Pitt Seed Funding Helps Send Projects into Space

Though humans have landed on the moon and spent hundreds of days in Earth’s orbit, not much is known about space’s effects on the body or the crafts keeping astronauts safe.

This spring, two student-led and faculty-mentored projects from the School of Pharmacy and Swanson School of Engineering will delve into the effects of microgravity aboard the International Space Station. 

The research, the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), is supported in part by a 2019 Pitt Seed grant—funding that supports learning, teaching and research projects that further the University’s Plan for Pitt.

“It’s [the SSEP program] purely student-driven, and this really allows them to use their imagination and be creative in a program that’s typically structured,” said Kerry Empey, associate professor of pharmacy and therapeutics and one of the project leads for Pitt’s participation in the program. 

Also involved are Ravi Patel, lead innovation advisor in the School of Pharmacy, and David Vorp, associate dean for research and William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering. John Donehoo, a clinical pharmacist at UPMC, is also a collaborator on the program.

The faculty leads and student researchers said the seed grants provided the means to work with the program, as well as the building blocks for collaboration among researchers.

“It has been an informative experience, but it’s also been inspirational,” said Amanda Carbone, a junior chemical engineering researcher on the project. “For many of us, I think it’s the most exciting program we’ve ever been involved with. I’m grateful to the University for giving us the opportunity to even interact with the space station. It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Have a seed of an idea?

Applications are still open for the next round of seed grant funding. The Pitt Seed initiative offers faculty and staff members across all five campuses an opportunity to directly and actively contribute toward achieving the University’s strategic goals. Chosen applicants can receive up to $50,000 to advance their projects.

The first step, a letter of intent, is due Feb. 7 by noon.