exposed to the real world of research, they gain valuable mentorship, and they learn about education and career opportunities in STEM. For more information,  visit


HEMI PhD Candidate Suhas Prameela Accepts MEDE-MSA Fellowship

Congratulations to Suhas Eswarappa Prameela on receiving the MEDE-MSA Research Fellowship! This fellowship enables current graduate students or postdocs working within the MEDE program the opportunity to participate in research activities at a MSA-affiliated university in the United Kingdom. With this fellowship, Prameela plans to explore the microstructure evolution of binary Magnesium alloys during thermo-mechanical processing. Prameela is a PhD candidate working in the Metals CMRG with Prof. Timothy Weihs. During the fellowship period, Prameela will work with Prof. Joseph Robson in the Department of Materials Engineering at the University of Manchester.

The MEDE-MSA fellowship is only open to graduate students or postdocs funded on MEDE whose principal faculty advisor is a current MEDE principal investigator (PI). The fellowship provides $6,000 (US) to support travel, housing and incidental costs. It is expected that the fellowship will be approximately eight weeks in duration which can be conducted throughout the year.