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Louisiana Tech University physics, computer science student earns NASA fellowship

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RUSTON, La – Darrian Mills, a freshman student in physics and computer science at Louisiana Tech University, has earned a prestigious Minority Research Scholars fellowship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Mills, who is from Greenwood, Louisiana, earned the fellowship through the Louisiana Space Consortium for his research with Dr. Chester Wilson, associate professor of electrical engineering and nanosystems engineering at Louisiana Tech, and Dr. William Clower, post doctoral researcher at Louisiana Tech. The NASA fellowship offers an opportunity for Mills to continue his work with Wilson and Clower to develop an inexpensive new nanostructured material that is made from carbon and metal and can be used for radar imagery to monitor spaceships.

Wilson says Mills is working to characterize graphene flakes made by a proprietary process developed at Louisiana Tech. "Graphene is as conductive as copper, but is only one fifth the weight," says Wilson. "Regular graphene is about $2,000 a gram, but ours can be made for hundreds of dollars a pound. We are developing this material that can be used as an additive in plastics to make it conductive.

"NASA and the U.S. Air Force want composite conductive plastics, for small lightweight spacecraft, to make communication systems that survive in solar flares and electromagnetic pulses made from space detonated nuclear weapons."

Mills credits the collaborative environment available to him through Wilson's research group with providing him with the support and resources to perform top-notch research and the opportunity to obtain the fellowship.

"Dr. Wilson has been helpful and supportive ever since I connected with his group," Mills said. "He presented me with this opportunity, and I took it. His experience and understanding of these awards greatly facilitated the process for me."

Wilson says that the collaborative environment at Louisiana Tech helps students earn such coveted awards.

"This award is representative of what youth from north Louisiana are able to achieve with a good education and mentoring systems like we have at Louisiana Tech, which provides them opportunities to better themselves," Wilson said.

The NASA fellowship, which began April 1 and lasts for one year, is generally awarded to seniors. Mills, however, was able to distinguish himself as a freshman with a 3.9 grade point average in the double major of physics and computer science, and his strong work ethic as well as his research in developing the new nanostructured material.

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