As surreal as it may be, fellow graduate students in DSU’s Optics Program were on hand Friday to admire one of their professors and fellow Ph.D. candidates receive accolades for their collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the upcoming mission to Mars.


Delaware State University’s collaboration with NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory is a significant achievement for a land-grant university, to say the least.

As surreal as it may be, fellow graduate students in DSU’s Optics Program were on hand Friday to admire one of their professors and fellow Ph.D. candidates receive accolades for their collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the upcoming mission to Mars.

DSU Vice President of Research Dr. Noureddine Melikechi, the founder of the university’s Applied Optics Center, and Ph.D. candidate Alissa Mezzacappa will help NASA analyze the data that will be collected by the Mars Science Lab’s Curiosity land rover. They will use technology called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy – known as LIBS for short by grad students.

Second-Year Ph.D. candidate Zachary Warren of Kansas City, Mo. called this collaboration “a big deal.”

Warren, pursuing his doctorate in DSU’s Optics Program, is researching atomic clocks. Warren will assist Melikechi and Mezzacappa with the programming required for their data analysis.

“I’m impressed by the work they’re doing. LIBS is a great science,” he said. “They’ve set up secure servers and they’re going to be able to assist with the raw information came straight from the rover.”

Third-year Ph.D. candidate Elton Jhamba of Zimbabwe is also studying optics.
Jhamba took the high road when asked whether DSU’s involvement in the Mars mission gave the school bragging rights over the University of Delaware.

“I think it’s not about competition, really,” Jhamba said. “It’s about the state having two great universities, which is a great thing.

“You have two great universities doing great research,” he said. “And we’re making our mark on Mars. It’s exciting stuff here at Del State.”

First-year graduate student Yury Markushin of Russia said it is interesting to see what other people in the Optics Program are doing. He graduated from DSU in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in engineering.

“I think it’s good,” Markushin said. “They’re going to get more financing and grants. And we can buy more equipment and get more good people to come.”

Indeed, a grant from NASA-URC (University Research Center) helped
Mezzacappa’s studies at DSU, she said.

In September 2009, NASA gave nearly $35 million to seven minority institutions, including DSU – an historically black college.

“Initially, when I started my doctorate, we didn’t have the grant,” Mezzacappa said. “I was pretty set on doing LIBS because I like plasma science. When the NASA-URC grant came it, I found out about this project and I really wanted to do it.”