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Research Group Wins NASA Johnson Space Center Director’s Innovation Team Award

May 26, 2022

The UK Computational Electromagnetics (CEM) Group was awarded the 2022 NASA and Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) Director’s Innovation Award. The CEM team members are Rob Adams, John Young, and Cai-Cheng Lu. The three team members are faculty in the UK Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The NASA Director’s Innovation Award recognizes innovation in the operations of NASA or the JSC in science, technology, engineering and business practices. The CEM group was selected for the prestigious award for their groundbreaking work on GEMINI, the NASA and JSC electromagnetic software modeling system.

The software tools developed by the CEM group allow NASA scientists to solve complex electromagnetics problems much more efficiently than before, saving NASA valuable time and money. “Many realistic CEM problems involve matrix equations so large that it can take many days or weeks to solve,” said Young. “Now, NASA can solve those problems in a day or less.”

“When I visited the Johnson Space Center, the NASA scientists were very excited about our faculty’s work in this area and what it allowed them to do,” said Mike Johnson, professor and chair of the UK Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The CEM team first began related work in 2004, when they received a grant from the United States Office of Naval Research to develop methods to solve large matrix equations for underwater electromagnetics applications. Their work was focused on the interaction between the earth’s magnetic field and ships, which are magnetic, as well as saltwater, which is an electrolyte. The CEM team’s work got the attention of NASA. Researchers at NASA asked if the CEM group could apply their modeling software to a completely different environment – space.

“We are very thankful for the support from the US Navy,” said Adams, the lead representative of the CEM group in this effort. “Their support opened the door for us to work with NASA.”

The work with NASA has focused on how to predict electromagnetic fields on complex structures.  “In research labs, you can try things over and over again until it works with a real model. That’s not really an option in space,” said Lu. “That’s time consuming, expensive, and, in many cases, impossible. Our work enables NASA to cost-effectively conduct virtual experiments.”

However, the CEM group doesn’t always know how their software is being used. With NASA, much of the detailed work is restricted. “They don’t always tell us what they’re doing,” said Adams. “They give us feedback on the kinds of things they would like to do, but we’re usually unaware of the full application.”

The CEM team does know that the GEMINI software could be used to help with communications between a Mars rover and a Mars lander. Another application is determining where to put antennas on an astronaut’s suit or inside the International Space Station.

“This award has been long overdue,” said Michael Amin Khayat, electrical engineer at the NASA JSC. “I want to thank the CEM group for all the work they have done for us and for the continued support.”