UNI Chemistry and Biochemistry Department receives $25,000 NASA grant for research projects

The University of Northern Iowa Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is pleased to announce the department has received a $25,000 grant from the Iowa Space Grant Consortium, supported by NASA.

These funds will support and enhance hands-on research opportunities for undergraduate students at the university. Specifically, the grant dollars will be used to increase the scientific return of research projects with the purchase of specialized equipment, including spectrometers and biosampling tools, along with the creation of new outreach opportunities for sharing the work.

The specialized tools purchased using the grant dollars will be used during two upcoming undergraduate research trips, led by Josh Sebree, UNI chemistry and biochemistry professor and lead investigator.

For the first trip, a group of undergraduate chemistry students will have the opportunity to visit Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota over spring break, where they will conduct research. The main goal of the research is to aid the National Park Service in understanding the biochemical composition of the cave, which will ensure the park service is using best conservation practices.

For the second trip, a small group of UNI chemistry students will be travelling to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California. The students will bring water samples from the caves in South Dakota to be used for experimentation in astrobiology, as part of NASA’s icy moon project. The cave water is analogous in composition to what may exist in the subsurface oceans of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

Sebree said these research trips are an opportunity unlike any other for the students involved.

“We’re very fortunate to have received this funding,” Sebree said. “Not only is this a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the students, who normally wouldn’t get to go on a research trip like this at the undergraduate level, but it’s also an opportunity for us to help others by contributing to National Park conservation efforts, and NASA’s efforts to explore the possibilities for life on other planets.”

The student travel costs associated with the Wind Caves exploration trip is funded by the University of Northern Iowa Foundation. The grant from the Iowa Space Grant Consortium, supported by NASA Award No. NNX16AL88H, will fund the purchase of tools and equipment for the cave exploration trip, the student trip to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and the creation of a mobile museum exhibit that will showcase the cave exploration experience. The exhibit will be built by the UNI Museum and the UNI Department of Technology. In addition to the grant from the Iowa Space Grant Consortium, funding was also awarded by the UNI College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences. This funding will allow two UNI Digital Media students to travel along on the research trip, and document the experience.

“The ability to pull together a team of highly motivated students and mentors from multiple disciplines across campus showcases the amazing talent pool at UNI,” Sebree said. “I am excited to work with so many amazing students to tackle some of the big questions about the Solar System and the origin of life.”

About the Iowa Space Grant Consortium

A part of NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program since 1990, the ISGC continually strives to improve and inspire Iowa’s future in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The ISGC supports aerospace research, education and outreach activities for all Iowans through five program categories: internships, fellowships, scholarships; higher education; research infrastructure; precollege; and informal education. The ISGC carries out its goals with the help of six universities across the state of Iowa, as well as a number of private industry, educational and government organizations, and science museums.  Funding from the ISGC for grants and projects is allocated through its affiliates. 



Joshua Sebree, UNI associate professor, joshua.sebree@uni.edu, 319-273-2437

Steve Schmadeke, public relations manager, steve.schmadeke@uni.edu, 319-273-6120