Miguel X. Diaz-Lopez

 Miguel X. Diaz-Lopez, a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been selected to receive two prestigious national research fellowships. He has received a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship and a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunity (NSTGRO) award.

Diaz-Lopez conducts research in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Fluid Transport Lab, where he is advised by Rui Ni, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

The NDSEG fellowship covers three years of full tuition and provides a stipend and travel allowance. Diaz-Lopez was selected for his proposal titled “Deposition mechanism and mitigation technology for next-generation gas turbines.”

The NSTGRO program supports graduate students who demonstrate the potential to assist NASA in creating new and innovative space technologies. The program also provides support for awardees to present their work at conferences and provides the opportunity to perform research at NASA centers around the country.

While both offer exciting opportunities for him, Diaz-Lopez can only accept one of the fellowships. He says it was tough decision but he has chosen the NASA fellowship.

“It means the world to me that I was accepted for not one but two very competitive fellowships. This showed me that I am headed towards the right path and that others see potential in my work,” he said. “Getting these fellowships has given me more confidence and more motivation in pursuing my PhD studies and research in general.”

His proposed NASA project,“Thermal effects in plume surface interaction during a powered descent landing,” will build off research he conducted last summer at the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Alabama.

Diaz-Lopez will investigate how temperature (specifically temperature gradients) affects the erosion of lunar particles as a lander descends to or ascends from the moon’s surface. In addition, he plans on investigating overall particle dynamics in temperature field gradients, electrostatics, and more; this includes exploring how astronauts could potentially extract water from icy lunar particles while transporting them from the excavator to a collection receptacle for later use. From there, the water can be used directly or used to extract oxygen for fuel.

As part of the fellowship, Diaz-Lopez will spend ten weeks at whichever NASA site or national laboratory best fits his research. He will also be assigned a NASA mentor who will provide technical feedback on his research and help him expand his professional network.

“I’ll get to perform experiments in state-of-the-art facilities, work alongside NASA engineers, and get to see what it’s really like to work for NASA,” said Diaz-Lopez. “This is an incredibly opportunity to advance my research and for my own professional development in the space industry.”

Diaz-Lopez earned his BS in mechanical engineering from Manhattan College in 2020, where he was a recipient of the Goldwater scholarship, a National Science Foundation (NSF) S-STEM scholarship, and selected as Valedictorian. He received the Johns Hopkins Distinguished Doctoral fellowship for 2020-2022, was an honorable mention for the NSF GRFP fellowship in 2021, and is a member of several honor societies, including Tau Beta Pi and Pi Tau Sigma.